Civil War to Civil Rights, 1865-1968

Academic Responsibility: Sam Hitchmough

Module Aims

This module aims to introduce students to some of the main issues and events in modern American history, focusing particularly on the role of black Americans in shaping the development of the USA.

By the end of the course students should be able to:

  • appreciate the significance of race relations in the formation of the modern USA
  • show understanding of key historical issues, especially the legacy of the Civil War and Reconstruction, the onset of legal segregation in the South, the significance of the New Deal and the historical origins of the Black freedom movement
  • evaluate different types of historical evidence
  • appraise critically the historiography of major issues in American history

Module content

The module begins by looking at the Secession Crisis of 1860-61 and the origins of the Civil War. Attention is then paid to the period of Reconstruction and its effects on the position of blacks in America. The nature of the South and its relationship with black Americans will be studied spanning the turn of the century. The course will consider the "Vanishing Negro" through Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896, disenfranchisement, sharecropping, Darwinism and scientific racism and 'Southern Negrophobia'.

Major black leaders such as Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Dubois, A. Philip Randolph and Marcus Garvey are discussed including how their philosophies and ideologies related to and negotiated the conditions of the time. Similarly, major events and movements in early 20th Century black history will be discussed alongside these figures the Great Migration, the emergence of NAAPC, the Harlem Renaissance, the relationship between communism and black activism in the 1930s and the New Deal.

The module then considers the Second World War and ifs effects on race relations in the USA. The March on Washington Movement, racial rioting and the 'paradox of loyalty' will be examined. Finally race relations in the immediate post-war period will be analysed by discussing the 1954 Brown case, the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King.


Assessment consists of three course work assignments.  There is no examination.