Friday, September 16, 2011

New Books in History Interview

I was recently interviewed by Marshall Poe, editor of the website New Books in History. Here's the link to listen.  Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Here are my remarks at the Civil Rights Conference at University of Tennessee at Martin

Back in February, I gave the opening lecture to this wonderful conference.  The link to the presentation is here:

Let me know what you think!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Public Radio Interview on "Greater Freedom"

Public Radio East  in North Carolina did an interview with me about Greater Freedom. Let me know what you think. I've pasted the text of the interview below as well:

 (PRE) - In February 1960, four students from North Carolina A&T in Greensboro sat down at the local Woolworth's lunch counter, requested service, and were refused and from there the sit-in movement spread to other Southern cities just not in Wilson, NC.

"What happens in Wilson as best as I can tell, the students in Wilson in 1960 asked Principal Barnes can we have some sit-ins and he says no you can't. As far as I can tell that's sort of the end of it."

Charles W. McKinney Jr., the author of Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina. The Principal he's talking about worked at the city's supposed separate-but-equal Darden High School. A story or lack of story such as what didn't happen during the sit-in movement would seem to indicate there's not a book in Wilson's civil rights history. But McKinney will tell you he found events that were "just off the front page of national news," and if those events never received national recognition that doesn't mean the events as they occurred in Wilson isn't a story that deserves to be told.

"In the late 60s throughout the 70s and the 80s the focus of the civil rights story and the focus on telling the story of the civil rights movement was a very top down focus, a focus on national leaders, a focus on national organizations like the NAACP and SNCC and the federal government and the role of the president, the role of governors it was a very top-down narrative, and that narrative obscured a lot of the details of local insurgencies, of local struggle, so when we tell a top-down story we lose a lot of nuance."

McKinney's book "Greater Freedom" tries to add that "nuance" by describing in-depth what he describes as a "very vibrant movement" in Wilson. The book includes what might be termed "local flashpoints" in the movement as well as those that preceded the civil rights era, such as this 1942 incident in World War II America.

The soldier in the story is Charles Brandford, who later taught at the segregated Darden High School. Brandford was also involved in the stirrings of the civil rights movement in Wilson with his involvement in the Men's Civic Club which in part served as an intermediary between black and white Wilson. Like the national narrative, for a period there was a "top-down" civil rights movement in Wilson, with recognized organizations leading the way. Eventually that movement branched out into the community with local residents frustrated by their lot in life demanding a voice, such as this incident involving Fannie Corbett, at the time a cafeteria cook at an all-white elementary school.

"One of their primary motivations to join the movement is the reality of economic inequality. Because of the reality of the fact she is consigned to an economic position based largely because of her race that places her on the margins of economic and social viability, and she says no. This isn't working for me. I can't feed my family. There are other people in my community who can't feed their families, so Corbett is instrumental in helping to mobilize and energize working class A-As in Wilson by significantly expanding the scope of what people would call the civil rights issues. Again, from a top-down narrative, those issues are school desegregation, voting, and into racist violence, but what Corbett does is says, o-k, this movement is also talking a little bit about economics, its talking a little bit about employment, its talking a little bit about pocket book issues. Well, we've got to place these issues front and center, so that's what she does."

Corbett did that by becoming one of the founders of the Wilson Community Improvement Association. And while the youth of Wilson missed the sit-in movement of 1960, they became involved in efforts to desegregate public facilities, including conducting "wade-ins" to integrate city pools.

That scene might best illustrate the white community's reaction to the civil rights movement road blocks were put in the way but when those blocks were overran there was begrudging acceptance. And the civil rights movement ultimately evolved to encompass all of the Wilson African-American community from a "no" to sit-ins to an "all-in" on desegregating city facilities.

"For instance, the role of women in a place like Wilson, the role of unions, the role of young people, the role of churches and the role of everyday citizens who may not have participated in marches in mass mobilizations but who did at the same time had a sense they too wanted greater freedom, they too wanted to be more included in the mainstream of American life, so they picked and chose their battles if you will in terms of how to participate, when to participate and in which way they would participate in this larger freedom struggle. When we have and when we engage in these local studies that focus intently on one place, we're better able to see again the variegated nature of the movement there. I think when you look at places like Wilson you become pleasantly surprised at how again how varied the movement could be in a town of that size."

Charles W. McKinney Jr. is an associate professor at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. He is the author of Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina. I'm George Olsen.

If you find yourself near Albany, Georgia this Thursday, stop by the Albany Civil Rights Institute!

ALBANY, GA - June 6, 2011 - On Thursday, June 23, the Albany Civil Rights Institute (ACRI) will hold its sixth Monthly Community Night in 2011 with civil rights historian Charles W. McKinney, Jr., speaking on the history of the civil rights movement in the eastern North Carolina community of Wilson. The talk will be based on Dr. McKinney's book, Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina.  Past monthly community nights have explored the civil rights movement in Albany, Cuthbert, Shellman, and Baker County, Georgia; Lowndes County, Montgomery, and Birmingham, Alabama; and Chicago, New York, and other northern cities.  This community night will take us to North Carolina and the Upper South.   

Charles W. McKinney, Jr.Charles W. McKinney, an associate professor of history at Rhodes College in Memphis, earned a B.A. degree in history from Morehouse College, a Master's and Ph.D. degree in history from Duke University. After graduating Morehouse and before entering Duke, he taught third grade at Ralph J. Bunch Elementary School in Compton, California.  He also directed the Summer Youth Initiative in the Durham Service Corps and was Partnership Manager in AmeriCorps/North Carolina Public Allies.  McKinney was a research associate and African and African American Studies Program Coordinator at Duke University and has taught at Rhodes College since 2005.

In his book, Dr. McKinney argues that African Americans in Wilson created an "expansive notion of freedom that influenced every aspect of life in the region and directly confronted" North Carolina's reputation for moderation.  McKinney's book has received high praise from civil rights historians.  Gerald Horne notes that "Historians have longed for . . . detailed local studies of the epochal Civil Rights Movement.  Now with . . . this beautifully written, adroitly researched and brilliantly argued book, their prayers have been answered resoundingly."  Civil rights historian Timothy B. Tyson proclaims that "The . . . triumphalist tale that begins with a weary seamstress in Montgomery and ends on a bloody balcony in Memphis takes a telling blow in Charles McKinney's Greater Freedom. . . .  McKinney's deep insights into the local dynamics of African American freedom politics defy conventional understandings of 'civil rights' and 'Black Power.'"  ACRI Executive Director Lee W. Formwalt concludes that "McKinney's portrait of civil rights in Wilson, NC, adds one more revealing piece to that complex puzzle we call the modern civil rights movement."
The June 23d Monthly Community Night will be at 7:30 p.m., at ACRI, 326 Whitney Avenue, Albany.  The event is free and open to the public.  It will be followed by a book signing.  Copies of Dr. McKinney's book, Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina, are now available for $35.00 (tax included) in the ACRI gift shop. 
 The next ACRI Monthly Community Night on Thursday, July 21 will feature the film The Intolerable Burden: Segregation, Desegregation, Resegregation, based in part on Constance Curry's book Silver Rights.  Presentation and discussion will be led by Curry, a civil rights activist and writer, and Benetta M. Standly of the ACLU Foundation of Florida.
Hilton Garden Inn Albany and Sam's Club are the sponsors of ACRI Monthly Community Nights.  For more information, contact ACRI Executive Director Lee W. Formwalt at (229) 432-1698 or

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pre-order your copy of Greater Freedom now!

Hello Family,

I hope this post finds you all in good health. As many of you know, I just completed my first book. It’s called Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina. It explores the growth and development of a civil rights struggle in a rural county in eastern North Carolina. Here’s a quick synopsis of it:

"Greater Freedom offers a groundbreaking long-term community study of Wilson County, North Carolina. Charting the evolution of Wilson’s civil rights movement, Charles McKinney argues that African Americans in Wilson created an expansive notion of freedom that influenced every aspect of life in the region and directly confronted the state’s reputation for moderation. Through exhaustive research and a compelling narrative, McKinney chronicles the approaches and perspectives that blacks in this eastern North Carolina County utilized to confront white supremacy. In the face of violence, intimidation and marginalization, voting rights activists, educational reformers, union members, students and working class black women activists in Wilson collaborated to build a grassroots movement that helped shape the course of the national civil rights movement in America.”

My publisher, University Press of America, will only begin printing copies of the book once I’ve filled a prepublication order of one hundred copies. Can you help me out by buying a couple of copies? Or ten? Or twenty? I’ll be using the book for classes in the fall, which means that I will order forty copies for my classes. I’ll also be ordering more to give to libraries and schools in North Carolina that may be interested in civil rights studies. That leaves sixty books to go. My goal is to meet the prepublication request within the next month so the book can be published by November. I’ll be going up for tenure next year, so I’ll need to have this order completed for the book to get published – so Chuck can keep his job!

You can get copies of the book by ordering from UPA’s customer service department by calling 1-800-462-6420 or by e-mailing a customer service representative at, and using the promotion code "UPREPUB." The representative will ask you for an ISBN number. That number is 978-0-7618-5230-8. The book sells at the low low price of $41.50 per copy. Also – if you do buy a copy (or three!) please call or email me to let me know. I’d like to keep a tab on how well the book is selling.

Thanks to all of you who are able to buy a copy of what I hope is an informative, enjoyable read. Don’t hesitate to give me a call if you have any questions. Again, thanks, ya'll.



The Early Reviews Are In!

Here are some early reviews of Greater Freedom:

"Historians have longed for granular and detailed local studies of the epochal Civil Rights Movement. Now with the publication of this beautifully written, adroitly researched and brilliantly argued book, their prayers have been answered resoundingly.”

Gerald Horne, author, Fire This Time: The Watts Uprising and the 1960s.

"The scholarly 'master narrative' and misguided popular memory of the civil rights movement, a triumphalist tale that begins with a weary seamstress in Montgomery and ends on a blood balcony in Memphis, takes a telling blow in Charles McKinney's GREATER FREEDOM: THE EVOLUTION OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS STRUGGLE IN WILSON, NORTH CAROLINA. McKinney unearths forty years of local organizing, revealing the violence beneath Jim Crow's racial caste system and the generations of patient labors and impatient politics that toppled that oppressive social order without escaping its grasp entirely. Here the long struggle for African American citizenship in the South, culminating in a radical, mass-based Black Power movement led by black women, comes out of history's shadows and walks in the light. Electoral politics and battles over education, labor, housing, and poverty all take their place here, held together by a deep, generational understanding of the local nature of the movement. McKinney's deep insights into the local dynamics of African American freedom politics defy conventional understandings of 'civil rights' and "Black Power,' revealing a hardscrabble landscape that historians of regional, national and international approaches must incorporate as we move towards any valid new synthesis of the movement in the South. This is an important and much-needed contribution to African American and Southern history."

Timothy B. Tyson, author of Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power and Blood Done Sign My Name.

"Greater Freedom renders plainly visible the people of Wilson County, North Carolina and lays bare the place they called home. It also shows exactly how African Americans organized to secure such basic rights as quality education and decent housing and explains why they fought for these rights with such fervor for so many years. It is a masterful work of local history and an equally marvelous work of movement history."

Hasan Kwame Jeffries, author of Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama's Black Belt

In Greater Freedom, Charles W. McKinney, Jr. creates a vivid and engaging study of the unfolding of local civil rights struggles in rural North Carolina. With an impressive use of rare archival research, interviews and secondary sources, this study focuses on a wide cross-section of local black activists who confront violent and recalcitrant forces of white supremacy, more associated with the Deep South than North Carolina. His special attention to the centrality of women and working class African Americans broadens our understanding of local freedom struggles and the dynamics of class, gender and “progressive” politics in the four decades leading up to the 1970s. This is a valuable and original contribution to the corpus of civil rights scholarship.”

Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar, author of Black Power: Radical Politics and African American Identity

“With a compelling, storytelling style, Charles McKinney paints a vibrant, complex portrait of the civil rights struggle in the eastern North Carolina community of Wilson. He details African-American networks and movement centers, making visible the long-term commitment and small steps that served as the base for the more dramatic, visible moments. McKinney digs past North Carolina's progressive image, analyzing the various ways white supremacy manifested, but he pays particular attention to the internal dynamics of the black community. Here he makes a major contribution, bringing to life the ways class and gender played out in the community and movement. McKinney offers an engaging story, while weighing in on the major historiographical debates of the day. In the process, he expands our sense of movement goals and actors in the ongoing quest for ‘Greater Freedom.’”

Emilye Crosby, author of A Little Taste of Freedom: The Black Freedom Struggle in Claiborne County, Mississippi

Is this compelling or what? Go ahead and pre-order your copy today!