black and white image of protesters in the street

Teaching the “Long Hot Summer of 1967” and Beyond

A three-week NEH Summer Institute held at the University of Kansas between June 11 - July 1, 2017 looked at racial disturbances from the 1960s to the present day.

Why Study Racial Disturbances?

During the late 1960s, black urban disturbances rocked cities around the United States. These rebellions, frequently sparked by police violence, reached a fever pitch in July 1967 when massive disturbances occurred in Detroit and Newark. In the aftermath of that “long hot summer,” President Lyndon B. Johnson’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (also known as the Kerner Commission) concluded that the rebellions stemmed from patterns of racism that had splintered black and white America into two separate and unequal societies. Yet many Americans viewed the rebellions as unlawful outbursts of misconduct and violence. As post-1960s black civil disturbances in such cities as Miami (1980); Los Angeles (1992) and Cincinnati (2001) have demonstrated, social inequalities and partisan fragmentation along racial and class lines have remained persistent, making the watershed events of 1967 as pertinent today as ever.

This summer institute, which took place during the fiftieth anniversary of the Detroit and Newark upheavals, considered longstanding questions of race, equity, and social justice that continue to shape current events, and explored historical and contemporary interpretations of their causes. What circumstances sparked these urban disturbances? What is the cultural and political significance of the nomenclature applied to them? That is, what is the import of referring to these occurrences as “protests,” “riots,” “rebellions” or “revolts,” or simply “civil disturbances” or “disorders?” Further, which segments or groups in black urban communities participated in these events, and how did gender influence their participation? Were patterns of male and female involvement varied or similar? What were their motivations, perceptions, feelings and goals, and the stories they told about them? How did these activities either challenge or confirm popular ideas about black communities, especially regarding black households and families headed by women? Were these moments of social rupture organized or largely spontaneous? How did the larger American public view them, and how did this view change with time? And ultimately, what did the “rebellions” accomplish?

The institute offered participants multiple interpretative frameworks and opportunities for assessment using various forms of historical evidence. What relationship do these incidents have with what came to be known popularly as the “urban crisis?” How were the incidents perceived by different segments of the public, and by their leaders? Given the patterns of racial-spatial ordering that have emerged in US metropolitan areas since the 1960s, are the conditions giving rise to black urban disturbances today qualitatively different than those in the past? Have public attitudes about such events evolved? Moreover, can placing these civil disturbances in a larger international context affect their meaning? These and similar questions continue to puzzle or concern many Americans, and thus it is critically important that teachers in secondary education be prepared to address them.

Thirty high-school teachers were each awarded a $2,700 stipend to participate in the Teaching the “Long Hot Summer of 1967” and Beyond NEH-funded Summer Institute.

About the Summer Institute

Shawn Leigh Alexander, Project Director

Shawn Leigh Alexander (Ph.D., University of Massachusetts-Amherst) is an Associate Professor in the Department of African and African American Studies and the Director of the Langston Hughes Center at the University of Kansas.  He has previously taught at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst College, Gettysburg College, and Yale University. His research focuses on African American social and intellectual history of the 19th and 20th Centuries.

He is the author of An Army of Lions: The Struggle for Civil Rights before the NAACP (2012) and W. E. B. Du Bois: An American Intellectual and Activist (2015).  He also edited T. Thomas Fortune, the Afro-American Agitator (2008) and Reconstruction Violence and the Ku Klux Klan Hearings (2015).  He is currently working on a history of the NAACP in the 1930s.

Clarence Lang

Clarence Lang (Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) is the Dean’s Professor of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Chair of the Department of African and African-American Studies at the University of Kansas.  His research focuses on African American working-class and labor history, the Black Freedom Movement, and black urban communities in the twentieth-century Midwest.

He is the author of Grassroots at the Gateway: Class Politics and Black Freedom Struggle in St. Louis, 1936-75 (2009), and co-editor of Anticommunism and the African American Freedom Movement: Another Side of the Story (2009).

John Rury

John Rury (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin) is a Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and holds a courtesy appointment in the Department of History at the University of Kansas.  He has previously taught at Wayne State University, Antioch College, Ohio State University and DePaul University.  His research focuses on the history of American education and educational policy, especially regarding inequality in urban schools.

He is the author of Education and Social Change: Contours in the History of American Schooling (2016) and Education and Women’s Work: Female Schooling and the Division of Labor in Urban America (1991), as well as co-author of The African American Struggle for Secondary Schooling, 1940-1980: Closing the Graduation Gap (2012).  He is also editor of Urban Education in the United States: A Historical Reader (2005) and co-editor of Rethinking the History of American Education (2008) and Seeds of Crisis: Public Schooling in Milwaukee Since 1920 (1993).

Anthony Bolden

Anthony Bolden (Ph.D., Louisiana State University) is an Associate Professor in the Department of African and African-American Studies at the University of Kansas.  He has previously taught at the University of Alabama, University of Iowa, and Dillard University.  His research interests include African-American music, African-American cultural studies, popular culture, African literature, and ethnic-American literature.

He is the author of Afro-Blue: Improvisations in African American Poetry and Culture (2004) and The Funk Aesthetic in African American Poetry. Black Music, Black Poetry: Genre, Performance, and Authenticity (2014). He is also the editor of The Funk Era and Beyond: New Perspectives on Black Popular Culture (2008) and the special “Funk Issue” of American Studies (2013).

Dionne Danns

Dionne Danns (Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) is an Associate Professor of Education Leadership and Policy Studies at Indiana University. She has previously taught at University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research interests include the history of American education, African American and urban history, student and teacher activism, and school desegregation.

She is the author of Desegregating Chicago’s Public Schools: Policy Implementation, Politics and Protest, 1965-1985 (2014) and co-author of Using Past as Prologue: Contemporary Perspectives on African American Educational History (2015).

Michael Fortner

Michael Javen Fortner (Ph.D., Harvard University) is an Assistant Professor and Academic Director of the Urban Studies program at the City University of New York School of Professional Studies. His work studies the intersection of American political development and political philosophy, particularly in the areas of race, ethnicity, and class.

He is the author of Black Silent Majority: The Rockefeller Drug Laws and the Politics of Punishment (2015) and co-editor of Urban Citizenship and American Democracy (2016).

Hasan Kwame Jeffries

Hasan Kwame Jeffries (Ph.D., Duke University) is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at the Ohio State University. His research interests include African-American history, the Black Power Movement, and the relationship between power, culture and the state.

He is the author of Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt (2009). His current book project, entitled Stealing Home: Ebbets Field and Black Working Class Life in Post-Civil Rights New York, explores the struggle of working class African Americans to secure and enjoy their freedom rights, from the height of the civil rights era through the present.

Kevin Mumford

Kevin Mumford (Ph.D., Stanford University) is a Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has also taught at Towson University and the University of Iowa. His research focuses on race, politics, and sexuality in modern America, and how struggles over social difference and belonging unfolded in cities and institutions.

He is the author of Interzones: Black/White Sex Districts in Chicago and New York in the Early Twentieth Century (1997), Newark: A History of Race, Rights, and Riots in America (2007) and Not Straight, Not White: Black Gay Men From the March on Washington to the AIDS Crisis (2016).

Cathy Lisa Schneider

Cathy Lisa Schneider (Ph.D, Cornell) is an Associate Professor in the School of International Service at American University. She has also taught at St. Lawrence University, the Monterey Institute of International Studies and Brown University. Her research focuses on urban politics, comparative social movements, collective violence, urban policing, criminal justice, immigration and racial and ethnic discrimination in Europe, the United States, and Latin America.

She is the author of Police Power and Race Riots: Urban Unrest in Paris and New York (2014), and Shantytown Protest in Pinochet’s Chile (1995). She is co-editor of Collective Violence, Contentious Politics and Social Change: A Charles Tilly Reader (2015) and a special issue of the NACLA Report on the Americas entitled COPS: Crime Disorder and Authoritarian Policing (2003).

Valerie Schrag

Valerie Schrag (M.A., University of Kansas) is a Master Teacher of Social Studies at Lawrence High School in Lawrence, KS. She previously taught at Rose Hill Middle School in Rose Hill, KS and was a graduate teaching assistant for the Humanities & Western Civilization Program at the University of Kansas. She regularly teaches Advanced Placement U.S. History, Modern World History and African American History.

Heather Ann Thompson

Heather Ann Thompson (Ph.D., Princeton University) is a Professor in the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan. She has also taught at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and at Temple University. Her research focuses on activism during the 1960s and 1970s and the history of mass incarceration.

She is the author of Whose Detroit: Politics, Labor and Race in a Modern American City (2001) and Blood in the Water: The Attica Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy (2016). She also edited the collection Speaking Out With Many Voices: Activism and Protest in the 1960s and 1970s (2009).

William M. Tuttle, Jr.

William Tuttle (Ph.D, University of Wisconsin) is Professor Emeritus of American Studies, University of Kansas. He also taught at Radboud University in the Netherlands, where he held the John Adams Distinguished Fulbright Chair. His research interests include African American history, labor history, and the history of childhood.

He is the author of Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919 (1970), “Daddy’s Gone to War”: The Second World War in the Lives of America’s Children (1993), and co-author of the highly influential A People and a Nation, currently in its sixth edition (2000). He is also co-editor of Plain Folk: The Life Stories of Undistinguished Americans (1982).

Rhonda Y. Williams

Rhonda Y. Williams (Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania) is a Professor in the Department of History, and the founder and Director of the Social Justice Institute at Case Western Reserve University. Her research interests include the manifestations of race and gender inequality on urban space and policy, social movements, and illicit narcotics economies in the post-1940s United States.

She is the author of Concrete Demands: The Search for Black Power in the 20th Century (2015) and The Politics of Public Housing: Black Women’s Struggles against Urban Inequality (2005), She is the co-editor of Teaching the American Civil Rights Movement: Freedom’s Bittersweet Song (2003) and the recently launched book series Justice, Power, and Politics.

Kevin Willmott

Kevin Willmott (M.F.A., New York University) is a Professor in the Department of Film and Media Studies at the University of Kansas. In addition to his work in academia, he is an award-winning writer, producer and director with a long list of credits.

Wilmott wrote and directed C.S.A – The Confederate States of America (2004), a film depicting an alternative United States where the confederacy won the civil war, which was selected for the Sundance Film Festival. He also co-wrote the 2015 film Chi-Raq, which adapts Aristophanes’ Lysistrata to explore gang violence on the south side of Chicago, with director Spike Lee.