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Vanguards of Change in the ‘Georgia of the North’: Youth Activism in the Civil Rights Movement in New Jersey

Year: 2023

Presenter Name: Emily Peterson

In 1935, Black children were forced to play on a separate playground sectioned off with barbed wire. In 1938, white onlookers threw tomatoes at young Black children who were attempting to swim in a local pool. In 1948, the NAACP reported 27 segregated schools in 11 different counties and that Black teachers had on average three times the workload of white teachers. In 1950, Martin Luther King Jr. and his friends were run out of a restaurant due to the color of their skin. In hearing all of these accounts, one would likely assume that they had occurred in the Deep South. Yet each of these instances occurred far north of the Mason-Dixon line, in New Jersey, state NAACP workers sometimes referred to as the "Georgia of the North," because of its particularly harsh racial discrimination. In recent years, there has been growing interest in the Civil Rights movement, with scholars looking beyond the most prominent male leaders of the national movement in the 1960s. This paper builds on the work of scholars like Martha Biondi and Tomas Sugrue who have established the significance of the Black freedom struggle in the North but have primarily focused on cities like New York City, Detroit, and Chicago. It also draws on the work of historians Rebecca de Schweinitz and Thomas Bynum, which have examined the role of youth, largely in the South, in propelling the civil rights movement beyond litigation strategies. This paper highlights the role of youth in the Black freedom struggle in urban, suburban, and rural New Jersey communities from 1935 to 1955. Drawing on NAACP youth council branch papers and local newspapers from the time it showcases youth as active organizers in advancing educational opportunities, facilitating direct action, and organizing community programs, to support local and national civil rights initiatives. Showcasing how youth activism in New Jersey advanced efforts for racial justice in the state and facilitated regional and national collaboration, This research helps us to understand the civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century as a national, not just a Southern struggle. It also helps uncover the role that youth played in the long, and geographically broad, struggle for civil rights.
University / Institution: Brigham Young University
Type: Oral
Format: In Person
SESSION A (9:00-10:30AM)
Area of Research: Social Sciences
Faculty Mentor: Emily Peterson
Location: Union Building, PANORAMA EAST (10:00am)