Student Reader

Civil Rights Movement

In the United States, churches were the centers for the African-descended people to coalesce and unify in order to dissolve and reshape the violent, organized, institutional subjugation led by Anglo-Europeans. Civic, activist and religious communities were often one and the same. Simultaneously, the stakes of the civil rights movement were being raised: with the failure to achieve even minor, modest successes, pressure mounted for a full-scale reassessment of segregation and the meaning of being a United States citizen.

The philosophical-religious manifestation of this pressure-cooker was Liberation Theology: Christian themes became the lifeblood that brought grueling day-to-day realities to life in the high relief of religious rhetoric, and these same themes also foresaw a civic liberation on the scope of a religious salvation. This lifeblood fueled the Montgomery Bus Boycott and would animate the emerging Civil Rights Movement.

Today, the overall secularization of United States culture has weakened Liberation Theology as well. But the largest single death blow to Liberation Theology was that with the successes of the civil rights era, also came the realization that its astonishing failures. Assassinations (often led by the United States government), economic collapses (such as in the Rust Belt), and the cruel endurance and rebirth of racism were all grinding, tiring realities which dulled the fantastical appeal of Liberation Theology.

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