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Empowered And Emboldened, Today's Protesters Aim To Further Push For Equality Started In 1960s

The current Black Lives Matter protests have taken some cues from the 1960s civil rights movement — but they also stand apart in a number of ways.

Author and historian Max Krochmal is an associate professor and chair of comparative race and ethnic studies at Texas Christian University. As part of the Every 30 Seconds collaborative project, which is tracing young Latino voters across the country, he spoke with us about the two social movements.

Stella Chávez: How do the current Black Lives Matter protests compare to the protests we saw during the 1960s civil rights movement?

Max Krochmal:What we’re seeing today is a new and exciting protest movement that certainly has some similarities to earlier civil rights struggles.

In the 1960s, the civil rights movement – the black freedom movement – pushed America as far as white America was willing to go.

They demanded and won access to public accommodations. They won the Voting Rights Act. Eventually they won fair housing, although that’s been harder to enforce. They won equal employment opportunity, which was difficult to enforce.

But when it came to fundamental changes in the American power structure … the civil rights movement hit a wall. They were not to fundamentally integrate schools, in the end, in most places. They weren’t able to reform political structures deeply. They weren’t able to change the economic arrangements that continued to keep Black people and other people in poverty.

I see the current Black Lives movement as picking up that torch, as saying that the things the nation identified as wrong in the wake of the last wave of urban rebellion are still wrong.

Chávez:  Do you think today’s generation is tackling issues of diversity and racial inequality differently than previous generations?

Krochmal:What we're seeing right now that I think is amazing and remarkable is that young people are out in the streets for the first time ever. They’ve grown up with, unfortunately, a very sanitized view of history, but one that does include a few moments of direct action protests.

Most of the time, students feel alienated from that history, but right now, there’s a sense among them that they’re out doing it, that they are themselves making history.

They’re empowered and they’re emboldened and they believe in the capacity for change. They’re incredibly optimistic.

I think today’s generation is talking about race in new ways and they’re willing to accept the lessons of history in a way that previous groups were not. They’re willing to say white privilege is a thing and if we don’t address that, we can’t move forward.

Chávez:  How do you think this movement will affect the ballot box? Will it have an impact on the presidential election in November?

Krochmal:Civil rights movements in the past, we often think of them as being just out in the streets or just focused on integration. But in many cases, they were also deeply engaged with electoral politics, and what I think is happening now is we’re seeing a fusion emerging of the grassroots protests in the streets with groups that have been working to make political change.

We’re seeing folks paying attention to local politics who’ve never noticed it before. I think that people are going to start thinking more about those down-ballot races and organizing around those down-ballot races, and it’s actually going to have a trickle-up effect.

I think if Joe Biden ends up winning, it’s going to be because of the grass roots insurgency from below that’s occurring around these racial justice issues.

This interview was edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Reporter Stella M. Chávez at schavez@kera.org. You can follow Stella on Twitter at @stellamchavez.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members.  If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Copyright 2020 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

In this July 26, 2020, file photo, federal officers launch tear gas at demonstrators during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland, Ore.
Associated Press /
In this July 26, 2020, file photo, federal officers launch tear gas at demonstrators during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland, Ore.