Date of Award

12-2009

Degree Name

MA in History

Department

History

Advisor

Tom Trice

Abstract

Civil rights have long been an important focus of historical scholarship. As the United States continues to grapple with issues of racism and the complicated legacy of the Civil Rights Movement, it is imperative that a variety of perspectives are incorporated into scholarship on the subject. Traditional scholarship on the subject has focused on the large organizations, individuals, marches, and activities that have come to characterize the Civil Rights movement. This study seeks to integrate the perspectives of a case study population, African Americans in San Luis Obispo, California, to assess the ways in which African Americans away from large population centers were able to participate in the Civil Rights movement. This study draws primarily on contemporary newspapers, NAACP records, and government documents to assess the relationship between the local civil rights movement and its national counterpart. Civil rights activities at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo also reveal important instances of discrimination and exclusion on campus. Research has shown that, despite relative isolation and a miniscule population, African Americans in San Luis Obispo experienced similar discrimination, isolation, and economic exclusion as their urban and rural counterparts throughout the nation. They also attempted to bring attention to their plight using nationally established organizations and tactics. Though African Americans in San Luis Obispo met with limited success, their previously undocumented struggle has revealed a population determined to fight for their rights. The continuity between the experiences of African Americans throughout the country renders a more complete understanding of racism in the United States.

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