African American History under the Spotlight

The internationally renowned American Civil Rights expert gave King's A Level students a deeper appreciation of both the key individuals and the tide of socio-economic change behind the fight for improved black rights.

Professor Verney, who is the Associate Dean for Research at Edge Hill University and their Head of English, History and Creative Writing, asked the students to look further into the past, stating "The charismatic Dr Martin Luther King was standing on the shoulders of great African American leaders of previous generations."

"At the turn of the 20th century the black scholar and civil rights activist William Edward Burghardt Du Bois fought for greater educational opportunity, while between the wars the Trade Union leader Asa Philip Randolph, who formed the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the leading African American trade union, set the example for Dr King."

"It was Asa Philip Randolph who adopted the tactics of peaceful pickets, lock-ins, marches and mass rallies that were the theme of Dr King's movement in the Sixties."

In the wake of Dr King's powerful motivational movement, Professor Verney also noted the contribution of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who altered his own personal stance as a former Texan sceptic to become a great reformer. "The Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which sought to end segregation, give equal voting rights and provide fairer access to state housing for all colours, were pivotal moments in American history," argued Professor Verney.

"Lyndon B. Johnson gave over 200 speeches on African American Civil Rights during his lifetime, far more than any of his predecessors."

Alongside the powerful individuals who changed the course of history, Professor Verney was also concerned with the inevitability of change and how the contribution of African Americans during the First World War, The Great Depression and The Second World War forced white leaders to rethink.

"Between 1915 and 1925 there was a great migration of black populations from the South to the North with 1.25 million people on the move to a location where they had the right to vote. This meant politicians in the North had to take notice of their new voters, while politicians in the South could settle for retrenchment."

African American history is one of the biggest growth areas in American History and American Studies departments nationwide, with "more research being done in this field than either the Civil War or the Vietnam War," said Professor Verney, "lessons from history must be drawn by today's politicians."

"By 2042, the white population in America will just be the largest minority, and as early as 2028 the growing number of ethnic minority voters in Texas may see the state vote to elect a Democratic candidate for the presidency for the first time since the 1970s. The same thing has happened with California, where Reagan used to be the Governor but where Republican candidates for the presidency no longer even bother to visit during the general election campaign.”

"If the Republicans lose the big three states of California, New York and then Texas, it is difficult to see how a traditional white conservative presidential candidate can win again in the foreseeable future, unless they radically change their stance.”

King's Head of History, Lianne Hughes, who organises the school's renowned peripatetic lecture series, said: "The interest in African American Civil rights, and more broadly, diversity in the curriculum meant that students of Politics, Economics and science subjects also chose to join our historians to hear Professor Verney's views on the increased prevalence of the Black Lives Matter movement. This reflects the appetite among our students across the school to explore diverse history.”