By Quincy T. Mills

About Quincy T. Mills

Quincy T. Mills is Associate Professor of History and Director of Africana Studies at Vassar College. He is the author of Cutting along the Color Line: Black Barbers and Barber Shops in America (2013).

Civil Rights

The civil rights movement looms large in twentieth-­century African American studies. Regardless of one’s politics or the dearth of course material on race in American primary schools, the struggle for integration, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and the March on Washington (sans the “for Jobs and Freedom” part of the march’s title) have come to stand in for civil rights. The heroic icons and damning imagery naturalizes civil rights as a corrective to American democracy. Yet “civil rights” is a rather vague term. Do noncitizens have civil rights? If not, where can they turn for protection? Do political actors decide the boundaries of civil rights? And does the “civil” in “civil rights” account for the exigencies of humanity or the demands of everyday human existence?

“Civil rights” defines the protected rights and privileges of citizens. As a keyword used to articulate the quest for equality, it tends to rest …

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