Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Peggy W. Prenshaw
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, black southerners in the United States engaged in the series of nonviolent social protests known collectively as the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke often of the integrated "Beloved Community" that would result from this nonviolent direct action. This dissertation examines the ways in which six contemporary American novelists have created fictional narratives about the Civil Rights Movement, narratives that employ "integrationist" literary devices whereby form reflects the theme of the search for the Beloved Community across race, gender, and class lines. That is, each novelist chooses to tell his or her story about the Civil Rights Movement from the shifting points of view of black characters and white characters so that narrative strategy reflects the integrationist strategy of the Movement. Bebe Moore Campbell's Your Blues Ain't Like Mine (1992), William Cobb's A Walk through Fire (1994), Vicki Covington's The Last Hotel for Women (1996), William Heath's The Children Bob Moses Led (1995), Alice Walker's Meridian (1976), and Julius Lester's And All Our Wounds Forgiven (1994) all embody literary strategies characterized by multiple perspectives and themes that express and interrogate racial integration. Just as the 1960s Civil Rights Movement forced Americans to consider the ramifications of integration, these six novels engage readers in questions about the possibility, or even desirability, of integration---an issue that seems increasingly attenuated in contemporary discussions of race relations. Implicit in each novel is the author's assessment of the likelihood that racial integration can take place in the United States. Moreover, these novels alternate the perspectives of women and men, and of the disadvantaged and the advantaged. Reflecting the limitations of the Civil Rights Movement, these novels reveal that integration was and continues to be an elusive goal. However, these novels also affirm that individual blacks and individual whites can achieve meaningful relationships with each other. By engaging contemporary readers empathetically in the intense era of the Civil Rights Movement, these six novels revive the 1960s ideal of the Beloved Community and challenge readers to re-examine the problems and the promises of racial integration in the United States.
Tewkesbury, Paul III, "Writing the Beloved Community: Integrated Narratives in Six Contemporary American Novels About the Civil Rights Movement." (2001). LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 323.