"The Grassy Battleground": Race, Religion, and Activism in Camden's "Wide" Civil Rights Movement Open Access
My dissertation, "The Grassy Battleground": Race, Religion, and Activism in Camden's "Wide" Civil Rights Movement, considers the shifting alliances of religious actors and lay people who comprised interracial coalitions in an American secondary city. This project uses the economic and social context of Camden, New Jersey-- the poorest city, in the richest, most racially segregated state in the nation-- to demonstrate how interracial alliances, consisting of black and white ministers, black and Puerto Rican militants, and other lay people, shifted from the 1930s and 1940s when they were organized around labor issues, to the 1960s and 1970s, when they were concerned primarily with social equality. Specifically, this project constructs a big-picture analysis of black militant Charles "Poppy" Sharp's political ascendance to consider the shift from a strictly nonviolent movement devoid of the working-class and "poor," to a radical, racially integrated movement. Sharp's story complicates the discussion of the civil rights movement by demonstrating the role black and white churches, white suburbanites, and Puerto Ricans played in a movement dominated ostensibly by Black Power politics. While Sharp and his organization, the Black Peoples Unity Movement, were characterized by Black Power rhetoric and militancy, they worked closely with the mostly white Camden Metropolitan Ministry, the white, suburban Friends of the Black Peoples Unity Movement, and members of the Puerto Rican community. The alliances fostered by these groups reveal unique opportunities for interracial organizing in secondary cities that were not realized in other corners of the movement. This dissertation argues that despite the militant rhetoric that pervaded the movement in Camden, due to its economy and demographics, activists organized across race and despite ideology.
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