"To Strike for Right, To Strike With Might": African Americans and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Baltimore, 1910-1930

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“‘To Strike for Right, To Strike With Might’: African Americans and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Baltimore, 1910–1930” examines the nature, character and scope of early civil rights activism among African Americans in Baltimore, Maryland. Utilizing an expansive definition of “civil rights,” it explores not only voting and holding political office, access to public education, and fair housing opportunities; it also considers struggles for access to municipal and social services and struggles related to labor and employment. By placing all of these terrains of struggle under the umbrella of “civil rights,” the dissertation emphasizes the importance of these rights in relation to one another and their importance in the minds and lives of African Americans who struggled for rights in each of these categories as part of a broader struggle for equality.

Baltimore has long been recognized for its civil rights activism by scholars who portray the era of the 1930s to 1950s as a kind of “golden age” of civil rights activism in the city, considering such activism to have been dormant prior to that period. The dissertation reveals an active civil rights movement in the city in the decades preceding the 1930s that was led primarily by members of the middle-class but drew widespread support and strength from members of all classes in Baltimore’s African American community. In uncovering the civil rights activism of the period from 1910 to 1930, the dissertation brings to the forefront previously ignored organizations, including the Federation of Parent-Teacher Clubs, the Women’s Cooperative Civic League, the Independent Republican League, and the Baltimore Urban League. It also reveals that the activism of the period from 1910 to 1930 was important in launching major civil rights campaigns of national organizations such as the NAACP, whose residential segregation campaign had roots in the fight in Baltimore. Throughout, the dissertation explores the ways that black Baltimoreans defined priorities and struggled for rights, resulting in a more nuanced understanding of African Americans’ struggles for citizenship and equality at beginning of the twentieth century.