5 Questions About Civil Rights in Black and Brown

We ask authors of books reviewed in Oral History Review to answer 5 questions about why we should read their books. In our latest installment of the series, Max Krochmal and J. Todd Moye discuss their book Civil Rights in Black and Brown: Histories of Resistance and Struggle in Texas.

Evan Faulkenbury’s review of Civil Rights in Black and Brown will soon be available in OHR Issue 49.2.

What’s it about and why does it matter?

Far from the gaze of the national media, ordinary African American and Mexican American civil rights activists in Texas built not one but two liberation movements, and they did so in conversation with one another. In small towns and huge metropolises across the Lone Star State, they combated its twin caste systems of Jim Crow and his anti-Mexican cousin, Juan Crow. Black and Chicano/a organizers worked first and foremost within their own racial groups, yet they also looked to each other for guidance and support, working together in Black/Brown coalitions that added extra force to their separate struggles. With nothing but their friends and neighbors behind them, Black and Chicano/a activists set out to transform their cities, counties, state, nation, and world. They drew on long traditions of quiet resistance to white supremacy to confront structural racism in every walk of life. Their expansive demands called for not simply integration or access, but also power, equity, and resources.While most research on American race relations has utilized a binary analytical lens—examining either “black” vs. “white” or “Anglo” vs. “Mexican”—the team behind Civil Rights in Black and Brown collects, interprets, and disseminates new oral history interviews with members of all three groups.

How does oral history contribute to your book?  

This book taps a new collection of oral history interviews to tell activists’ stories, in their own words, as they have never been told before. In 2015 and 2016, researchers with the Civil Rights in Black and Brown Oral History Project fanned out across Texas to document first-hand accounts of civil rights activism, broadly defined, in diverse Texas communities large and small. Decades after the fact, memories of past atrocities and resistance, of movements built and battles fought, remained seared in the minds of Black and Chicano/a activists. Anchored in these testimonies and traveling to locales across the state, the chapters in this book reveal the contours of daily life under segregation in Texas and uncover previously-undocumented struggles for equity in education and public services, political self-determination, and an end to state-sanctioned racial violence.The first book of its kind, CRBB is based on hundreds of oral history interviews conducted throughout Texas for the Civil Rights in Black and Brown Oral History Project, which was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and a few other local foundations. CRBB tackles Texas in all its complexity, considering civil rights organizing in rural and urban communities in the Piney Woods, Rio Grande Valley, High Plains, and major cities of the Lone Star State.   The authors of this book recover the roles of local people in the Black civil rights and Chicano/a movements in Texas and shed new light on the relationships between local, state, and national actors. The book provides fresh insights into inter-ethnic collaboration, conflict, and everything in between—all grounded in the lived experiences of the grassroots organizers and participants in the two intersecting freedom struggles. The book is also accompanied by a free digital humanities website, that features a database of nearly 8,000 searchable video interview clips from the collection, and a digital archive of unclipped interview recordings.

What do you like about using oral history as a methodology?

What’s not to love? Oral history gave us an entry point to a vast human archive of knowledge that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to access. We literally could not tell an accurate version of this history if we weren’t able to access the memories of so many activists (in our case, more than 500 of them).

Why will fellow oral historians be interested in your book?

We hope that the content of the book—each chapter focuses on a specific Texas community and is grounded in the activists’ oral histories—will be interesting in its own right, but we have also included a methodology chapter written by Max that looks behind the curtain of the larger oral history project, digital humanities site, and digital archive, and an appendix of oral history transcript excerpts that should be especially thought-provoking for oral history practitioners.

What is the one thing that you most want readers to remember about the book?

We want readers to remember that Texas has a rich history of civil rights organizing! Texas also has a long and deep history of white supremacy in all its forms, of course, so its multi-racial communities have had to be creative in finding ways to oppose it. These chapters bring those struggles to life. We also hope that readers will use our digital archives for their own research purposes, because there are many more of these stories to be told.