By Deion Boxton
The best way to understand the Civil Rights movement is as grassroots organizing rather than one of mass protests led by charismatic leaders, a former journalist and political activist told Towson University students Thursday.
Duke University Professor Charles Cobb, a former member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and a senior analyst with the news website allAfrica.com, also characterized the Civil Rights movement as “black resistance to white supremacy.”
“News is shaped by what is left out,” Cobb said. “The same goes for history.”
Cobb said Hollywood isn’t in the business of historical accuracy, adding that the recent movie Selma leaves out a lot of history prior to the actual events of the movie.
Cobb expressed how he is “extremely dissatisfied” with black leadership in today’s society.
He said most young people today would say that the Civil Rights movement was that “Rosa sat down and Martin stood up.”
Cobb said there are “three primary elements to the Southern movement.”
First, he said many African Americans were taught trades during World War II that allowed them later to have professions.
Second, he said many people were spoken for by others, so registering to vote became a platform where many blacks could have a voice.
Lastly, blacks challenged each other to be great during the 1950s and 1960s, he said. Martin Luther King Jr., Cobb said, was able to demonstrate leadership while also garnering action from his peers.
Cobb characterized his home state of Mississippi as “the worst place on Earth for black people, if not the universe.”
Cobb, who was born in Washington and lives in Jacksonville, Florida, said he was a Mississippi field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) from 1962 to 1967, working primarily in the Mississippi Delta.
A founding member of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), Cobb was a foreign affairs reporter for National Public Radio, a correspondent for the PBS documentary program Frontline, and from 1985 to 1997, was a staff writer for National Geographic magazine. He is currently a Duke University “scholar-activist.” Cobb is also the author of several books.
Cobb was the guest speaker for the annual John Gissendanner Memorial Lecture held at Towson University.