Battling the Plantation Mentality

Memphis and the Black Freedom Struggle

By Laurie B. Green

432 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 25 illus., 3 maps, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5802-8
    Published: May 2007
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-8887-2
    Published: December 2009

John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture

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Awards & distinctions

2008 Finalist, Liberty Legacy Foundation Award, Organization of American Historians

2008 Philip Taft Labor History Award, ILR School of Cornell University and Labor and Working Class History Association

African American freedom is often defined in terms of emancipation and civil rights legislation, but it did not arrive with the stroke of a pen or the rap of a gavel. No single event makes this more plain, Laurie Green argues, than the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers' strike, which culminated in the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Exploring the notion of "freedom" in postwar Memphis, Green demonstrates that the civil rights movement was battling an ongoing "plantation mentality" based on race, gender, and power that permeated southern culture long before--and even after--the groundbreaking legislation of the mid-1960s.

With its slogan "I AM a Man!" the Memphis strike provides a clarion example of how the movement fought for a black freedom that consisted of not only constitutional rights but also social and human rights. As the sharecropping system crumbled and migrants streamed to the cities during and after World War II, the struggle for black freedom touched all aspects of daily life. Green traces the movement to new locations, from protests against police brutality and racist movie censorship policies to innovations in mass culture, such as black-oriented radio stations. Incorporating scores of oral histories, Green demonstrates that the interplay of politics, culture, and consciousness is critical to truly understanding freedom and the black struggle for it.

About the Author

Laurie B. Green is associate professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin.
For more information about Laurie B. Green, visit the Author Page.


"Grounds evolving definitions of 'freedom' in the everyday experiences of African-Americans as well as in organized campaigns for civil rights progress."--Social History

"Well researched and well documented. . . . Richly grounded in oral interviews. . . .Recommend[ed] to those interested in working class histories, the history of the Civil Rights movements, and Black women's history."--American Studies

“An impressive piece of research.”--Labor

"A deeply researched, comprehensive account of the many levels of struggle and modes of thought that African Americans in the Deep South employed to break the system of Jim Crow. . . . [A] powerful work of people's scholarship. . . . Provides a welcome, fresh look and brilliantly documents that varied terrain of the African American battle for personhood and dignity."--Journal of Southern History

"A fresh look at the Memphis freedom struggle. . . . The result is a well-documented study."--Oral History Review

"A long chronology is only one of the book's strengths. Its major contribution to movement historiography is its analysis of connections between various spheres of black protest."--Journal of American History