Nonviolence before King

The Politics of Being and the Black Freedom Struggle

By Anthony C. Siracusa

290 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 6 halftones, 1 map

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6300-5
    Published: June 2021
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6299-2
    Published: June 2021
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-6301-2
    Published: May 2021
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6097-2
    Published: May 2021

Justice, Power, and Politics

Buy this Book

For Professors:
Free E-Exam Copies

To purchase online via an independent bookstore, visit
In the early 1960s, thousands of Black activists used nonviolent direct action to challenge segregation at lunch counters, movie theaters, skating rinks, public pools, and churches across the United States, battling for, and winning, social change. Organizers against segregation had used litigation and protests for decades but not until the advent of nonviolence did they succeed in transforming ingrained patterns of white supremacy on a massive scale. In this book, Anthony C. Siracusa unearths the deeper lineage of anti-war pacifist activists and thinkers from the early twentieth century who developed nonviolence into a revolutionary force for Black liberation.

Telling the story of how this powerful political philosophy came to occupy a central place in the Black freedom movement by 1960, Siracusa challenges the idea that nonviolent freedom practices faded with the rise of the Black Power movement. He asserts nonviolence's staying power, insisting that the indwelling commitment to struggle for freedom collectively in a spirit of nonviolence became, for many, a lifelong commitment. In the end, what was revolutionary about the nonviolent method was its ability to assert the basic humanity of Black Americans, to undermine racism's dehumanization, and to insist on the right to be.

About the Author

Anthony C. Siracusa is the Senior Director of Inclusive Cultures and Initiatives at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

For more information about Anthony C. Siracusa, visit the Author Page.


"A sweeping synthesis. . . . This is an important and provocative book that deserves to be widely read."--Journal of Social History

“Siracusa . . . considers the importance of historical legacy in focusing on the genealogy of nonviolence as a political tool in the ongoing struggle for freedom and equality.” —CHOICE

“Compelling. . . .  Siracusa’s monograph represents a decisive contribution to our understanding of the Black freedom movement.”—Reading Religion

“Remarkable. . . . [I]ts recognition of the vital contributions made by Black intellectuals to the language, practice, and institutions that established nonviolence as a revolutionary force in American society marks its significance and makes it a must-read by students of civil rights history and Black intellectual history, to name a few.”—Journal of Southern History

“Siracusa has undertaken a remarkably rich excavation of the evolution of nonviolent thought in the decades leading up to the modern civil rights movement and Dr. Martin L. King Jr. As deftly demonstrated here, the genealogy of nonviolent thought in the context of black freedom movements has deep roots…. Through thoughtful, sharp analysis and archival work, this history provides an important complement to the expansive corpus of scholarship on civil rights and nonviolence.”—Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar, professor of history at the University of Connecticut and author of Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap

"This book is sorely needed to understand the centrality of nonviolence in the Black freedom struggle and as a corrective to the current state of civil rights historiography."--Clarence Taylor, author of Black Religious Intellectuals: The Fight for Equality from Jim Crow to the 21st Century