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Kirk Edits Landmark New Book on Civil Rights Movement

A University of Arkansas at Little Rock professor has edited a new book on the civil rights movement that uses primary sources to highlight its important themes, issues, and figures.

Dr. John Kirk, George W. Donaghey Distinguished Professor of History at UA Little Rock, edited “The Civil Rights Movement: A Documentary Reader.”

The book, which was released in 2020 by Wiley, one of the world’s leading academic publishers, is part of the Uncovering the Past series on American history. Focusing on documents, this volume offers a concise yet comprehensive analysis of the civil rights movement by covering both well-known and relatively unfamiliar texts. 

“There hasn’t been a new book that incorporates the most recent historiographical updates in a wide-ranging primary document collection in more than a generation,” Kirk said.

The book contains 120 edited primary documents over 329 pages, each containing Kirk’s expert headnote introduction for context. It also includes an introductory essay by Kirk that provides an authoritative overview of recent developments in the field.

Dr. John Kirk edited "The Civil Rights Movement: A Documentary Reader."
Dr. John Kirk edited “The Civil Rights Movement: A Documentary Reader.”

“Historians encourage students to learn through primary documents,” Kirk said. “In an age of misinformation and disinformation, it’s important that we critically examine primary sources. Instead of just talking about an event, we can show students first-hand what key actors and organizations in the movement said in their own words. In this way, students can experience a more direct and immediate connection with the past.”

The book provides a fascinating look at the civil rights movement from the 1940s into the modern era.

“The focus of the book is mainly on the 1960s, which was a key decade for the civil rights movement,” Kirk said. “However, I start with a chapter on the origins of the movement and end with a chapter that examines the extensive legacies of the movement, including the current Black Lives Matters movement.”

Kirk’s next book is a biography of Winthrop Rockefeller, who in 1966 was elected the first Republican governor of Arkansas in 94 years. The book will be published by the University of Arkansas Press this fall.

“Rockefeller was governor during an important transitional period in Arkansas history,” Kirk said. “The book shows that he had a long history of working in race relations, even before coming to the state.”