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Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement in the USA HI3018-03/05

The course aims to provide a detailed, intensive and thorough examination of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement.

The course will enable students to develop:

  • a close and critical familiarity with a selection of primary and secondary material.
  • a detailed appreciation of historiographical issues.
  • personal communication skills through discussion.
  • skills in integrating primary and secondary material into structured and coherent written work.


30 Credits

Topics covered

  • Course Introduction: Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement – What You Know Now
  • The Historiography of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement
  • Brown v. Board of Education, Massive Resistance, and the Little Rock Crisis, 1954-1957
  • King’s Early Life, 1929-1955
  • The Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955-56
  • King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), 1957-60
  • King, the Sit-Ins and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC),1960
  • King, the Freedom Rides and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), 1960-61
  • The Albany Movement Campaign, 1961-1962
  • The Birmingham Campaign, 1963
  • The March on Washington, 1963.
  • The St. Augustine Campaign and the 1964 Civil Rights Act
  • The Mississippi Freedom Summer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), 1964
  • The Selma Campaign, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the FBI
  • The Chicago Campaign, 1965-66
  • The Meredith March against fear and Black Power, 1966.
  • King’s Final Years: Vietnam and Economic Justice, 1967-68
  • A Contested Hero: Commemorating King
  • Course Conclusion: Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement – What You Know Now

Learning outcomes

Students who successfully complete this course will be able to:

  • Understand the role played by Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement;
  • Describe the changing nature of civil rights between 1955 and 1968 and especially the emergence of mass protest and direct action;
  • Scrutinise, analyse and interpret historical documents
  • Evaluate the strengths, limitations and meanings of primary sources;
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the secondary literature and the main historiographical debates.
  • Write a well argued, clearly structured long essay (dissertation) using principally primary sources


  • HI3018-03 (10,000-word dissertation 100%)
  • HI3018-05 Exam (80%), Essay (10%) and Reflective journal and forum posts (10%).

Essential reading

  • John A. Kirk, Martin Luther King, Jr (Pearson Longman, 2005)
  • John A. Kirk (ed.), Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement: Controversies and Debates (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
  • Clayborne Carson (ed.) The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Various editions, originally published 1998).
  • Cook, Robert, Sweet Land of Liberty: The African American Struggle for Civil Rights in the Twentieth Century (London: Longman, 1998)
  • Fairclough, Adam, Better Day Coming: Blacks and Equality, 1890-2000 (New York: Penguin, 2001)