This session examines young citizens’ varied roles and experiences during the black freedom struggle. Few scholars have discussed the contributions of youth in the struggle for voting rights and equal education. The presenters of this panel will examine how young people were drawn into, how they choose to participate in, and how they experienced the civil rights struggle. Ben Keppel’s presentation will illuminate how public schools served as a political community in which high school students first experienced and expressed civic association. Jill Ogline Titus explores the experiences of the teenage population of Prince Edward County, Virginia who faced one of the nation’s most insidious attempts to circumvent Brown v. Board of Education. While many black youth were politicized by the experience, this massive educational dislocation devastated others. Keppel and Titus’s presentations show how school and education served as important spaces where young people began to critically engage with racial oppression and actively protest against school segregation.
Young citizens across the nation also fought for the expansion of political rights. In her paper, Rebecca de Schweinitz argues that the campaign to lower the voting age to 18 can be better understood in the context of a long history of youth political activism, especially for civil rights—including voting rights—and that it should be regarded as an important moment in American socio-political history; one that continues to shape American society today. Susan Eckelmann will analyze children’s and teenagers’ songs, poetry, paintings, and letters addressed to politicians and civil rights activists illustrates how young citizens experienced the civil rights demonstrations. Beyond participating in demonstrations, youth sought alternative ways to protest political inequalities from afar by offering material support and encouragement. Although they were not yet legally allowed to vote, the fight for political rights became a central theme in the lives of many youth during the civil rights movement.