Dr. Aldon Morris, a professor of sociology and African American studies, spoke on March 3 in the Tioga Library building about the Civil Rights Movement and the forces behind it. His talk was sponsored by the UW graduate school.
Morris is the author of “The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change” and “The Scholar Denied: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology.”
“I picked cotton, I went to segregated schools, [and] drank from segregated fountains. So when I see it on TV, it’s what I lived, and not ancient history like my daughters think,” Dr. Morris said, with a chuckle.
Morris has a lifelong passion for understanding class dynamics, rooted in his experience of living in the south under Jim Crow laws.
“I had an understanding and an exposure to what it meant to be poor and black,” Morris said. “To that extent, I don’t think it’s an accident that I’m interested in race and class. When I was in community college, I worked in a factory. I knew that scene very well.”
These early life experiences sparked a passion in Morris. Throughout his early studies, he stated that he did not have a name for what he wanted to study until he took a class with a sociology professor who he described himself as being “a black man from the south, and a person who understood what community stood for.” It was because of this that Morric started reading the works of W.E.B DuBois and others.
Morris explained that his academic career was a series of accidents. He didn’t intend on becoming a scholar until he made his way through graduate school and he needed to find a job. Earning a Ph.D in Sociology from Stony Brook University, Morris wound up teaching at the University of Michigan.
The central focus of Morris’ studies have revolved around the dynamics of social movements. During this talk, he discussed the origins of the Civil Rights Movement. The movement was largely the work of many small parts, rooted deeply in the black church community. This led to one of the main arguments that he made during his talk — that social movements, specifically the Civil Rights Movement, are a sum of all of their parts.
In his opinion, the black church’s long standing oratorical history gave way to preachers like King being strong speakers. The communities themselves produced people like King, though he was not responsible for the movement.
“Martin Luther King was not an extraordinary god that fell from the sky,” said Morris.
These conversations are especially relevant today with the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement. According to Morris, the arguments from the Civil Rights Movement are consistent with the Black Lives Matter movement — breaking down the idea of white superiority.
Morris wanted attendees to think about was the fact that figures like Martin Luther King are celebrated now, but were highly criticized during their time.
“MLK was dubbed a communist for wanting redistribution of wealth,” Morris said. “[He was] demonized and people didn’t want him to have a voice. This climate led up to his assassination. Why is he embraced now that he can’t speak for himself?”