Moral Movements: Civil Rights Coming Back to the Future

From the Justice Department to the “Moral Monday” movement, proactive social-justice efforts are moving forward.


The response to our current national climate of racial and economic injustice has been mixed. Some cling to a philosophy of colorblind racism that blames individual behavior for social misery and poverty rooted in systemic inequality. Others marvel at the myriad achievements of the African-American “Talented Tenth,” relishing the achievements of everyone from Jay Z and Beyoncé to Oprah Winfrey and the first family. 

The boldest choice—one exemplified in different ways by Moral Mondays, Holder and My Brother’s Keeper—is to squarely confront the new face of oppression, which, depressingly, looks strikingly familiar to veteran civil rights activists. The direct-action movement that SNCC launched decades ago continues to serve as an inspiration and a heroic example of speaking truth to power no matter the cost.

Peniel E. Joseph, a contributing editor at The Root, is founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy and a professor of history at Tufts University. He is also the Caperton fellow for the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute at Harvard University. He is the author of Waiting ’Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America and Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama. His biography of Stokely Carmichael, Stokely: A Life, is due out in March. Follow him on Twitter.