Voices of Civil Rights is a website sponsored by AARP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), and the Library of Congress to collect and archive first-hand accounts of civil rights developments in the United States with a focus on the second half of the twentieth century. The site includes more than 500 primary accounts dealing with efforts to end discrimination based on race, gender, age, and disability. The site also includes supplemental resources such as images, timelines, music videos, links, and essays on continuing efforts to achieve a more equal society.
The primary function of the site is to collect letters and historical materials from people who witnessed the civil rights movement first-hand. A user can read the accounts of others or submit a letter of their own. The submission process requires two steps. First, a writer must type their story and define certain descriptors such as year, subject, and state. Then the writer must agree to the site’s terms and conditions and provide their name, email, phone number, and contact information. The site reserves the right to edit, reproduce, and distribute submitted stories and images. Most of the letters range from 200-500 words.
For users hoping to read the stories, the accounts are searchable by state, topic, and year, or a user can search by keywords. Each resulting entry provides a title, the author’s name, and a two-line excerpt. A user can also browse the letters without searching, but this is a slow process because the site will only display ten entries at a time. In addition to the letters, the site offers a timeline, images, a feature on Jackie Robinson, and a quiz to test your knowledge. The site incorporates several different mediums in its presentation as well. Besides the letters which can be read, slideshows and music videos offer a visual element and a few interviews provide audio files along with their transcripts.
Beyond the historical materials, Voices of Civil Rights also includes much information about the continuing civil rights movement. In 2004, the site sponsored a bus tour, entitled “Across America,” that visited cities across the American South and South West commemorating civil rights advances, gathering stories, and assessing current knowledge and attitudes about civil rights. The tour is documented with videos of various stops, journal entries by tour writers, and photos. The site also offers several bios of new leaders who have recently founded or joined civil rights initiatives and essays about what the past has to teach the present, new challenges that must be faced, and the protests that can be heard in contemporary culture.
Voices of Civil Rights contributes to the civil rights discussion by stretching our understanding of what “civil rights” include. Among the many stories of freedom marches, voter registration drives, and sit-ins are other stories about discrimination against Native Americans, Hispanics, and Asians. There are also stories about the push to recognize and fight age discrimination and the experiences of people with disabilities, from physical handicaps to special education needs. These histories are sometimes overshadowed by the celebration of victories over Jim Crow in the South, but other issues certainly deserve the attention they receive here, and the collection of personal accounts in these civil rights battles should help raise the level of their study and discussion.
George Mason University
May 6, 2005