A retrospective on the civil rights movement: Political and intellectual landmarks

Aldon D. Morris*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


This review provides an analysis of the political and intellectual contributions made by the modem civil rights movement. It argues that the civil rights movement was able to overthrow the Southern Jim Crow regime because of its successful use of mass nonviolent direct action. Because of its effectiveness and visibility, it served as a model that has been utilized by other movements both domestically and internationally. Prior to the civil rights movement social movement scholars formulated collective behavior and related theories to explain social movement phenomena. These theories argued that movements were spontaneous, non-rational, and unstructured. Resource mobilization and political process theories reconceptualized movements stressing their organized, rational, institutional and political features. The civil rights movement played a key role in generating this paradigmatic shift because of its rich empirical base that led scholars to rethink social movement phenomena.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)517-539
Number of pages23
JournalAnnual Review of Sociology
StatePublished - 1999


  • Change
  • M. L. King
  • Race
  • Segregation
  • Social movement theory
  • Tactics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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