A More Beautiful and Terrible History

The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History
Narrated by: Kim Staunton
Length: 11 hrs and 18 mins
Categories: History, Americas
4.7 out of 5 stars (67 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Praised by The New York Times; O, The Oprah Magazine; Bitch Magazine; Slate; Publishers Weekly; and more, this is "a bracing corrective to a national mythology" (New York Times) around the civil rights movement.

The civil rights movement has become national legend, lauded by presidents from Reagan to Obama to Trump, as proof of the power of American democracy. This fable, featuring dreamy heroes and accidental heroines, has shuttered the movement firmly in the past, whitewashed the forces that stood in its way, and diminished its scope. And it is used perniciously in our own times to chastise present-day movements and obscure contemporary injustice. 

In A More Beautiful and Terrible History, award-winning historian Jeanne Theoharis dissects this national myth-making, teasing apart the accepted stories to show them in a strikingly different light. We see Rosa Parks not simply as a bus lady but a lifelong criminal justice activist and radical; Martin Luther King, Jr. as not only challenging Southern sheriffs but Northern liberals, too; and Coretta Scott King as not only a "helpmate" but a lifelong economic justice and peace activist who pushed her husband's activism in these directions. 

Moving from "the histories we get" to "the histories we need", Theoharis challenges nine key aspects of the fable to reveal the diversity of people, especially women and young people, who led the movement; the work and disruption it took; the role of the media and "polite racism" in maintaining injustice; and the immense barriers and repression activists faced. Theoharis makes us reckon with the fact that far from being acceptable, passive, or unified, the civil rights movement was unpopular, disruptive, and courageously persevering. Activists embraced an expansive vision of justice - which a majority of Americans opposed and which the federal government feared. 

By showing us the complex reality of the movement, the power of its organizing, and the beauty and scope of the vision, Theoharis proves that there was nothing natural or inevitable about the progress that occurred. A More Beautiful and Terrible History will change our historical frame, revealing the richness of our civil rights legacy, the uncomfortable mirror it holds to the nation, and the crucial work that remains to be done. 

Winner of the 2018 Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize in Nonfiction 

©2018 Jeanne Theoharis (P)2018 Beacon Press

Critic Reviews

"Theoharis's lucid and insightful study...proffer[s] a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the civil rights movement's legacy, and showing how much remains to be done." ( Publishers Weekly)
"An important illustration of the ways that history is used, or misused, in modern social and political life. Required reading for anyone hoping to understand more about race relations and racism in the United States and highly recommended for all readers interested in 20th-century American history." ( Library Journal)
"A hard-hitting revisionist history of civil rights activism.... An impassioned call for continued efforts for change." ( Kirkus Reviews)

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Division of chapters is incorrect

The app divides chapters arbitrarily. What is called Chapter One is actually most of the Introduction to the book. Ten minutes into “Chapter Two,” the narrator announces that we are now beginning Chapter One.

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Excellent historical background for today

Critics of the Black Lives Matter movement who compare it unfavorably to the Civil Rights movement need to read this book to understand what it really took to reach the hard-won achievements of that era.

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eye opening

I'm upset I didn't know half this history. fantastic audiobook, absolutely loved learning about the truth behind the civil rights movement and the issues that are currently facing the African-American Community today. must read (or listen) for anyone who questions what they were taught in school.

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don't judge a book by its description

I thought this book was going to be about how we frame the Civil Rights era versus how it really was. but instead this was a book only about educational segregation and mostly surrounded the Brown versus Board of Education ruling and how that affected schools in the North and the South. it's an interesting topic but not when I wanted to read about as I already know a lot about that so this was a really pointless for me

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Definitely a must read

This is definitely a must read to anyone who is seeking a better understanding of the Civil Rights Movement. The detail and care surrounding this book is incredible.