Electronic Theses and Dissertations




Michael Blum



Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Aram Goudsouzian

Committee Member

Susan Eva O'Donovan

Committee Member

Sarah Potter

Committee Member

Benjamin Houston


This study examines the civil rights movement in Knoxville, Tennessee. It argues that the city's history of race relations, economy, and regional circumstances led to a different type of civil rights movement. It was conducted by a variety of groups: student activists, established activists, local businessmen, and elected officals. They had a complicated relationship, which changed frequently as groups responded to the actions of others. This dynamic led to a relatively peaceful movement, which created a degree of racial progress, but failed to remedy the structural problems that pleagued Knoxville's Black community, such as poverty and unemployment.In early 1960, student activists made plans to being sitting-in at local department stores. Their plan brought an immediate response from local businessmen and elected officals who sought to begin negotations with segregated merchants and offered demonstrators police protection. These first demonstrations led to the desegregation of public, and many private, spaces. Going forward, activists used different means to attack the remaining structural problems. The biggest threat to disturb these circumstances came from Highlander Research and Education Center, a well-known activists training center, which refused to work with elected officals and had a reputation as a communist organization. As a result, it drew harassment from politicians, local whites, and the Ku Klux Klan, deterring local activists from working with Highlander. For the remainder of the civil rights movement, local activists took different approaches to their activism, including War on Poverty programs and particiaption in local politics.This dissertation builds on the first and second waves of civil rights historiography. It combines their bottom up and top down approaches by including grassroots activists, powerful officals, and a number of other groups to highlight how their frequently-shifting relationships drove the civil rights movement.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.