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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Afro-American Studies

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

James Smethurst

Second Advisor

Bill Strickland

Third Advisor

Toussaint Losier

Fourth Advisor

Christopher Tinson

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Politics | Political History | Politics and Social Change | United States History | Urban Studies


“The Whole Nation Will Move” provides a narrative history of grassroots struggles for African American equality and empowerment in Harlem in the decade immediately preceding the era of widespread urban rebellions in the United States. Through a street-level examination of the political education and activism of grassroots organizers, the dissertation analyzes how local people developed a collective radical consciousness and organized to confront and dismantle institutional racism in New York City from 1954-1964. This work also explores how the interests and activities of poor and working-class Black and Puerto Rican residents of Harlem fueled the escalation of protest activity and demands for human rights and self-determination that pushed local and national civil rights organizations in new, more radical directions with the advent of the 1964 Harlem Rebellion. Though the body of scholarly work focused on the Civil Rights and Black Power movements beyond the South has grown exponentially in the past decade, struggles for rights and power in Harlem have been underappreciated for their far-reaching influence upon this era. As an international hub of Black political thought and cultural production, Harlem was home to organizers, artists, intellectuals, and local people whose contributions to Black Freedom Struggles throughout the African diaspora complicate popular narratives of the Civil Rights Movement, and challenge the geographies and periodization of the Black Power Movement. By closely analyzing local, national, and global trends in grassroots struggles for human rights and self-determination in the ten-year period preceding the Harlem Rebellion, this dissertation frames the outbreak of the rebellion as the result of a collective disillusionment with the repressive limitations of liberal governance in an era of global revolution. This analysis issues a fundamental challenge to the popularly accepted narrative that explains urban rebellions as consequences of an oppressive “powder keg,” thereby denying conscious political agency to Black communities who sought to resist oppression and reform government in the years, months, and days leading up to these uprisings.