History Department
History Department

Professors Wilson and Green give radio interviews on AIDS and civil rights movement

Wed, May 9, 2007

Professor Wilson's interview with KUT will be used in a two-part series on AIDS in black America and in Africa, with a focus on what the United States is doing to help alleviate the situation. Professor Wilson discussed what ordinary Americans can do to help, emphasizing the importance of becoming aware and informed about the disease, as well as local involvement in community AIDS centers and churches. This kind of local awareness and activity can help promote an understanding of the problem both locally and internationally.

He also discussed common misperceptions of AIDS as merely a "foreign" phenomenon, or one limited to gay males, and pointed out that the fastest-growing increase in AIDS infections is among 18 to 24 year olds here in the United States. In addition, he analyzed the possible reasons for the AIDS problem among the African American community, suggesting poverty which limits access to knowledge of safe sexual practices, a lack of willingness to discuss such matters in the public sphere, lack of education, and lingering homophobia. He pointed out that despite the strength of churches in African American society, they have remained focused on moral issues regarding sex rather than taking the lead in discussing prevention of AIDS.

Wilson concluded by emphasizing his desire to use his research and knowledge to build bridges between the academic and public spheres, in order to help create wider awareness of the issues surrounding AIDS. This, in turn, can motivate the general public to advocate for more effective policies that will benefit people on a global scale.

Professor Green appeared on the "On with Leon" XM 169 satellite radio show on Saturday, May 5 to discuss the civil rights movement that had begun in Memphis long before the more publicized breakthroughs of the 1960s. Indeed, the "plantation mentality" that relegated African Americans to menial jobs continued even after the 1960s.

Subject to great racism and police brutality and consigned to overwhelming poverty, black residents of Memphis staged sit ins and engaged in political activism to encourage voter turnout throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. Sanitation workers had also been engaged in the struggle for civil rights, beginning to organize a union in 1960; thus, there was a pre-existing struggle going back many years before the sanitation workers' famous 1968 strike, which featured the "I AM A MAN" slogan. This strike exemplified the struggle for not only constitutional rights but also social and human rights.

In her interview, broadcast to a national audience, Professor Green discussed how attempts by the white power structure to oppress African Americans extended beyond the political realm to culture as well; movies that featured black characters who were not servants were censored, for example. Dr. Wilmer Leon, the show's host, also praised the use of oral history in Professor Green's book, Battling the Plantation Mentality: Memphis and the Black Freedom Struggle (to be published in late May by the UNC Press), and recommended it to a wide audience of both academics and non-academics.

Related Links:
Assistant Professor Laurie Green
Spotlight story: Marching on Memphis (about Professor Green's research)
Battling the Plantation Mentality: Memphis and the Black Freedom StruggleOffsite Link by Professor Green
Assistant Professor James A. Wilson

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