Victoria W. Wolcott

Jul 18, 2022

Living in the Future

Utopianism and the Long Civil Rights Movement

University of Chicago Press 2022

Living in the Future: Utopianism and the Long Civil Rights Movement (U Chicago Press, 2022) reveals the unexplored impact of utopian thought on the major figures of the Civil Rights Movement.

Utopian thinking is often dismissed as unrealistic, overly idealized, and flat-out impractical-in short, wholly divorced from the urgent conditions of daily life. This is perhaps especially true when the utopian ideal in question is reforming and repairing the United States' bitter history of racial injustice. But as Victoria W. Wolcott provocatively argues, utopianism is actually the foundation of a rich and visionary worldview, one that specifically inspired the major figures of the Civil Rights Movement in ways that haven't yet been fully understood or appreciated.

Wolcott makes clear that the idealism and pragmatism of the Civil Rights Movement were grounded in nothing less than an intensely utopian yearning. Key figures of the time, from Martin Luther King Jr. and Pauli Murray to Father Divine and Howard Thurman, all shared a belief in a radical pacificism that was both specifically utopian and deeply engaged in changing the current conditions of the existing world. Living in the Future recasts the various strains of mid-twentieth-century civil rights activism in a utopian light, revealing the power of dreaming in a profound and concrete fashion, one that can be emulated in other times that are desperate for change, like today.

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