Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Vincent Cannato

Second Advisor

Timothy Hacsi

Third Advisor

Nick Juravich


The historiography of the civil rights movement has been dominated by a debate over the proper placement of the historian’s lens. Should it provide a top/down view concentrating on high profile leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., or should it have a bottom/up focus that zeroes in on courageous grassroots leaders? Some historians have argued for a both/and approach with perspective on both the leaders at the top and at the bottom and how they interacted. What has been missing from this debate is the decisive impact made by networks of leaders who set aside their own narrow interests to form powerful partnerships that advanced the movement. These leaders are the antithesis of the turf conscious activists who see coalitions as transactional zero sum games. An inside/out view can sharpen the historian’s lens so that the crucial contributions of these networks can come into focus. Four civil rights leaders formed a network that propelled the movement forward at pivotal points. A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Ella Baker, and Stanley Levison have each been studied individually. What has been missed is the way their collaboration magnified their impact. Critically, the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. Each brought assets lacked by the other three so that when they worked together their collective impact on the movement was profound. Although the work of these four was often done years before the spotlight began to shine or was accomplished quietly off-stage, their fingerprints are on many milestones of the movement. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, the launch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the 1963 March on Washington might have turned out differently or not have landed with such impact had it not been for this Quartet of Consequence and how they worked together.


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