Drawing the Road Map

In a marathon work session last Thursday, I hammered out the outline for my third dissertation chapter. After I reviewed a large sampling of sources that described the JCC movement's response to Civil Rights activism and the urban crisis, I pulled out my colored pens and began to outline the temporal and political themes that I observed.  

I began by identifying three distinct phases or "moments": a period I call the "open membership debates"; the "classical" period of the civil rights movement; and the urban crisis. The phases I pinpointed map neatly onto periodization that historians already use to distinguish between phases of the Black Freedom Movement: first, the early legal fights for equal rights in housing and education during the 1940s-50s (Shelley v. Kraemer; Brown v. Board of Education); then the national, legislative push for voting rights and equal hiring opportunities of the mid-1960s (Civil Rights Act, Economic Opportunity Act); and finally the rise of black nationalism and the urban rioting of the late 1960s. More critically, however, I observed in the documents that JWB staff and Jewish Center workers exhibited distinct attitudes and decision-making in each of these three periods. At the outset of the 1960s, the vast majority of JCCs accepted non-Jews (including non-white Jews) as full members of the JCC. Despite this "equal" policy, however, most Centers did not have African American members and did not serve non-white members of their community with any regularity. Centers used their progressive policy to avoid changing their practices,  and black community members recognized that although they could apply to join the JCC they were not necessarily welcome. By the mid-1960s, however, growing support for equal rights, equal facilities, and equal services pressured JCCs to explore how they could serve non-Jewish and non-white members of their communities as effectively as they served their Jewish membership. 

After I sketched out these transitions, I drafted my overall argument for the chapter and wrote some tentative claims that I would like to make in each section. In my first-year research seminar, my professor advocated for this process of "point-based outlining." Whereas a regular outline identifies the topics you plan to include in your paper (or chapter), a point-based outline models how your overall argument will build from a series of claims. In my experience, drafting a point-based outline helps you avoid summarizing when you begin to write--it forces you to select only the evidence and context necessary to support your claims. 

Armed with this point-based outline, I'm now ready to begin drafting sections of the chapter. I know that as I re-read, analyze, and argue my claims, the overall argument will subtly shift. In that way, the point-based outline is more like a hand-drawn road map than it is a legal contract. It's a tentative and flexible document, intended to be improved as I become more familiar with the landscape. As I proceed I will edit it to reflect new insights or counterarguments, making it more accurate, precise, and easier to follow.