Carry It On is an in-depth study of how the local struggle for equality in Alabama fared in the wake of new federal lawsthe Civil Rights Act, the Economic Opportunity Act, and the Voting Rights Act. Susan Youngblood Ashmore provides a sharper definition to changes set in motion by the fall of legal segregation. She focuses her detailed story on the Alabama Black Belt and on the local projects funded by the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the federal agency that supported programs in a variety of cities and towns in Alabama. Black Belt activists who used OEO funds understood that the structural underpinnings of poverty were key components of white supremacy, says Ashmore. They were motivated not only to end poverty but also to force local governments to comply with new federal legislation aimed at achieving racial equality on a number of fronts.
Ashmore looks closely at the interactions among local activists, elected officials, businesspeople, landowners, bureaucrats, and others who were involved in or affected by OEO projects. Carry It On offers a nuanced picture of the OEO, an agency too broadly criticized; a new look at the rise of southern Black Power; and a compelling portrait of local citizens struggling for control over their own lives. Ashmore provides a more complete understanding of how southerners worked to define for themselves how freedom would come during the years shaped by the civil rights movement and the war on poverty.