Storytelling and social change in history
Following is an excerpt from the first edition of our guide on “Storytelling and Social Change.” A new and improved second edition — this time for nonprofits, social entrepreneurs and activists — is now in the works!
Storytelling as a means of effecting social change has a long history. Consider just a few historical examples from the United States. (Please feel welcome to send more examples to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Slave narratives appeared during the antebellum period and beyond in the form of books, speeches, and sermons, catalyzing public support for abolition; Harriet Beecher Stowe’s much-debated 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin had a similar effect.
Many years later, slave narratives were recorded by the Federal Writers’ Project, providing a training ground for socially conscious writers such as Zora Neale Hurston, Studs Terkel, and Richard Wright.
In 1958, the Fellowship of Reconciliation published a 16-page comic book called Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, which documented that city’s bus boycott and prompted readers to take action for racial equality. It has been translated into multiple languages, and the Arabic translation was used by Egyptian activists before the Arab Spring as a point of departure for discussion about nonviolent social change.
El Teatro Campesino was founded in 1965 amid the grape strike of the United Farm Workers and performed short skits in union halls and on flatbed trucks to dramatize the struggles of farmworkers and rally support for their cause.