Erik Strohmeyer, a student in one of my grad seminars, is writing about how key phrases are shaped in political rhetoric. One of those phrases he is looking at is “civil rights.” He just did a search of the phrase in the New York Times index over the last century-and-a-half. I took a look at the first article in that index, from 1851, when the phrase was already being used in the context of the abolitionist movement. He is looking at phrases like “cut and run” within this context of the ever-shrinking sound-nibblet. Will be interesting to see what he makes of it for his final paper.
The final papers are due in a week of so, after which we will have a round of co-editing on the wiki. If you have interests in this area, you might contribute at that stage to his paper.