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This book is outstanding! I don't know what I was expecting. I thought, perhaps, that it was going to be an apologia regarding the Panthers. Or, if not that, it would be a polemic detailing how the Panthers "messed everything up". You see, there is a generally accepted narrative regarding the struggle for African-American equality in this country. The narrative goes like this: for a number of complicated reasons, Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery through the Emancipation Proclamation. Eventually, this was followed by Jim Crow segregation and "separate but equal". Various African-Americans engaged in a heroic civil-rights struggle, and they were aided in this struggle by whites (Communist and otherwise) and other sympathetic ethnic groups. The Civil-Rights Era coincided with and/or encompassed an age of general period of civil disobedience which included Vietnam War protests, Labor Union unrest and a continuing feminism movement. A number of solid victories came from the Civil Rights Era, namely, Brown v. Board of Education and the Voting Rights Act. Also, a number of iconic figures, and moments, emerged from this era, namely, Rosa Parks (and the Montgomery Bus Boycott), and Martin Luther King Jr. (and the March on Washington). Then these craaaaaaaazy kids came along, toting guns in San Francisco and following around cops in Oakland. Stokely Carmichael shouted "Black Power!!" at a March Against Fear in Mississippi in 1966. Olympic Medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave Black Power salutes on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics. In the 60 Minutes special, "The Hate That Hate Produced", Mike Wallace told America that a huge group of angry, angry, angry Muslims were proliferating in New York, and Malcolm X was the head nut. All of a sudden, crazy radicals replaced the politics of integration, non-violent protest and collaboration with that of aggressive "black self-esteem" and incendiary revolutionary rhetoric. As a result, these excesses dragged everything down, precipitating a Civil Rights decline. This, coupled with a conservative backlash, continues negatively to affect the lives of African-Americans today. That's the general narrative.
What Dr. Joseph's book does is blow up this narrative by examining the Black Power Movement as a legitimate movement separate and distinct from the Civil Rights Movement. His book illuminates the import and continuing influence of Black Power, while remaining cognizant of the flaws of its leaders. The book places Black Power within a global context, showing that Black Power was about more than the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam. (He writes about 1955 Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung and Catros's trip to New York in 1960, when he made a point of meeting with Malcolm X.) Of course, the book DOES scrutinize the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam as well. Dr. Joseph highlights the stars of this period: Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton and Stokely Carmichael. In fact, this book makes clear that Stokely Carmichael is such a seminal figure that he's worthy of having a separate book devoted entirely to him. But Dr. Joseph also tells the stories of lesser known figures such as William Worthy, Robert Williams, Albert Cleage, Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez. He argues persuasively that Lorraine Hansberry's, "A Raisin In the Sun" is actually a radical play. He identifies the radical roots of King and he eloquently disseminates what Baraka meant in his essay, "Black Is A Country".
When you look in the back of this book, you see that it has a 22-page bibliography. Sources include interviews and oral histories, as well as extensive archival material. It's clear Dr. Joseph has done his homework. Yet, when you read it, the book does not come off as an inaccessible ivory tower product full of incomprehensible jargon. He presents the story of Black Power as a gripping narrative. He shows the reader that, in a nutshell, the Black Power Movement provides lessons for today's generation of activists. When I read this book, I couldn't believe that no one thought to write such a book before now- a book that treats Black Power as seriously as "Bearing The Cross", "Parting The Waters", "Pillar Of Fire" and "At Canaan's Edge" treat the Civil Rights Era. If you want insight into the humanity of iconic Black Power figures and a clearer picture of the struggle that continues today, this book is the place to start.