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Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in Americaby Peniel E Joseph
Synopses & Reviews
A gripping narrative that brings to life a legendary moment in American history: the birth, life, and death of the Black Power movement
With the rallying cry of "Black Power!" in 1966, a group of black activists, including Stokely Carmichael and Huey P. Newton, turned their backs on Martin Luther King's pacifism and, building on Malcolm X's legacy, pioneered a radical new approach to the fight for equality. Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour is a history of the Black Power movement, that storied group of men and women who would become American icons of the struggle for racial equality.
Peniel E. Joseph traces the history of the men and women of the movement--many of them famous or infamous, others forgotten. Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour begins in Harlem in the 1950s, where, despite the Cold War's hostile climate, black writers, artists, and activists built a new urban militancy that was the movement's earliest incarnation. In a series of character-driven chapters, we witness the rise of Black Power groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Black Panthers, and with them, on both coasts of the country, a fundamental change in the way Americans understood the unfinished business of racial equality and integration.
Drawing on original archival research and more than sixty original oral histories, this narrative history vividly invokes the way in which Black Power redefined black identity and culture and in the process redrew the landscape of American race relations.
"Whereas black nationalism can be traced to Marcus Garvey (and his predecessors), Black Power was first articulated by Stokely Carmichael in 1966. This accessible survey looks at 'the murky depths of a movement that paralleled, and at times overlapped, the heroic civil rights era,' beginning in the late 1950s, with the rise of the Black Muslims, and ending in 1975. Joseph, who teaches Africana studies at SUNY — Stony Brook, brings to light less-known characters like the Rev. Albert Cleage Jr. of Detroit, who helped organize the 1963 Walk for Freedom a month before the March on Washington, as well as fresh judgments on figures like Malcolm X, 'black America's prosecuting attorney.' He analyzes the negative media coverage of Black Power, offers a discerning take on Carmichael and Charles Hamilton's 1967 book, Black Power, and recounts the emergence of the Black Arts movement. The Black Panthers also get consistent attention, in rise and decline. Drawing on a rich set of sources, including interviews and oral histories, the book also illuminates flash points in Newark, N.J.; Oakland, Calif.; and the Sixth Pan-African Congress in Dar es Salaam in 1974. Though it focuses more on politics than culture — e.g., the 1968 Olympics protest gets just a footnote — it's a good introduction to the topic." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Black Power — the slogan that became a movement — is seared in the American public memory. Who could forget the iconic poster image of Black Panther leader Huey Newton, garbed in a turtleneck and a black beret, holding an African spear in one hand and a rifle in the other? Or Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their arms in a clenched-fist Black Power salute at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) City? Or H. Rap Brown lyrically threatening whites with guerrilla warfare: 'If America don't come around, we are going to burn it down'? Or the title of Julius Lester's 1968 classic, 'Look Out Whitey! Black Power's Gon" Get Your Mama?' Memory, of course, is not always a reliable guide to the past, especially when emotion-laden issues such as race and revolution are involved. So it is fortunate that Peniel E. Joseph, a talented young historian with an open mind, has finally taken us beyond the politics of memory, mining virtually every available archive and printed source relevant to the Black Power saga. The result is an engaging, albeit uneven, revisionist narrative that reveals a hidden world of black intellectual ferment and purposeful political organizing. Challenging the conventional wisdom that the Black Power movement was a tragic misstep along the road to freedom, Joseph makes a strong case that, despite its flaws, the movement actually 'accelerated America's reckoning with its uncomfortable, often ugly, racial past.' Placing Black Power advocates in a long tradition of radical dissent, Joseph frames his narrative of the 1960s with a brief but fascinating discussion of early- and mid-20th century racial politics. Ranging from Harlem to Detroit, he presents a diverse cast of 'forerunners' — Garveyites, Black Muslims, Pan-Africanists, and writers and intellectuals such as Lorraine Hansberry and Harold Cruse — all of whom are introduced in a loosely connected series of biographical sketches and flashbacks. He then turns to the early 1960s and the impact of Third World decolonization on African-American identity and politics. Several chapters explore the growing militancy in a wide variety of communities, from Monroe, N.C., where Robert Williams' advocacy of armed self-defense led to exile in Castro's Cuba, to Detroit and the other northern cities where the Nation of Islam was gaining converts and influence. Joseph's treatment of the controversies surrounding Malcolm X's emergence as a charismatic leader is balanced and persuasive, but even more interesting is his discussion of several lesser-known precursors of Black Power such as Rev. Albert Cleage, the Detroit-based leader of the Black Theology movement, Cleage's close associates James and Grace Lee Boggs, Dan Watts of Liberator magazine, and Max Stanford, co-founder of the militant black student organization, Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM). As Joseph takes us through the years 1960 to "65 — the classic era of civil rights struggle from the Greensboro sit-ins to the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march — we begin to see the outlines of a parallel struggle for black autonomy. Complicated by internal squabbles, both ideological and personal, the story line is not always easy to follow, especially the twists and turns of Malcolm X's estrangement from the Nation of Islam. But Joseph's determination to provide a nuanced version of what took place is commendable. Here, most of the attention is on the North, where civil rights historiography is notoriously weak, but roughly halfway though the book he takes the reader southward to the more familiar terrain of Mississippi, the 'official' birthplace of the Black Power movement. Despite his interest in earlier manifestations of black radicalism, Joseph, like most other historians, locates the origins of the Black Power movement in June 1966, when Stokely Carmichael and other Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) activists unveiled a new slogan during a three-week long protest march through the Mississippi Delta. Abandoning the traditional rallying cry of 'Freedom Now,' Carmichael shouted, 'What do we want?' to a crowd in Greenwood, and the crowd shouted back 'Black Power!' As the march continued across the Delta, the call and response became a daily ritual, to the consternation of Martin Luther King Jr. and other nonviolent leaders, who feared that a movement of hope and redemption was being displaced by one of anger and racial separatism. The new slogan and the resulting schism created a furor among white Americans, and Carmichael's explanation that he had simply used Black Power as a political metaphor for self-determination only added fuel to the fire. Time magazine condemned Black Power as 'a racist philosophy,' and most other observers agreed. Among black Americans, however, the reaction to Carmichael's words was decidedly different and far more complex. 'Almost as soon as it was uttered,' Joseph points out, 'a new wave of black aspirations, dreams, and dissent became encapsulated within one powerful slogan — Black Power — that would become as hard to define as it would remain controversial.' In the second half of the book, Joseph documents the rapid rise and the equally rapid fall of the Black Power movement. For the most part, it is a depressing story, punctuated by SNCC's ideological and organizational meltdown, the Congress of Racial Equality's separatist purges, the Black Panthers' running battles with police and the machinations of FBI provocateurs. Some of the movement's problems were ideological and self-inflicted, but, as Joseph correctly points out, Black Power's unhappy history was also a function of brutal governmental repression and white intransigence. In an age of spiraling violence and political polarization, there was plenty of blame to go around, and even the nonviolent wing of the civil rights movement experienced fragmentation and frustration during those troubled years. The book ends with a brief epilogue on the legacies of the Black Power revolt, which, according to Joseph, reach beyond the 'twisted folklore' of 'gun-toting militants' vowing 'to die in the name of revolution.' Four decades later, he insists, politicians, artists and intellectuals continue to find strength in 'black identity as first articulated by Black Power.' More specifically, he applauds the continuing influence of a 1972 Black Power conference, whose 'agenda for urban reform, political accountability, and the promotion of strong local communities through the strategic deployment of black political power remains remarkably relevant.' While some readers may find this attempt to redeem the Black Power movement a bit strained and unconvincing, it is difficult to fault an author who brings such a fresh perspective to a topic in dire need of reexamination. Raymond Arsenault is the John Hope Franklin Professor of History at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, and the author of 'Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice.'" Reviewed by Raymond Arsenault, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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Book News Annotation:
By drawing on archival material and oral histories, Joseph (Africana studies, SUNY-Stony Brook) moves beyond slogans and symbols to provide a nuanced, detailed study of the Black Power movement in the US. He covers not only the major events and players but also the complicated negotiations between unlikely allies and the participation of unknown men and women committed to the cause. Joseph's ability to situate the Black Power movement in a global context gives an added dimension to this valuable contribution to scholarship about the struggle for civil rights. Annotation ©2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
A gripping narrative that brings to life a legendary moment in American history: the birth, life, and death of the Black Power movement.
"Once in a while a book comes along that projects the spirit of an era; this is one of them . . . Vibrant and expressive . . . A well-researched and well-written work." --The Philadelphia Inquirer
With the rallying cry of "Black Power!" in 1966, a group of black activists, including Stokely Carmichael and Huey P. Newton, turned their backs on Martin Luther King's pacifism and, building on Malcolm X's legacy, pioneered a radical new approach to the fight for equality. Drawing on original archival research and more than sixty original oral histories, Peniel E. Joseph vividly invokes the way in which Black Power redefined black identity and culture and in the process redrew the landscape of American race relations. In a series of character-driven chapters, we witness the rise of Black Power groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Black Panthers, and with them, on both coasts of the country, a fundamental change in the way Americans understood the unfinished business of racial equality and integration.
Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour traces the history of the Black Power movement, that storied group of men and women who would become American icons of the struggle for racial equality.
About the Author
Peniel E. Joseph is an assistant professor of Africana studies at SUNY-Stony Brook. The recipient of fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson
International Center for Scholars and the Ford Foundation, his work has appeared in Souls, New Formations, and The Black Scholar, and he is editor of a forthcoming anthology on the Black Power movement. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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