Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Joseph on Black Power's Legacy

One of the notable articles of the year featured on the website of the Chronicle of Higher Education is by Peniel E. Joseph, SUNY Stony Brook, Black Power's Powerful Legacy. Below is a brief excerpt. To see the rest, unfortunately a paid subscription is needed, but you are also likely to be able to access it at a library. Joseph's new book, Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America was published in July 2006 by Henry Holt.

Here's Joseph:
As far back as I can remember, I have been fascinated by what has been called the "Black Power" movement. As a young boy in the 1980s, I sat mesmerized before public-television documentaries about the civil-rights struggles of the 1960s. But for me that decade truly came alive through the powerful, often fleeting images of Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Kathleen Neal Cleaver, and Black Panthers, who seemed bolder and more glamorous than anything I had ever seen. In college I devoured books and articles about the movement, with its mysterious and taboo aura.
However, the more I continued to read (and by now in graduate school), the more frustrated I became by the paucity of material that took its accomplishments, setbacks, and failures seriously. As a history professor, my intellectual curiosity turned into scholarly inquiry as I came to see black power as a largely unchronicled epic in American history; one that shared a complex relationship with the more richly documented modern civil-rights movement....

Black power's impact...remains powerfully resonant — however fraught and contentious — as a generation of black politicians, artists, and intellectuals have channeled the new black identity it first articulated in diverse and varied ways.
Stokely Carmichael and the wider black-power movement have been overshadowed by annual celebrations of martyrs, icons, political legislation, and landmark court cases commonly associated with the civil-rights era's heroic period. Civil-rights struggles are rightfully acknowledged as having earned black Americans a historic level of dignity. But black power accomplished a no less remarkable task, fueling the casually assertive identity and cultural pride that marks African-American life today. Ultimately, black power accelerated America's reckoning with its uncomfortable, often ugly racial past. In the process, it spurred a debate over racial progress, citizenship, and democracy that would scandalize and help change America.