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Black Power Revisionism



Randall Kennedy has an interesting long book review of new biographies of Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and Huey Newton. I haven’t read any of them, not even Manning Marable’s acclaimed Malcolm book, but there are a couple of points worth discussing here anyway. First, Kennedy accuses each author of engaging in hagiography over proper historical analysis. I can’t judge the claim, but that does seem to be the case with the Newton book, which just seems bad from multiple reviews. As for the other two, both Marable and Peniel Joseph (who is speaking at URI next week so come out if you are around) are both outstanding historians, but it is often a problem with biography that authors start apologizing for their subject. And as Kennedy points out, there is plenty that is distasteful about both. I find that more convincing with Carmichael, whose leadership of SNCC was disastrous and who seemed somewhat less serious about what he was doing after he achieved fame (although he did largely avoid the spotlight after he went to Africa). But with Malcolm, Kennedy’s problem is the Nation of Islam. I don’t think too many people are really going to defend NOI at this point. Its murders of its own members and the rank hypocrisy of Elijah Muhammad are well known now. But while Kennedy admits that Malcolm shows significant room for personal growth, he also wants to make sure that he is held accountable for his actions before his expulsion from the organization in 1964.

Well, OK, but this gets to my second point, which is about context and the passage of time. In other words, it is very easy to write in 2015 about how the Nation of Islam was horrible, how the Black Panthers were violent and cruel, and how Carmichael ran SNCC into the ground. It’s not that Kennedy forgets the context in which these people were working, but it’s also worth reiterating it. Malcolm and Newton were operating in urban centers where African-Americans had moved for the promise of a better life, but that promise had been a lie. In 1960s Oakland, Los Angeles, Newark, Chicago, Detroit, etc., police brutality was a way of life. There were no jobs. Most people could not afford a car. Public transportation was almost nonexistent. The only economic outlet for many was drugs. The Civil Rights Movement could win concrete victories in the South because it battled legal segregation, but the de facto segregation of northern and western cities made victories much, much harder to win, as Martin Luther King and the SCLC found out in the failed Chicago housing campaign of 1966. It’s hardly surprising that black pride and black power organizations, whether Marcus Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association, the Nation of Islam, or the Black Panthers, would rise out of this. It’s equally unsurprising that those organizations would be problematic and violent, as violence ruled the communities from which they arose and organized.

As for Carmichael, while his leadership of SNCC didn’t work out, the overall move away from racial inclusion to black power within the student led side of the Civil Rights Movement also makes sense in context, even if it was a bad idea strategically and organizationally. Let’s not underestimate the bitterness that led SNCC to design Freedom Summer because its organizers knew that only when white kids were killed would the media pay attention to anything happening in rural Mississippi. This analysis was of course exactly right when the three SNCC workers, two white, were murdered by the KKK. Ten years of struggle, suffering, and death in the face of overwhelming violence is a bravery I can barely imagine. If people burn out and snap or turn to black power and racial exclusion, it’s not surprising at all. It says much for John Lewis’ character that he never went down this road, but it is an understandable response to the horrifying experiences of these people’s lives.

Finally, I thought this was unfair to Malcolm X:

While Malcolm X and other followers of Elijah Muhammed put on cathartic performances in safe surroundings, however, King, Carmichael, Medgar Evers, John Lewis, Fannie Lou Hamer, James Farmer, Julian Bond, Bob Moses, Diane Nash, James Lawson, and others risked their lives repeatedly in face-to-face confrontations with heavily armed, trigger-happy white supremacists. While Malcolm X was taunting King and company for rejecting violence, the tribunes of the Civil Rights movement were successfully pressuring the federal government to bring its immense weight to bear against the segregationists through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. While Malcolm X talked tough—“if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery”—he and the NOI refrained seeking revenge when racist police brutalized Black Muslims. While Malcolm X spoke with apparent knowingness about racial uplift, at no point did he communicate a cogent, realistic strategy for elevating black America.

But Marable is not denigrating any of those other civil rights activists. No one is saying those people did not do amazing things or put their lives at risk. They were also, outside of Hamer, college-educated. This movement Kennedy lauds in comparison to Malcolm was a decidedly middle-class movement. They came out of a different African-American tradition than Malcolm. Second, one could basically say the same thing about the relationship between W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington, with the former safely ensconced in Cambridge and the latter risking his life in rural Alabama. Yet in this case, even most historians today sympathize with DuBois instead of Washington (in part because the Civil Rights Movement proved DuBois’ “talented tenth” idea correct and Washington’s rejection of political gains wrong). But mostly I don’t think this is a useful comparison to make at either time. There were many paths to African-American freedom. Some were more effective and some more problematic, but I don’t think basically calling Malcolm a poseur compared to SNCC activists is useful.

It’s an interesting and challenging review, but I think if anything Kennedy is moving toward hagiography toward the mainstream CRM (after all, he might well call Malcolm sexist and socially conservative, but MLK could certainly be accused of the same) and therefore overcompensates in his analysis of these people. He occasionally makes pretty easy judgements about which group was right or wrong in 1965 when in reality everyone working for black freedom in the 1960s faced overwhelming white violence and police brutality. That certainly doesn’t mean that we should take Huey Newton at his word or not question the self-mythologizing all three of these men could engage in, but, as always, everything should be contextualized and our own positions questioned.

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  • I’m kind of astonished that the black power movement exemplified by the Black Panther Party didn’t last longer. Was the black power movement so thoroughly discredited by the collapse of the Black panther party? Did blaxploitation turn it into a mockery of itself?

    Looking at the events of Ferguson and the protest movement that spawned in its wake, I am astonished that the protests have been as peaceful as they have. Looking at the ongoing corruption in the Ferguson Police department, I am astonished the police have the chutzpah to show their faces in public.

    • Hogan

      I imagine it lost a lot of steam when blacks began winning elections.

    • JL

      Interestingly, the current movement takes a lot of inspiration from some of the Black Power folks, even if not their tactics. Most of the current movement’s actions that I’ve been to do a call-and-response reading of Assata Shakur’s famous “It is our duty to fight / It is our duty to win / We must love and protect each other / We have nothing to lose but our chains” quote, to the point where it’s almost like a cultural ritual, and “Assata Taught Me” shirts are popular. Some of the direct-service-to-the-community aspects of the movement – housing and employment programs set up by Ferguson activists, for instance – are closer to Black Power than SCLC as well.

    • Origami Isopod

      I am astonished the police have the chutzpah to show their faces in public.

      White supremacy’s a helluva drug.

    • Discredited isn’t exactly right, more splintered. To begin with, the militant road was always a limited path – hence the Black Panthers themselves turning to politics. Michael O Self’s book American Babylon is very good on the Black Panthers’ move into Oakland politics.

      But once you’ve ditched the revolutionary stance, black power is a style that anyone can use – so a lot of black politicians in the 70s (especially a lot of the first-wave mayors) adopted parts of the style without taking up the whole of the agenda. Black power also gets adapted by black capitalism advocates (although that’s a trend that goes back much earlier), some black power advocates hook up with black conservatives.

      And of course, black power also comes in from some pretty strong critiques from black feminists.

  • Bruce Vail

    More generally, biography itself is a tricky thing. The author has to justify (mostly to himself/herself) spending years to produce a good biography, so the subject must be ‘worth it’ in some way. Most often, the subject becomes ‘worth it’ by inflated claims to that person’s significance, our even greatness.

    Thus we get David McCullough asserting that John Adams was one of our greatest presidents, and countless other examples of similar nonsense from other authors.

    • There is a reason why I won’t ever write a biography.

      • Ronan

        what about that biography you linked to recently about that white supremacist in the south during the civil war (sorry the name escapes me at the minute) That seems to be a good way of writing a bio ? Tying it around more general trends and to explain a larger phenomenon?

        • Ben Tillman? There are good biographies out there, but it is tricky to write them well.

          • Ronan

            Yeah that was it. I never liked biographies but have read one or two over the past few years which used individual or collective biographies to describe larger phenomena (the irish famine and british imperialism) which were actually pretty enjoyable.
            The older type, spent cataloguing a persons life, I always found tedious.

      • Bruce Vail

        That’s too bad. There are good biographies out there, and I am sure you could produce a really good one yourself, given the right subject.

        I only observe that too many authors of biographies make a mistake by falling in love with their subjects.

        • I’ve got plenty of other book ideas so you don’t have to worry about that, even if none of them are biographies.

        • ironic irony

          “I only observe that too many authors of biographies make a mistake by falling in love with their subjects.”

          I’m sure Paula Broadwell agrees with you. ;)

      • Thom

        Not even of Richard Thompson?

        • There is a biography of Thompson but it is bad.

          This also reminds me that he is playing in Providence and I should probably buy a ticket.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      when i read a biography it’s to learn about a person, not an icon, and so tend to disregard the ‘big picture/claim to greatness’ stuff. that’s just a more formal version of rolling stone ‘greatest guitarists of all time’ lists

    • Bruce Vail

      To give McCullough credit where credit is due, he perfected the conceit of writing a biography of an inanimate object.

      His biographies of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal are genuinely great books, and even the Johnstown Flood book is good.

      • Lee Rudolph

        the conceit of writing a biography of an inanimate object

        Nothing could be more inanimate than a dead horse!

        • Origami Isopod

          I dunno. Some people have the knack of reviving the horse repeatedly just so they can beat it to death again over and over.

    • Joe_JP

      John Adams might not be “one of our greatest” presidents, but as an example of a life that is “inflated,” doesn’t quite seem a great example.

      • Bruce Vail

        Yes, Adams is certainly worthy of a biography that gives him full credit for his critical role in the Revolution. I’m just suggesting that McCullough fell into the common trap of becoming too admiring of his subject overall.

    • Anon21

      Of course, you can always go the other way like Robert Caro, and pick subjects who were “great” in bad (or in LBJ’s case, very mixed) ways. I don’t think anyone would accuse Caro of hagiography–indeed, he sometimes goes too far in the other direction, and ends up glorifying his subjects’ enemies in ways they don’t deserve. Scott has often pointed this out about Caro’s treatment of Coke Stevenson, LBJ’s Senate opponent.

  • SgtGymBunny

    But mostly I don’t think this is a useful comparison to make at either time. There were many paths to African-American freedom.

    Yes. I think the post-hoc comparisons as to effectiveness of each group’s method also fails to acknowledge that the actors themselves were well aware of their differences, and at least, from Malcolm X’s perspective, felt that maybe they were complementary in reaching the same goal:

    “I’ll say nothing against him. At one time the whites in the United States called him a racialist, and extremist, and a Communist. Then the Black Muslims came along and the whites thanked the Lord for Martin Luther King.”


    “I want Dr. King to know that I didn’t come to Selma to make his job difficult. I really did come thinking I could make it easier. If the white people realize what the alternative is, perhaps they will be more willing to hear Dr. King.”


    “The goal has always been the same, with the approaches to it as different as mine and Dr. Martin Luther King’s non-violent marching, that dramatizes the brutality and the evil of the white man against defenseless blacks. And in the racial climate of this country today, it is anybody’s guess which of the “extremes” in approach to the black man’s problems might personally meet a fatal catastrophe first — “non-violent” Dr. King, or so-called “violent” me.”

    • DrDick

      I would add that there has also been a lot of research in sociology on social movements like this that indicate that kind of diversity is actually a strength. A number of these scholars have argued that they complimented each other and that King succeeded in part because of the much scarier (to whites) alternatives in Malcolm and the Panthers.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        diversity seems ideal to me, it makes the movement that much bigger because it gives more people reasons to be part of it- but they have to maintain fairly broad and non-specific goals to keep it all going- otherwise they turn on each other, yes?

        • SgtGymBunny

          That’s such an interesting point if only because it is always the Powers That Be who demand homogeneity from the movements, right? It’s as though society cannot handle more than two or three uniquely different but related complaints at a time. That’s when we get the cherry-picking of who the “true victims” are and who really “deserves” access and who is more important and who should have their problems addressed first. Unfortunately, when these considerations are foisted on top of the movement, things get contentious.

          But I don’t think sub-groups would necessarily turn on each other. Perhaps they would become disillusioned and simply break ranks to independently speak out for themselves without being under the aegis of the overall movement. I don’t think this would be an act of hostility rather a step to define their own issues. I think we’re seeing a lot of this now with certain trans- and gender queer groups who have been overlooked by mainstream LGBT and women’s rights movements.

          • DrDick

            I have to agree with you on this. I think that the opposition favors unity over diversity in this regard as it means they can effectively devise a unitary response, where diversity means they are facing many different and sometimes contradictory demands. That in itself may contribute to an actual fix.

            • Origami Isopod

              Also, though, the “establishment” does not deal well with the concept that members of oppressed groups in general (not just activists) will vary in their approaches and personalities. You know, like real people do. They’re supposed to be monolithic.

      • SgtGymBunny

        I agree. I don’t think the civil rights movement would have gotten as far if it was only one without the other. If it had been solely militant, I think many whites would have viewed the brutal treatment and discrimination against blacks as deserved and justified. But if had only been the non-violent resistance, maybe whites would not have found the problems as urgent. Sympathetic and regrettable, but not necessarily urgent because of the “passiveness” of the demonstrators.

        • Bruce B.

          Just as it took the Stonewall rioters and then ACT-UP to shape the context for LGBT rights activism – seems to be a recurring pattern.

        • Ronan

          This is what I was going to ask, was the success of the civil rights movement *in some way* explainable by the fact that there were other groups willing to commit violence?
          But *to what extent* do you think it helped ie it’s one thing to note that both feed off eachother, but was that threat of violence neccesary for the success of the civil rights movement ? How important a factor was it?

          • JL

            Well, there were also groups like the Deacons for Defense and Justice that provided unofficial armed security for the nonviolent CRM people in some of the places where they went to work.

          • DrDick

            The scholarship on this issue suggests that it was absolutely necessary for white America to take the movement seriously enough to commit to actual remedies.

            • witlesschum

              Can you expand on that a bit as far as why we think that and what specific ways? Curious if it was the existence of black power types or more like the various riots that would have gotten the civil rights movement taken seriously.

          • SgtGymBunny

            I really wouldn’t know the answer to your question. But how important has the threat of violence been to any political movement, not just the civil rights movement? Think about the original American independence movement, the Whisky Rebellion, labor rights, most colonial rebellions, etc. Historically speaking, I don’t think that the civil rights movement was especially unique if there was a credible threat of violence to grease the skids towards progress. Perhaps our tendency to credit the non-violent factions with the movement’s success is much more “interesting”, for lack of better words.

            Echoing Helmut Monotreme’s comment, that militant resistance was never and still isn’t the standard model of resistance given the appalling and brutal way that blacks were and–to some extent–still are treated is a very peculiar phenomenon. I don’t know, maybe it’s just a sign that we are in a civil society and armed resistance isn’t the answer (unless you’re a 2nd-Amendment enthusiast who hates the IRS…).

            • Origami Isopod

              Most definitely, it’s more comfortable for mainstream society to canonize non-violent, peaceful protestors after the battle in question is won. Also, to water down their stances for mainstream consumption, as with MLK’s views on economic justice.

              There is an element of classism in this. It’s easy to say “Violence never solves anything” and “Use your words” if you are of a socioeconomic class whose words are listened to.

              (I want to stress here that I don’t advocate willy-nilly adoption of violent tactics. I’m not the one on the front lines, after all. It’s more that I don’t consider violence to be always beyond the pale in activism.)

              • jamesepowell

                It’s especially more comfortable after said protesters or activists are dead. Americans have done a pretty good job of forgetting how hated MLK was when he was alive.

      • Shakezula

        Oh God, yes. “That’s not a knife radical, scary black man. THIS is a knife radical, scary black man.”

        I think groups like NOI and the Black Panthers also drew people into the movement who – due to temperament or other circumstances – did not feel they fit into the civil disobedience model. Or maybe they just thought it was ass-kissy bullshit.

        I’m not saying there is no way the people who did lunch counter sit-ins would ever have marched around holding rifles or vice versa, but it is bloody hard to imagine.

        • Hogan

          “That’s not a knife radical, scary black man. THIS is a knife radical, scary black man.”

          [points to Obama]

    • I dunno to what extent that was a conscious and ongoing strategy. After all, Malcom X also pretty savagely critiqued King and King’s entire political strategy and openly called it counter-productive.

  • Alexander OConnor

    Professor Loomis, While your assertion that police brutality was widespread and focused in African American communities in 1960’s Chicago is true; your assertion that public transportation was non-existent is quite simply false. 24/7 Owl service was available in the areas via a combination of rail (Now redline, greenline, blueline, pinkline) as well as bus service.

    Serivce in those areas was actually better then than now as after the Booz-Allen-Hamilton inspired service cuts in 1997 : http://www.chicago-l.org/history/CTA4.html

    24/7 service remained on the redline, and blue line.

    • On public transportation issues, I was thinking of Watts specifically and many other urban areas broadly, but I admit to not knowing much about Chicago public transportation in African-American neighborhoods.

      • LeeEsq

        Public transportation was so piss poor in Los Angeles or really most of the United States during the 1960s though. LA was designed to be a car centric city. Some of this was because of race but a lot of it was because Americans really loved cars. African-Americans weren’t immune from the car bug either.

        • No, but the stats (and they are in my office where I am not) is that something like 30% of the people in Watts owned cars in 1964. So basically you had huge swaths of the population that had no work within walking distance and no reasonable way to get to work.

          • LeeEsq

            I understand this in theory but I think that one reason why public transportation suffered so much in the United States besides the car bug was that it become a racial/social justice issue and therefore part of social spending for both the left and the right rather than a transportation/infrastructure issue and therefore linked to other spending. We all know how easy it is to get Americans to fund things they considered linked to social welfare, especially for minorities. Not very. It is easy to get Americans to spend money on transportation or at least it was in the mid-20th century. In respects to better public transportation, advocating it from a social justice prospective seems guaranteed to be a losing argument.

  • LeeEsq

    The real problem is how do we decide which type of minority militancy is good and which are a bit much. The Jewish equivalent of Black Power was Vladimir Jsbotinsky’s Revisionist Zionism or Zionism in general if you want to be really uncharitable. Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin aren’t really romanticized or excused in this time or even during their lives but for a Jewish person in early or mid-20th century Europe, Revisionist Zionism would be appealing for the same reasons that Black Power was appealing. Begin even served time in a Soviet Labor camp as an agent of British imperialism. Any minority group that faces enough pressure is eventually going to produce at least some of an ethnicist response like Black Power but there is more forgiveness for the response in some minority groups than others.

    • No easy answer to that question.

      • LeeEsq

        There isn’t an easy answer but seems problematic to decide that these minority/disadvantaged groups get to be radicalized and these groups after pick a more squishy liberal/cosmopolitan solution to their problems. Its kind of patronizing to the groups whose radicalism is excused because it assumes that they aren’t really capable of a squishy liberal response. It comes across as apathetic to the groups that are told not to be radicalized.

      • LeeEsq

        The Black Panthers actually pointed to Germany paying Israel reparations as a reason why America should pay African-Americans reparations for slavery. This was kind of weird because accepting reparations from Germany was considered the non-militant/pragmatic solution in Israel. The militants wanted to reject them entirely.

    • JL

      Black Power primarily targeted white oppression. Revisionist Zionism, beyond having driven out the British in cooperation with Labor Zionism*, primarily targeted and oppressed Palestinians.

      *Which is an aspect of Revisionist Zionism that I don’t think is especially vilified today. Of all the criticisms of Israel and its founding, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard “armed resistance against Brits” unless the speaker is bringing up the part where the Lehi tried to collaborate with Nazi Germany as part of this process.

    • Ronan

      I have mixed feelings on nationalist seperatist vanguards, and I do think that most of what I judge as ‘moral legitimacy’ is primarily as a result of seeing how the story turned out. (which isnt to my credit)
      Zionism without the holocaust, however, takes on a completly different level of legitimacy than zionism after it.

    • ExpatJK

      An interesting comparator would be how things were handled around propositions for Liberia. I believe Marcus Garvey, among others, supported a “Liberia solution” around the time of the Civil War? (though I could be wrong on this). That’s probably a more apples-to-apples comparison with Zionism than the Black Power movement.

      • Garvey was operating in the 1920s.

      • LeeEsq

        T.S. Coates compares Zionism to the Liberia/Back to Africa movement in his posts on Zionism after he started reading about it. Both were responding to the same sort of pressures faced by a diaspora population, so naturally a “lets go back home” because that would be better reaction would be somewhat to very inevitable

  • JL

    The narrative of the Black Power’s violence also ignores, for example, the entire history of the Black Panthers’ Survival Programs. The Black Panthers started ambulance services and free medical clinics, at least a couple of which are still running. They provided testing for sickle cell anemia and ran clothing drives. They ran jobs programs and legal clinics. They helped qualified families get signed up for WIC. The Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast for Children program scared the crap out of J Edgar Hoover because it made them sympathetic, and led to government-provided school breakfasts. They shouldn’t be beyond critique, but they accomplished a lot that tends to get overlooked.

    • SgtGymBunny

      Well, I knew that many of the BP groups were heavily involved in their communities but I didn’t realize it went that deep.

      But it is odd, that this aspect gets drowned out, since this would be what “Black Power” would look like in practice. I think there is a tendency, perhaps because of linguistic similarities and BP’s not-so-charitable attitudes towards whites, that people consider “Black Power” to be equivalent to “White Power”, as a racial theory or sorts. But the Black Power movement wasn’t trying to assert dominance over other races. Their foremost concern was to assert power over their own lives and communities and not be victims of white racism, dominance or negligence. “Power to the People!”

    • Origami Isopod

      Hamas has done similarly in the Occupied Territories, I’ll note.

      • JL

        Indeed, although public goodwill over this can get complicated in Gaza especially because they’ve pressured society there in theocratic directions that a lot of folks don’t like. In the parts of the West Bank that favor Hamas, like the Nablus area, religion seems to be less of an issue on both Hamas’ side and that of the general population, with the support being based on the combination of community involvement and “Well Fatah hasn’t improved our situation, maybe these more militant people will.”

        Hezbollah’s another notable example, rising to prominence by providing social services and protection for the traditionally-rather-marginalized Shia population.

  • DocAmazing

    This has an almost nostalgic feel to it. I recall reading all manner of “Huey Newton was a thug and should not be romanticized” pieces in the Bay Area media right after his death; hell, David Horowitz launched his current career on pointing out crimes committed by Black Panthers or Panther-affiliated people. Many other writers had to point out (repeatedly, unfortunately) the recurrent and ongoing criminality within the Oakland Police Department and the role it played in the rise of the Panthers.

    Well-trod ground, anyway.

    • Gwen

      Horowitz is an interesting (if incredibly frustrating) character. Clearly, he was traumatized by Betty Van Patter’s murder. But by the time that happened, the Black Panthers were already starting to come undone. There seems to be a bigger story about how grassroots movements rise, fall and are later remembered or misremembered.

  • shawn k

    I’ll read the review to make sure I’m not misunderstanding Kennedy’s point, but it certainly seems unfair to see Marable’s Malcolm X book as hagiography. It’s been a few years since I’ve read it, but it strikes me as an attempt at demythologizing that simultaneously takes his career seriously (thus demythologizing rather than simply tearing down). I recall at the time a large number of nationalists who rejected it as too critical.

    In particular, it is merciless on Malcolm’s criminal career and how it is presented in the biography (it even ends up defending “Sophia” and is the first thing I’ve read that makes sense out of his portrayal of “Laura”). It takes up sexual problems in his marriage and highlights blemishes in the character of both Ella and Betty. It is also highly critical of violence within the NOI and of Malcolm X’s alliances with white supremacists. It is miles from hagiography.

    It’s a great book, even if one disagrees with the specifics. The amount of research that went into it is astonishing.

    • Kennedy actually uses the word “hagiography.”

      • shawn k

        That’s just nuts. It’s a radical rereading of Malcolm’s life and career that goes out of its way to separate myth from fact AND that is attentive to how the myth functioned and continues to function. And it was filled with enough unflattering biographical details to make me uncomfortable while I was reading it. I don’t see hagiography at all.

        There’s plenty of room to debate Marable’s interpretation of the post Mecca career. Given the contradictory strains of this phase of his career, any interpretation is bound to stress some evidence at the expense of other evidence. But that’s a whole other debate.

  • shawn k

    As for making sense of out Stokely Carmichael, I found myself deeply moved by the portrayal in the 2nd and especially the 3rd volumes of the books by Taylor Branch. It seems clear to me that Stokely was suffering from PTSD after his time in rural Alabama. How anyone survived that level of violence and terror is beyond me.

    It doesn’t mean that he made good decisions in leading SNCC after the split, but it made my sympathize with him in a way that I had not before.

    • brewmn

      The Branch trilogy has been on my shelf for a long time (I read the first volume several years prior to the trilogy’s completion).

      Would those here who have read it recommend it? Now that my children are old enough that I can find time for reading again, I’m wondering whether it’s worth the fairly massive time commitment it will require.

      • shawn k

        I loved it. Branch is such a compelling writer, and the events are so gripping, that it reads really quickly. I knocked them both off one summer, mostly while sitting through my kids’ soccer games. It took me forever to pick them up, given the length and time involved, but I couldn’t put them down once I started. For what it’s worth, I’ve been stuck half way through the second volume of the du Bois bio for about a decade. Great book, but one too many dispute with other middle class Harlemites over dinner. I guess I’ll have to skip ahead to the part where he turns commie.

        In the Branch book, the uncle of Bernie Williams makes an appearance. He was tight with Stokey in rural Alabama during the voting drive. Almost got whacked by the Klan. Had I know that I wouldn’t have yelled at Bernie from the bleachers in Fenway.

        Reading Branch convinces me all the more that Diane Nash is one of the greatest people ever to live.

        • brewmn

          Thanks. It’s officially on the list.

    • human

      I was gonna ask for recommendations on reading about Carmichael, so thanks for that, shawk k. Anyone got additional suggestions?

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