Simply awful. Naipaul often waxes curmedgeonly, but this doesn't even pretend to try to see the material through his prejudices. Inconsistent in his sSimply awful. Naipaul often waxes curmedgeonly, but this doesn't even pretend to try to see the material through his prejudices. Inconsistent in his standards, criteria....A great writer at his best; no idea he could sink this low....more
One of the two or three most important books about the Civil Rights Movement. Reconsidering the (overly and deceptively) familiar story, At the Dark EOne of the two or three most important books about the Civil Rights Movement. Reconsidering the (overly and deceptively) familiar story, At the Dark End of the Street places the experience of African American community at the center of the narrative to show that sexual violence against black women was as important as the battles for equal rights and desegregation which have received the lion's share of attention from historians. McGuire, who writes beautifully, redefines our understanding of major campaigns like the Montgomery Bus Boycott, emphasizing the fact that Rosa Parks had been engaged in activism on issues of sexual violence for a decade before she became the symbolic centerpiece of CRM history. A major contribution to the "New Civil Rights History" pioneered by John Dettmer, Charles Payne, Barbara Ransby and Timothy Tyson, At the Dark End of the Street didn't receive the attention it deserved when it was published, in large part because it's not comfortable reading. It's easier to ignore sexual violence and white supremacy than to confront them, but McGuire's book makes that a little harder to do.
Absolutely required reading for anyone who's serious about understanding American history. ...more
Crucial book for anyone who wants to read past the convenient and reassuring myths of the Civil Rights Movement as a moment of interracial friendshipCrucial book for anyone who wants to read past the convenient and reassuring myths of the Civil Rights Movement as a moment of interracial friendship and non-violence. Nice story. Unfortunately, as Tyson makes clear, it doesn't have a whole lot to do with reality. Shifting the camera from Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks (and, for that matter, Malcolm X), Tyson illuminates the story of Robert F. Williams, one of the very few working class individuals to lead a chapter of the NAACP (in Monroe, North Carolina). Deeply grounded in the traditions of the black South, but with substantial experience in Detroit, New York and California, Williams articulated a theory of "armed self reliance" that insisted on the need for black people to defend themselves when threatened by white supremacist violence. The fact is that King and every other leader was defended by people who knew how to use guns; King himself acknowledged that if white supremacists attacked his family, he would feel justified in responding with force. The difference was that Williams made his position clear and didn't back down when the NAACP told him to cool it. Eventually, that forced him and his family--Mabel Williams is a fascinating and important figure in the story--into exile, first in Canada, but soon thereafter in Cuba, North Vietnam and China at a time when very few westerners had any direct contact with Mao or the other Chinese leaders. Writing in a power story-teller's voice, Tyson does a brilliant job establishing Williams as a figure who deserves--demands, really--much more attention than he's received. The take-home message is that the distinction between "Civil Rights" and "Black Power" is to a significant degree an illusion. I prefer to refer to both as phases of an ongoing African American Freedom Movement, in large part because of what I learned from Tyson's book....more
Very important book on a largely forgotten, but very important battleground of the Civil Rights Movement. Part of the importance is that this joins boVery important book on a largely forgotten, but very important battleground of the Civil Rights Movement. Part of the importance is that this joins books by Thomas Sugrue and Arnold Hirsch on the short list of excellent studies of the Movement in the North. As Jones demonstrates, Milwaukee was typical of the north in the issues that sparked the black community (and white supporters) to action: police brutality, housing discrimination, school segregation, the membership of prominent white politicians in racially exclusive organizations. At the same time, The Selma of the North makes it clear that Milwaukee was in some crucial ways very atypically, particularly after the emergence of Father James Groppi as a central figure in the mid-1960s. Working in concert with the NAACP Youth Council (which separated from the parent organization fairly early on) and the "Commandos," Groppi helped shape a movement that was church-based, interracial, "not-violent" (as opposed to non-violent), and very militant. Together, these elements made Milwaukee a fascinating variation on both the Civil Rights and Black Power stories, one that rejects the all-too-frequent attitude the CR and BP were antagonistic and mutually exclusive. In addition, Jones properly emphasizes the reality of "massive resistance"--the intense and extreme white opposition to addressing racial problems in a meaningful way. In Milwaukee, the obvious manifestation was the thousands of working class whites who met the marchers crossing the 16th Street Bridge. But it's equally important to pay close attention to the maneuvers of liberal Democratic mayor Henry Maier whose rhetoric masked the fact that he did absolutely nothing to address issues in meaningful ways. Ultimately, the story Jones tells is a tragedy in that almost none of the issues the Milwaukee movement confronted have changed. The schools are still segregated; housing's still segregated; the economy's a disaster; and incarceration is a controlling reality in everyday life....more
The first volume of Taylor Branch's epic history, Parting the Waters focuses on the part of the story that most deserves the subtitle "America in theThe first volume of Taylor Branch's epic history, Parting the Waters focuses on the part of the story that most deserves the subtitle "America in the King Years." This will remain the definitive narrative history of the Civil Rights Movement as conventionally understood. It's beautifully written, exhaustively researched and convincing in its analysis. Anyone who wants to commit a couple thousand pages of reading time to the Movement--and its time well spent--should begin here. Branch concentrates his attention on King, the Kennedy brothers, a familiar gallery of movement activists and leaders (Roy Wilkins, James Farmer, John Lewis, James Bevell, Ralph Abernathy, Bayard Rustin, Bob Moses--I'll get to the women in a second), and antagonists (Bull Connor, Laurie Pritchett, J. Edgar Hoover). He's excellent in his portrayal of the institutional in-fighting that frequently threatened to swamp the movement's energy; the political calculus of the Kennedy administration; and the oscillation between near-despair and often unexpected triumph that characterized King's life. While he doesn't set out in so many words to deflate the myths of the Movement, he makes it clear that at any given moment the Movement was moving *against* the desires of the established Negro power structure, and that the Kennedys were at the very best reluctant allies. (I think it's more accurate to file them midway between supporters and antagonists.)
Obviously, I think this is an important, necessary book. But it doesn't really tell the complete story. While Branch is aware of Ella Baker, Septima Clark, Diane Nash and the other women whose contributions have been emphasized in more recent scholarship, they don't really get the attention they deserve--especially Baker. That's partially because Branch is coming from the "leadership tradition" approach to the movement. That's been challenged by Danielle McGuire, Barbara Ransby, Tim Tyson Charles Payne and a younger generation focused on the "organizing tradition." It doesn't negate Branch's accomplishment, but readers who want the complete story should take his work as the starting point, not the end....more
Addendum to the review that follows: I managed to forget one of the things that irritated me most about the book, which is that Gitlin pays almost noAddendum to the review that follows: I managed to forget one of the things that irritated me most about the book, which is that Gitlin pays almost no attention to Vietnam veterans, who make their appearance only very late. A clear reflection of his, and the New Left's, insular qualities. I've changed my mind and am reducing the rating to two stars after fall.
Very difficult book for me to evaluate with anything resembling "fairness," which is appropriate for a book that looks at the 1960s from the perspective of the "New Left." Gitlin's a bit older than I am and he was firmly committed to Students for a Democratic Society during its early, philosophically serious phase. He sees people of my age who were grounded in the "Counterculture" as signs of the collapse of everything he valued and hoped for. To complicate matters further I'm in the beginning stages of writing a book about the Sixties that, inshallah, will cover some of the turf that Gitlin ignores and view most of the turf he does cover from a very different angle. All that by way of saying that the comments below reflect a very particular set of arguments. (The three stars is a compromise--part of me wanted to give it a two to highlight the problems; the part of me that values sources giving deep insight into part of the story told me to give it a four. In no way is it actually a "three star" book.)
Okay, the problems. My intellectual and activist foundation is in African American Studies and, once the story moves beyond Freedom Summer, Gitlin's flat-out awful on race. He reduces Black Power to the Panthers and a sort of exclusionary black nationalism that was highly visible, but nothing resembling the full story. He just doesn't have much nuance on where civil rights came from and he knows next to nothing about the complexity of the South. The book does a great job reflecting the white left's confusion, but he misses a whole lot. (He even fails to acknowledge that Stokely Carmichael's line about the position of women in the revolution being "prone" was said in jest.) Second, his chapter on women is embarrassing. He begins by patting himself and the New Left on the back for their egalitarianism and for taking women seriously. Then he presents some of the evidence that demonstrates the depth and breadth of women's dissatisfaction with the left. He sort of knows this, but can't quite bring himself to admit how bad the problems were. More importantly, Gitlin pays attention to women *only* when they're involved with left politics. The Sixties is a boy's tale in ways that aren't inevitable. For instance, he says nothing at all about women on the right. That ties in with yet another problem, which is that Gitlin reduces his portrayal of the right to the standard series of cartoon villains: Goldwater, Nixon, Agnew, Reagan. If the book's actually what it claims to be, the right is a much much bigger part of the story.
Even as a history of "the movement," I find Gitlin unsatisfactory. He draws a strict line between the serious thinkers and activists of the New Left and the self-indulgent fuzzy-thinking hippies of the counterculture. For me, that was much more complicated. Part of that's regional. Gitlin's Harvard roots reveal themselves regularly. He sees the arrival of midwesterners (by which he basically means people from the Great Lakes region) in SDS as the beginning of the end. He takes the elite Ivy League schools, Michigan and Berkeley seriously with brief nods to Madison, Kansas and Austin. But his "New Left" is essentially a group of insiders who talked with, worked with, and often slept with one another. The fact that they thought that they were the big story is part of why their version of the movement didn't work. At times, Gitlin's reports on the sectarianism and ideological debates within the New Left became as difficult to slog through as the speeches were to listen to back in the day.
My final complaint is that Gitlin's taste in music is really narrow in ways that aren't trivial. There's one passing mention of Aretha Franklin in the book, none of James Brown. I only remember a single mention of Motown, none of Curtis Mayfield. Because he's committed to the tragic narrative of the New Left, he can't hear the political anger in Creedence (who he blows off as part of music's retreat in the 1970s). This isn't just a music-lover's complaint. Music was central to every part of the 60s I lived through. Where I was--editing an underground newspaper and playing (very bad) organ in a rock band in Colorado--the Counterculture wasn't an apolitical withdrawal and music was the point of connection.
While all that's true, there's a sense in which The Sixties is irreplaceable. If what you want is a book that reflects on the decade from the perspective of a very thoughtful participant, it's hard to imagine better. Gitlin acknowledges his position in the debates and arguments; if he doesn't resolve the contradictions around race and gender, he at least knows they're there. I learned a ton about the maneuvering that surrounded events like the Freedom Summer and Chicago. ...more