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Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

4.32  ·  Rating details ·  797 ratings  ·  53 reviews
Kelley unearths freedom dreams in this exciting history of renegade intellectuals and artists of the African diaspora in the twentieth century. Focusing on the visions of activists from C. L. R. James to Aime Cesaire and Malcolm X, Kelley writes of the hope that Communism offered, the mindscapes of Surrealism, the transformative potential of radical feminism, and of the fo ...more
Paperback, 264 pages
Published June 15th 2003 by Beacon Press (first published January 1st 2002)
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Aug 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Colin by: bruin trouble
I love this book. period. These are some things I love about it: 1. It furthers the work started in Cedric Robinson's Black Marxism which i also really like. 2. It is a personal, hopeful book that incorporates theory in a non-pretentious and accessible way. 3. The chapter on black feminism is amazing. 4. I learned about a lot of grassroots organizations and activisms that i didn't know about before.
5. He makes the case that surrealism is a mode of liberatory thought originating in the art and r
Jan 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a must-read for anyone who wants to achieve a better society. Robin Kelley is one of the few thinkers who is both brilliant and intellectually humble. He covers a lot of depth and timespan in here and does it cogently and beautifully. I will be reading and rereading this one.
Dec 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
How would you answer the question: What is a radical aesthetic?

After years of puzzling over the aesthetic autonomy of radical movements, I began at the beginning of 2011 reflecting on the political propositions of radical art movements. The inquiry was propelled by reading two books. Luis Camnitzer's study of Latin American conceptualism had an enormous impact on my thinking about how political movements shape those artistic practices that eschew the autonomy of aesthetics that so much dominate
Dec 15, 2009 added it
"Sometimes I think the conditions of daily life, of everyday oppressions, of survival, not to mention the temporary pleasures accessible to most of us, render much of our imagination inert. We are constantly putting out fires, responding to emergencies, finding temporary refuge, all of which make it difficult to see anything other than the present. As the great poet Keorapetse Kgositsile put it, “When the clouds clear / We shall know the colour of the sky.” When movements have been unable to cle ...more
May 14, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: introduction readers
Uhm, in a really nerdy way, I believe this to be one of the best introductions to a nonfiction book ever. Ever.
Oct 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
Beautiful book on the importance of dreaming to cultural change.
Jan 30, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a beautiful book that served as something of a literature review of Black radicalism for me. It is definitely a jumping-off point for me to further explore topics such as surrealism, Negritude, Black nationalism, and Black feminism. I will continue to digest this book for a while. One quote that stood out to me was "Fantasy imagination, dreaming–these are the characteristics that distinguish surrealism from the kinds of social critiques at the core of leftist politics. In fact, it is qu ...more
May 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Foundational. Top ten books of all time. Can't believe it took me so long to read. If this book were a core and repeated read for the Left, we'd have a vibrant movement today.

As Lenin put it, "Of this kind of dreaming there is unfortunately too little in our movement. And the people most responsible for this are those who boast of their sober views, their “closeness” to the “concrete”, the representatives of legal criticism and of illegal “tail-ism”."
Apr 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This book is a response to anyone who thinks critical/cultural scholarship endlessly talks about problems without providing solutions, or equates radical politics with gray and dreary socialism. Kelley can't imagine a revolution without Bootsey Collins, and in his account love, hope and dreaming fuel political action within the Black Diaspora. ...more
Feb 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite books. RDGK is able to sift through history and think about the visions of alternative futures in a deeply hopeful way... his work is beautiful and inspiring.

Surreal and real both at once.
Nov 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Captivated from the first paragraph on ... a true visionary. This book made me very happy.
Willow L
Jun 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
If only I had more stars!
Jul 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Kelley argued that the failures of African American social movements does not invalidate their dreams, and that African-Americans have joined social movements out of hope as much as they have to fight oppression. He points out that it is important to point out what sort of world people struggle for, and that tradition is rich within black radical movements. He thus insists on both the revolt and the revolution. Mostly taking place in the post Civil War years, he begins in chapter one by looking ...more
Miles Menafee
Dec 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
In Freedom Dreams, Robin D.G. Kelley explores the history of the black radical tradition; every organization from the Black Panther Party to the Combahee River Collective and every philosophy from Maoism to surrealism, all under 200 pages. Kelley analyzes and synthesizes so much history into a concise and fluid text that captures the essence of the black radical imagination without acting as a substitute for the whole of it. This book has doubled my curiosity and reading list on the topic.

As rea
Kamron Alexander
May 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
a beautiful introduction to a broad range of movers and shakers in the radical world.
through black feminism, surrealism, third world retaliation, and the ongoing revolts and reinventions of black americans , robin d.g. kelley maps out a brief bio of resilience. of that deep birthright we all have to be free of chains, in all forms. and not just in the black experience. freedom is universal. our humanity is universal, and when put in this light, even the deepest of pains can not necessarily be h
W. D. Herstun
Mar 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I’ve read this book before but this time was so illuminating. I was better equipped to recognize the tools Kelley uses to convey so much amazing information.
It’s also sparked an amazing dive into surrealism and the absence of myth. It’s a lovely book. I wish it was assigned reading at the high school level. Kelley really makes an effort to consider things from multiple perspectives.
Another great book to pick up along with this one is “How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Colle
Oct 18, 2020 rated it liked it
I was motivated to read this by the chapter on surrealist artists and due to loving Robin D.G. Kelley's Thelonious Monk biography. The scholarship displayed throughout this book is amazing, both in terms of the comprehensiveness of research and the facility in which Kelley brings it all together. My two disappointments are:
- I felt Kelley spent too much time cataloging history, and not enough time building upon his own commentary.
- 'Radical' here tends to focus on politics, even in the chapter
Matthew Rohn
Sep 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Innovative choices in topic matter and method of approach make this a truly unique book, and stylistically groundbreaking in intellectual history. In some places, particularly those dealing with artistic analysis, the style becomes somewhat disjointed (although this may be because it is expecting a level of familiarity with formal analysis which I lack), but is generally strong and clear throughout
Mar 26, 2021 rated it liked it
Contains a lot of interesting info - learning about the 19th Cent. black church roots of the black back-to-Africa movement, and about Surrealism in Martinique, was gratifying. Coverage of the areas I was already familiar with however was dumbed-down in seriously distorting ways, and Kelley’s liberal, Maoist-inflected misunderstanding of marxism badly damages what could otherwise be a much analytically stronger book.
Nov 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Loving that all these authors are in dialogue with one another's works, even across generations. This was a cogent and urgent request for more imagination, creativity, and dreaming to build the world we want to see, through chapters and lenses of Kelley's own journey. Super fluid, engrossing. Highly recommend. ...more
Tate Kaufman
Apr 12, 2021 rated it it was ok
Dissapointingly cursory and intellectually sparse. Reads like a wikipedia article. Offers little in the way of argument, except for the last chapter, which presents a vision of utopia so staggeringly primed for bureaucracy it's hard to feel anything but depressed. Perhaps best read as as an index of other thinkers to read. ...more
Raksha Vasudevan
Apr 25, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rich, evocative language makes this rather academic text accessible to all. Kelley does important work in capturing the nuances of Black freedom movements globally, despite or perhaps even because of their failures.
Sonia Allison
This is so good. Joyous.
Love the conclusion dream especially.
Sweet soul nourishing Black truths.

Simone Lewis
Mar 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Spectacular read.
Doris Raines
Nov 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Jun 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Phenomenal, particularly Kelley’s discussion of Black surrealism.
Calvin Olsen
Nov 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I learned a ton from this book. It was beautifully researched and eclectic in the best of ways.
Mell Aguiar
Feb 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Foundational, Essential reading... Know ur History, Know ur Vision.
Jul 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book was inspirational for me. And being that I'm new to Black Radical Feminist Theory and History I can't base my opinion on previous reading. But as a Black queer man living in today's unimaginative world - the concept of looking beyond the revolution to the dream hit home. And the introduction of surrealism makes me wish I wasn't bald so I can grow an afro. The writing was eloquent and humorous, and the chapter on reparations was especially strong. Would definitely recommend it! ...more
Jun 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite books by one of my favorite historians. It talks about how social change begins with imagining a better world and the role that artists and activists play in fulfilling that vision. The book gives special attention to connections between the black freedom struggle in the United States and the transnational imaginaries that have connected it to struggles around the globe. I would recommend it to any activist, artist, or poet.
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Robin D.G. Kelley (b. 1962) is a professor of history and American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California. From 2003-2006, he was the William B. Ransford Professor of Cultural and Historical Studies at Columbia University. From 1994-2003, he was a professor of history and Africana Studies at New York University as well the chairman of NYU's history department from 2002-2003 ...more

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48 likes · 2 comments
“Without new visions, we don’t know what to build, only what to knock down. We not only end up confused, rudderless, and cynical, but we forget that making a revolution is not a series of clever maneuvers and tactics, but a process that can and must transform us” 22 likes
“Too often, our standards for evaluating social movements pivot around whether or not they "succeeded" in realizing their visions rather than on the merits or power of the visions themselves. By such a measure, virtually every radical movement failed because the basic power relations they sought to change remained pretty much intact. And yet it is precisely these alternative visions and dreams that inspire new generations to struggle for change.” 6 likes
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