Black Is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy

Nikhil Pal Singh, Author
Nikhil Pal Singh, Author Harvard University Press $29.95 (285p) ISBN 978-0-674-01300-1
Reviewed on: 05/01/2004
Release date: 05/01/2004
Ebook - 304 pages - 978-0-674-04371-8
Paperback - 283 pages - 978-0-674-01951-5
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In this passionate, conscientiously documented and scholarly work, University of Washington historian Singh reaches beyond the""short civil rights era"" (roughly 1954 to the mid-'60s) to recover""the more complex and contentious racial history of the long civil rights era,"" reaching from the New Deal to the Great Society. As Singh pithily observes,""Freeing the slaves also freed racism as a constituent element of national popular politics,"" an element that was as crucial to the failure of the New Deal as it was to the prosecution of the Cold War, where anticommunism""provided cover"" for racist policy and speech. For Singh, politics is thought and action; thus W.E.B. Du Bois and C.L.R. James dominate, and Myrdal's An American Dilemma casts a heavy shadow. Richard Wright, Paul Robeson, Ralph Ellison, E. Franklin Frazier, Bayard Rustin, Harold Cruse, the Black Panthers and many others less well known come into focus via linked but noncontiguous sections, with the author making use not only of their published works but of others' memoirs as well. (A previously unpublished correspondence,""the wartime dialogues"" of Ellison and Wright, is a find.) As a historical manifesto, this significant contribution to black intellectual history leads directly to the conclusion that current demand for color-blind policy""is a product of the steady erasure of the legacy of the unfinished struggles against white supremacy."" The overlay of detail, useful to the scholar, sometimes dulls, and there is occasional repetition, possibly associated with the periodical publication of some sections. But the analysis of political philosophy for the period makes a first-rate contribution to African-American intellectual history.
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