cover image Black Intellectuals: Race and Responsibility in American Life

Black Intellectuals: Race and Responsibility in American Life

William M. Banks. W. W. Norton & Company, $29.95 (335pp) ISBN 978-0-393-03989-4

Banks has provided a solid and discerning, if not exhaustive, overview of black intellectuals--including both scholars and creative artists--in America since abolitionist days. He fleshes out the historic debate between W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington with accounts of the rise of black colleges and the American Negro Academy, which struggled with the eternal issue of black intellectuals' social responsibility. Banks covers the Harlem Renaissance, the temptations of Marxism and the rise of the civil rights movement, offering mini-profiles of important thinkers. The second half of the book is animated by interviews Banks conducted with academics like Clayborne Carson and Henry Louis Gates Jr. on topics ranging from their youthful ambitions to the tensions between intellectual independence and responsiveness to their ""constituency"" of African Americans. Some interviewees reflect ruefully on 1960s campus pressures to be ""authentically"" black--a contemporary issue Banks slights somewhat, since his book hardly discusses 1990s Afrocentrism. But he does provide brief accounts of the rise of black studies departments, debates over slavery's legacy and the opening up of the literary canon. Current heavyweights like Thomas Sowell and Cornel West get their due; Banks concludes that both independent and constituency-minded black intellectuals continue a historic tradition. This book makes a useful introduction to a rich field. The author teaches African American studies at UC-Berkeley. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct.)