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February 2, 2011 9:53 AM   Subscribe

Good books on black Civil Rights activists, particularly the Black Panthers? Looking for you smart people to recommend well-written, engaging, thoughtful analysis of the struggle for racial justice in the U.S. for someone born in the 70's.

I heard an interesting program by American Radio Works this morning on speechmaking by African-Americans during the height of the Civil Rights Era (Say it Plain, Say it Loud) and realized, for the millionth time, I am seriously ignorant of this part of our American history. I understand, intellectually, that the drive of an oppressed minority to gain enough power for self-determination seemed a terrible threat, but I don't understand it, viscerally. So, I'd like to read thoughtful examinations of the era, the Civil Rights agitators, the people who opposed them, the thousands of (largely white, majority) folks in the middle who remained uninvolved.

I have read the Autobiography of Malcolm X (in college) and several books and scholarly articles about the Scottsboro Boys. A few years ago I heard Jeffrey Haas speaking about his book, the Assassination of Fred Hampton, but honestly, his talk was much better than the book. I've not yet jumped into Taylor Branch's history of America in the King years, as recommended here.

What have you read that you found illuminating about this time of elemental change in the U.S.?
posted by crush-onastick to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Taylor Branch is well worth reading. I read through all three books last summer and was really stunned by how ignorant I was about the civil rights movement and the extent of racism in the US in the 50s and 60s. It's also well written and is a enjoyable and compelling read.
posted by pombe at 10:02 AM on February 2, 2011

Angela Davis' autobiography is an interesting counterpoint to Malcolm X's.
posted by Sara C. at 10:06 AM on February 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Everything by The New Press (they're the publishers of Say It Plain):
Framing the Black Panthers
Black Radical
White (Biography of Walter White)
Lift Every Voice
Remembering Jim Crow
Paul Robeson
The Senator and the Sharecropper

All highly recommended.
posted by jng at 10:09 AM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Whoops, the proper link to The New Press's Af-Am Studies books.
posted by jng at 10:13 AM on February 2, 2011

Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement from the 1950's Through the 1980's by Hampton & Fayer
The Children by David Halberstam
Eyes on the Prize:America's CIvil Rights Years, 1954-1965 by Juan Williams--and the accompanyig PBS multi-part documentary.
All of these are great primers about this time period, and cover the widely known participants as well as some lesser known, but no less important, players.
posted by bookmammal at 10:15 AM on February 2, 2011

Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:23 AM on February 2, 2011

Echoing the Angela Davis autobiography recommendation.
posted by hermitosis at 10:28 AM on February 2, 2011

Emphatically seconding Taylor Branch
posted by TheShadowKnows at 10:29 AM on February 2, 2011

Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak-Catchers by Tom Wolfe is a highly readable and funny, idiosyncratic take on interactions between Black civil rights activists and White liberals in the sixties.
posted by iotic at 11:02 AM on February 2, 2011

The Promised Land : The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America by Nicholas Lemann was very readable and gave me a lot of perspective on the changes that made civil rights inevitable.

I agree about the Jeffrey Haas book. I so wanted to devour it, but got so bogged down.
posted by readery at 11:37 AM on February 2, 2011

Diane McWhorter's Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution is a thoroughly researched, compulsively readable, Pulitzer-Prize-winning book. Highly recommended. It is particularly good at telling the story of Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, a man who didn't get the national attention that Dr. King, John Lewis, Andrew Young and others received, but without whom the battle for voting rights and equality for all men and women in the US would have been much delayed.

(Shuttlesworth is a hero of mine. He declared, "I will kill segregation, or segregation will kill me." His home was bombed three times. He was stabbed, shot, and beaten. He never gave an inch. It was at his urging that Dr. King and the organizers of the march on Kelly Ingram Park put schoolchildren at the front: Shuttlesworth understood the power those images of Birmingham police and firefighters turning high-pressure hoses and attack dogs on children would have. He was media-savvy in an era before media savviness. There are few people on the planet I admire more than Fred Shuttlesworth. He was a fearless, principled TOTAL BADASS who everyone should know more about.)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:52 AM on February 2, 2011

To what's already been recommended, I would add Charles Payne's I've Got the Light of Freedom (which focuses on movement organizing in Greenwood, Mississippi), which is compelling and very readable. For another autobiography, Anne Moody's Coming of Age in Mississippi is great, and if you're interested in activists prior to the 50s and 60s, Robin Kelley's Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression is definitely worth a look.
posted by sean_in_nh at 12:12 PM on February 2, 2011

Had this recommended to me but haven't read it myself yet: The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement by Lance Hill.
posted by Abiezer at 2:27 PM on February 2, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, folks. This looks like a good place to start, but--of course--I hope anyone with additional recommendations will add them!
posted by crush-onastick at 7:19 AM on February 3, 2011

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