Distinctive books show how the struggle for rights and recognition rests on new generations.
The 40th anniversaries this year of the death of Martin Luther King Jr., of the urban riots in reaction to that event and of the death of Bobby Kennedy bring many opportunities to look back on the turbulent events of 1968. It is no surprise that many new books on related events have appeared on publishers’ lists. Among offerings from university and commercial presses are these fascinating and well-done books that focus on how young people across several decades struggled to have a voice in the quest for equality and justice. Together or separately, they give new perspective on history.
The Black Panther Intercommunal News Service, 1967-1980, by David Hilliard (Editor) $25, Atria Books, (November 2007), ISBN: 9781416532590, pp. 192. David Hilliard, a founder and former chief of staff of the Black Panther Party, edits a collection of reproductions from the party’s news journal, beginning with Volume 1, No. 1 on April 25, 1967, a fourpage mimeog r a p h e d edition with hand-drawn headlines and crudely typewritten articles under the n a m e p l a t e , “The Black Panther: Black Community News Service.” Its main headline was “Why was Denzil Dowell Killed … ,” over an account and analysis of a killing of a young man in Richmond, Calif., that was attributed to sheriff’s deputies.
Essays (by Hilliard, Elaine Brown, Joshua Bloom and others) describe how and why the publication, later under the name The Black Panther Intercommunal News Service, endured as the voice and diary of radical resistance for 13 years, despite vigilant FBI sabotage of the printing and distribution operations.
The book traces the publication’s evolution into an increasingly sophisticated and comprehensive medium. The opportunity to see the history through contemporary accounts lends an immediacy and authenticity rarely available to readers of history.
The Black Panther DVD accompanying the text amplifies the story with historic news clips, a contemporary interview with Hilliard, still images and soundtracks that add context to this politically polarized and tragically violent era.
Radicalizing the Ebony Tower: Black Colleges and the Black Freedom Struggle in Mississippi, by Joy Ann Williamson, $29.95, Teachers College Press (March 2008), ISBN-10: 0807748633, ISBN-13: 978-0807748633, pp. 224.
The author, an associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Washington’s College of Education, focuses on Mississippi as a microcosm of civil rights activity on and around the campuses of Black colleges, public and private. While it is widely known that students had a role in the movement, Williamson starts with the premise that, in truth, little has been told about exactly what their role was.
“We must ask how activists appropriated and politicized the campus space for movement purposes,” she writes.
Williamson looks at students not merely as reactors or players in activities determined by others off campus but also as agents of change. The author demonstrates how these students frequently conceived and carried out protests, at great risk, forcing their elders on and off campus to get involved.
Somebody Scream!: Rap Music’s Rise to Prominence in the Aftershock of Black Power, by Marcus Reeves, $25, Faber & Faber, (March 2008), ISBN-10: 0571211402, ISBN-13: 978-0571211401, pp. 336.
This book by a journalist and cultural critic whose work has appeared in publications ranging from The Source to The New York Times views protest p o l i t i c s through the lens of music. While it might be difficult for those listening to “gangsta” rap and the sexually explicit lyrics of today’s hip-hop music to imagine, this genre has its roots in the music and poetry of the war against racial oppression. Reeves tells how what he calls the “post Blackpower generation” created, popularized, commercialized and mutilated this musical manifesto.
Despite the metamorphosis, he says, the genre remains “the unmitigated voice of young Black and Brown folks, talking loud and telling their story.”
Reeves’ book is an informative and intelligently argued analysis that is rich in detail and insight. For all those who say, “I just don’t understand their music” and who sincerely want to, this is the book.
Angela P. Dodson is an online editor for Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.
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