Thorough research, lively interviews with modern artists and scholars, and thoughtful analysis combine to offer a portrait...


BLACK INTELLECTUALS: Race and Responsibility in American Life

Thorough research, lively interviews with modern artists and scholars, and thoughtful analysis combine to offer a portrait of the problems black intellectuals have faced in America and the variety of ways blacks have discussed and dealt with those problems over the last two centuries. Banks (African American Studies/Univ. of California, Berkeley) takes a chronological approach, liberally lacing his history of the growth of a black intellectual class with the ideas, struggles, and contributions of talented individuals from Phillis Wheatley and Frederick Douglass to W.E.B. DuBois and Toni Morrison, and many others who are less well known. A significant black intelligentsia first emerged after the Civil War, even though legislatures provided shamefully little support for black schools. Black colleges became a haven for scholars after they discovered that even those white institutions that would educate them wouldn't hire them. Outside the academy, economic prosperity and white curiosity could intermittently help fuel creativity, as during the Harlem Renaissance. But, as Banks notes, ""the market for books by black authors has always been directly linked to white interest in African American culture at the time,"" and when things get tough, as in the Depression, such interest can quickly evaporate. Despite precarious support inside and outside academia, black intellectuals down through the decades have been called upon to serve not merely their chosen fields but the society of blacks as a whole, serving as advocates, role models, and mentors. As legal, overt discrimination has diminished, and the black community has become more socially, economically, and politically diverse, some intellectuals have come to feel that race is not a defining element of their existence and that they no longer need to prove that they are ""black enough"" or repeatedly engage questions about racial inequality. The long debate over the responsibilities and goals of black intellectuals thus shows no signs of diminishing. A welcome addition that helps fill a gap in the study of African-American history and American intellectual history.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1996


Page Count: 384

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1996