An overview of black Americans’ ongoing struggle for racial equality, from Reconstruction to the present.
Although it soon became apparent after the end of the Civil War that white supremacy was the rule of law, Fairclough (Race and Democracy, 1995, etc.) asserts that black Americans never accepted this inferior status and have consistently applied many methods and strategies—most of which fall into three categories: accommodation, militant confrontation, and separatism—to strive for equality with whites. Arranged chronologically and focused predominately on the South, each chapter describes one person or movement in depth. The rise of Martin Luther King and the civil-rights movement of the 1960s (referred to here as the “Second Reconstruction”) is already well-documented, of course, but the many events and personalities that preceded that groundbreaking era are also included, providing appropriate historical perspective. The campaign against the widespread lynching of black men by white mobs, particularly the outspoken defiance of black journalist Ida B. Wells in the 1890s, is credited as the “beginning of the fight-back against white supremacy.” The “accommodationist” tactics of Booker T. Washington are here described as having laid the groundwork for later civil-rights battles. And the waxing and waning of the NAACP’s influence on the lives of black Americans as well as the unexpected assistance of the Communist Party in waging warfare on the judicial front are also explored. In the end (although he cites many examples of improvements in the lives of black Americans by the end of the century), Fairclough looks to the future with considerable pessimism, noting the “deep unease about continuing inequality and confusion over what should be done about it.”
An incisive rendering of over a century of personal and political struggles for equality by black Americans, and a valuable addition to the studies of black American history and of civil rights.