Astute contemporary history of the civil rights movement in the years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Though many books have focused on the period from 1954 to 1968, bookended by Brown v. Board of Education and King’s tragic death, there has been less emphasis on the period after 1968. Chappell (Modern American History/Univ. of Oklahoma; A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow, 2004) helps to provide a corrective by delivering what could be considered a series of linked essays covering a range of themes on the continuing fight for racial equality in the last four-plus decades. Beginning with the largely overlooked Civil Rights Act of 1968, or Fair Housing Act, which Congress enacted just a week after King’s death, Chappell shows how for a few years the movement seemed unmoored and leaderless even as there were real efforts to continue the work of the so-called “Classical Phase” of the struggle. By the late 1970s and into the ’80s, issues such as full employment and the establishment of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day took central stage. During this time period, former King confidant Jesse Jackson worked tirelessly to become the pre-eminent black leader in America. Chappell takes Jackson seriously as a historical figure, reminding readers that his two presidential campaigns in the ’80s were more than just sideshows. This book will hopefully serve to push other historians to pick up where Chappell has left off. The author oddly leaves out any serious discussion of the American anti-apartheid movement against South Africa, and he overlooks significant developments in the history of Black Power and the Black Panther Party. Nonetheless, as a foray into still largely unexplored terrain, Chappell’s book is vital.
The movement did not die with King. Chappell effectively shows how the struggle continued even as the message seemed to fragment.