ODYSSEY: Journey through Black America by Earl & Miriam Selby

ODYSSEY: Journey through Black America

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The Selbys, husband and wife journalists, traveled 46,500 miles and interviewed 300 black men and women, prominent and obscure, militant and moderate, young and old, rich and poor, with the aim of gathering ""living testimony of the black experience."" As you might expect, after talking to Rosa Parks, Fred Hampton, Nathan Hare, John Lewis, Fannie Lou Hamer, Charles Evers, Bayard Rustin, businessmen, junkies, cops, sociologists, ministers, welfare mothers and politicians, they found it hard to generalize about the state of black consciousness today -- even though, as Earl put it, he could now ""see"" black. Most of the optimistic projections on future race relations come from Dixie, where Fannie Lou Hamer runs the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and tells white folks: ""As long as you have your feet on my neck, you got to stand in the ditch too. If you move, I'm coming out. I want to get both of us out of the ditch."" North or South, the emphasis is on getting it together and doing your own non-honky thing, ""giving less and less of a damn about whites."" The older generation recalls when ""White was best. White Lamb. White Owl. Anything white was right."" The kids don't feel that way: Ralph Metcalfe, Jr., son of the Olympic runner, now an alderman for Mayor Daley, went to Choate and found his white classmates ""pitiful."" SCLC organizers who are still registering voters and manning union picket lines speak of ""neurotic black militancy,"" but the young, ghetto-bred or Columbia University-educated, don't feel that way (""This is a do-or-die society. . . we ain't got no other thing but violence""). Virtually everyone interviewed remembered his own private awakening -- the first bitter encounter with white racism -- and there are numerous vignettes of heroism from Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery and San Francisco State by veterans of the Movement. Diffuse and ramshackle, but you do see black -- in all its variegated immediacy.

Pub Date: June 15th, 1971
Publisher: Putnam