An overview of African-American resistance to injustice from the early days of slavery to the heyday of the civil rights movement and beyond.
The quest for civil rights has occupied African-Americans from the first generations in captivity, independent scholars Hendrick and Hendrick show. Most, the authors insist, “attempted to escape bondage without doing bodily harm to anyone,” and though violent slave rebellions exercised contemporary observers and still figure in the history textbooks, nonviolent civil disobedience was more common an instrument of resistance. African-Americans, too, were important actors in the various Northern abolition movements of the three decades preceding the Civil War. Frederick Douglass, for one, began as a follower of William Lloyd Garrison, but later broke with that movement as he came to believe that armed conflict was necessary to achieve emancipation. An early form of protest was the boycotting of goods produced by slave labor, such as cotton, sugar and tobacco; this same form of protest became a hallmark of Mohandas Gandhi’s later satyagraha movement in South Africa and India, which would come full circle when adopted in the 1950s by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The Hendricks’ long detour into Gandhi’s life and work is a distraction, well-covered and well-known as these matters are, but their continued attention to the nonviolent aspect of the struggle is welcome, particularly as its practitioners remained resolute in the most trying of circumstances, such as the resurgence of Ku Klux Klan activities in the early-20th century and the corresponding wave of lynchings throughout the South—3,745, the authors record, in the U.S. between 1889 and 1932. The specter of lynching closes the book, as the authors consider the 1998 murder of James Byrd in Jasper, Texas, a town, they write, that even today seems never to have heard of desegregation.
Less fluent, but also broader, than Fergus M. Bordewich’s Bound for Canaan (p. 94).