Back in Black
The case for Du Bois after the century of the color line
Peniel E. Joseph
In the Shadow of Du Bois:
Afro-Modern Political Thought in America
by Robert Gooding-Williams
Harvard University Press
$35.00 List Price
African Americans, during slavery and after, have been among the most passionate and steadfast proponents of American democracy. Frederick Douglass, a former slave-turned-abolitionist and internationally recognized orator, was one of the nineteenth century's most renowned self-made men; he was also among the age's most effective advocates for holding the nation accountable to the promise of its democratic rhetoric, for all its citizens.
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, the preeminent black scholar of the twentieth century, followed the trail blazed by Douglass, predicting that the "color-line" would frame the politics, aspirations, and quarrels of his century. The modern civil rights movement's heroic period—between the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown desegregation decision and the 1965 Voting Rights Act—bore out Du Bois's forecast as it sought to combat the pervasive harm of Jim Crow and thereby extend the battle to transform American democracy. Since then, however, the record of progress on race has been mixed at best. By the 1970s, incipient culture wars over affirmative action, busing, and multiculturalism displaced more straightforward disputes over school desegregation, fair housing, and Jim Crow in public accommodations. Barack Obama's historic election as America's forty-fourth president, universally praised as a breakthrough moment in race relations, has actually set the nation on a far more modest course, with most advocates of racial equality merely looking to resume the linear narrative of progress interrupted during the past three decades of reaction.
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