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Spike Lee's 1989 film, Do The Right Thing, culminates in an eruption of rage and violence. Before the credits begin rolling, the images and words of two great African American leaders appear on the screen. The audience is left to ponder whether the "right thing" is Martin Luther King Jr.'s reproachful "as you promised," or Malcolm X's audacious "by any means necessary."
The idea that these iconic personifications of Civil Rights (CR) and Black Power (BP) epitomize divergent movements is ubiquitous; it has been ingrained in public memory and is presumed by much academic work. This dichotomous splitting of black freedom struggles is precisely what The Black Power Movement aims to mend. Each of the essays complicates such simplistic oppositions and challenges the politics that foregrounds the division between a heroic, righteous, nonviolent CR movement, and a deviant, destructive, and politically ineffective BP movement. As the editor Peniel Joseph explains, he intends to undermine the "hegemony" that disassembles "CR and BP as a progressive regression from hope to anger to chaos" (21).
Stokely Carmichael's defiant rallying cry—as he and King continued James Meredith's 1966 "March Against Fear"—has conventionally served as the signpost marking the birth of BP and the death of CR. Joseph offers a different periodization and a more inclusive conception of BP. His elastic "long BP movement" reaches back more than two decades earlier to the ideas of Depression-era radicals. It also stretches forward to current Black Studies scholarship and various incarnations of multiculturalism; and even sideways to encompass parallel movements, such as black feminism, student, labor, and welfare rights activism, and black nationalism "from Newark, NJ, to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, and beyond" (7). Through this framing, BP comes to represent the entire African American struggle (not CR gone awry), revealing continuities and coherences absent in historiographical strictures that sever activism geographically (north vs. south), [End Page 139] generationally (adults vs. rebellious youth), economically (middle class vs. lumpen), and ideologically (rights vs. jobs).
The anthology commences with the 1965 Watts upheaval. By many accounts, Watts signifies a crucial rupture in the CR movement—an outburst of the desperately poor, socially abject, and politically estranged. Jeanne Theoharis charts instead a history of militant activism in Los Angles (beginning with the 1941 "Alabama on Avalon" rebellion), according to which Watts was a seamless extension of years of CR organizing around issues such as school desegregation and fair housing. Yohuru Williams's chapter on NAACP leader Roy Wilkins's variable relationship with BP provides a more equivocal version of CR–BP transition. Simon Wendt's examination of early 1960s Southern armed defense units complicates the standard CR narrative, though he maintains their militant resistance was a necessary facilitation of nonviolence, not an alternate course.
Whereas Komozi Woodward's description of Amiri Baraka's career—from the 1961 pro-Lumumba protest at the UN to the 1972 Gary Convention—underscores the connections between local BP activism and post-colonial struggles around the globe; Jeffrey Ogbar shows how BP symbols and rhetoric inspired other subordinate groups within the United States. Ogbar's study encompasses the "rainbow radicalism" and "machismo cool" of Chicano Brown Berets, Chinese Red Guards, and the Patriots (white men donning berets and leather jackets adorned with the confederate flag!), among others.
Three essays focus on women. Rhoda Williams explores how welfare mothers, public housing tenants, and nuns in Baltimore, Maryland were "mobilized outside of, but in the context of, Black Power radicals" (81). In a similar vein, Stephen Ward's history of the Third World Women's Alliance aims to demonstrate that black feminism and BP were part of the same ideological framework; and, Kimberley Springer analyzes the critical reception of writings by Toni Cade Bambara, Ntozake Shange, and Michelle Wallace.
The anthology concludes by pointing to the lingering presence and promise of BP. Keith Mayes's tracking of the growing popularity of Kwanza offers a poignant illustration of the BP movement's "cultural offspring" and "continued resilience and relevance" (248). Joseph's final essay...