As President Obama leaves office while Black youth remain open targets for those paid to protect and serve all citizens, this book is timely. Political scientist Sekou Franklin focuses on strategies and movement-building among those he calls the “post-civil rights generation” of young people: those he describes as coming of age after the mass movements. (16) These young people’s post-Jim Crow experiences shape their realities and the backlash against those rights previous generations fought for. The goal of the book, therefore, is to assess the changes, limitations, and opportunities for youth-driven mobilization and activism. In these assessments, Franklin successfully engages with social movement theories and the subtle differences between transformational movements (long-term, more high risk, with a more sustained impact) and protest movements (short-term, restricted, with limited mobilization opportunities).
Franklin carefully puts his analysis of the post-civil rights activism in historical context – spending considerable time plotting youth radicalism from the 1930s to the 1980s, highlighting the ebbs and flows, the cyclical patterns of movement activity, and change over time. He also situates these moments of activism within the political contexts of their time, plotting the interplay between national politics and political mood swings, with the subsequent strategic organizing in response: from the rise of Nazi Germany and its effect on the US Communist Party in the 1930s and 1940s to the national swing to the right from the late 1960s. He clearly demonstrates why history matters and how movements emerge not out of a vacuum, but from the work and legacies [End Page 263] of generations before. He provides a clear introduction outlining his methodology and choices before launching into rich multi-disciplinary explorations of five case studies. Starting with the Southern Negro Youth Congress (snyc) in the pre-Cold War era, Franklin considers the post-World War II Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (sncc), one of the better-known youth-driven activist groups in US history, alongside the lesser-known Student Organization for Black Unity (sobu). As the mass movements disintegrated, activism continued, albeit without the driving momentum of the 1950s and 1960s. From the divestment movements to the New Haven youth movements, the Black Student Leadership Network (bsln), the afl-cio’s Union Summer program, and the juvenile justice reform movement (jjrm) initiatives, Franklin explains how young people made use of the tools available to them and tapped into the legacies of earlier campaigning strategies.
His work to solidify the rich and understudied histories of youthful Black activism contextualizes the movements for change by more recent generations after the mid-1970s to 2006. Underscoring the historical existence of vibrant pockets of persistent activism and what he terms “movement infrastructure” and “institutional leveraging,” Franklin acknowledges the labyrinth of rhetorical and legal obstacles that hinder the development of transformative movements and movement-building. Franklin situates 21st century radicalism and activism in the context of historical work and the current discourses that mask and devalue, or as he puts it “curtail[s] transformational movement initiatives that use extra-systemic pressures,” the continuously evolving work in which young people are engaged. (11) Thus the book serves to bridge the knowledge of the mass movement years to the present, imperative particularly for young activists currently on the frontlines from the streets to within the academy.
Franklin focuses on strategies and movement-building, keeping in sharp focus the intersectionalities between movements, individuals, generations, and goals. One of the major threads upon which Franklin pulls throughout the book are the intersectional approaches by activists to incorporate multiple interests that support each other – like race and economic justice, and labour union organizing – a persistent thread throughout the 20th century as the status of Black people hinged on the axis of race and class. As such, he connects local to nation; across generations; intra and intergroup dynamics; college campuses to non-campus coalitions. The result is a complex web of organizations, people, and campaigns that sometimes muddy the prose yet illustrates the messiness of movement-building and...