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Reviewed by:
  • Black Revolutionary: William Patterson and the Globalization of the African American Freedom Struggle by Gerald Horne
  • Christopher Love
Black Revolutionary: William Patterson and the Globalization of the African American Freedom Struggle
Gerald Horne
Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2013; 320 pages. $28 (paperback), ISBN 978-0-252-07943-6

As the climax of the civil rights movement approached, “Many blacks had failed to forget [William] Patterson’s herculean struggle against Jim Crow,” Gerald Horne observes in his insightful study of an often overlooked civil rights crusader (209). With this meticulous and engaging political biography, Horne ensures that Patterson’s indefatigable, lifelong struggle for African American freedom and equality will not be forgotten. More importantly, though, Horne ambitiously presents William Patterson as one of the most influential American political figures of the twentieth century. If the unraveling of Jim Crow and other accomplishments of the civil rights movement are the most significant domestic achievements in the United States of the last 100 years, then Patterson, an essential leader in the movement for almost seven decades, deserves recognition, and his political beliefs, strategies, and tireless personality must be studied and understood. [End Page 181]

Horne analyzes Patterson’s political strategies that exerted pressure on the U.S. government to end Jim Crow. Specifically, Horne argues that Patterson’s decision to demand international condemnation of the United States in regard to its treatment of African Americans was a key to the end of segregation. However, Horne claims, his international alliances, especially with Moscow at the height of the Cold War, stigmatized Patterson as a radical, which “virtually obliterated Patterson’s contributions from the historical record,” causing historians “to impose contemporary views of radicalism” on blacks who looked to Patterson and his “brand of leadership” (2). Therefore, Horne seeks to restore William Patterson’s importance to the movement and reexamine the conception of historians regarding radical politics. For example, he contends that Patterson’s international political strategies were necessary, a result of extreme legal, political, and cultural racism and the “centrist capitulation” of the NAACP and other mainstream factions of the civil rights movement (3). Thus, Horne explores the intricate and uneasy relationships among organizations such as Patterson’s Civil Rights Congress, the NAACP, and the Communist Party. As a result of the centrist capitulation to conservatism, Horne argues, leftists such as Patterson “were cast into an ideological purgatory,” labeled as radicals, and their ideas, strategies, and legacies were largely cast aside in favor of a version of the civil rights movement more comfortable and less threatening to mainstream views (217). For Horne, revisiting Patterson’s global strategies could lead to new ways of thinking for “a now-beset black America” and help avoid, like Patterson, “the profound error of ignoring the world when making a domestic analysis” (217). Horne’s annoyance with Patterson’s marginalization becomes apparent when he compares some of his subject’s myopic admiration of Soviet-style communism with Abraham Lincoln’s plans to resettle blacks in Africa and Franklin Roosevelt’s relative indifference to Jim Crow. The flaws of Lincoln and Roosevelt have not denigrated their legacies, Horne observes, and therefore Patterson’s less attractive views should not overshadow his vital contribution to global rights for black peoples. Horne also points out that Patterson’s ties to the Soviet Union must be understood in context: one reason for his “solidarity with Moscow was aid to national liberation in Africa,” he concludes (216). [End Page 182]

As complex as the nexus of Patterson’s life of political and legal battles was, Gerald Horne untangles this web and provides a clear and concise delineation of the life and times of this civil rights leader. Part of the strength of this book rests in Horne’s surprisingly tight, yet thorough, study. Nevertheless, the authors of biographies and studies of individuals are sometimes guilty of overstating the importance and significance of their subjects. In this book, the author risks such criticism. But for Horne, it is a risk worth taking to revisit and revive the reputation of a revolutionary. [End Page 183]

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Additional Information

ISSN
1930-1197
Print ISSN
1930-1189
Pages
pp. 181-183
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-29
Open Access
No
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