- Harambee City: The Congress of Racial Equality in Cleveland and the Rise of Black Power Populism by Nishani Frazier
Nishani Frazier's Harambee City fills a scholarly void and sheds long overdue light on the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) during the peak of civil rights and Black Power activism. Frazier traces the roots of the organization as an outgrowth of the Fellowship of Reconciliation's interracial, nonviolent, direct-action campaign, known as the Brotherhood Mobilization Plan, drafted in 1942 by James Farmer. Though CORE's direct-action program pre-dated similarly designed high-profile protests that followed in the 1950s and 1960s, the new organization struggled through fits and starts before finding national exposure with the Freedom Rides in 1961. Unfortunately, few know little more about the organization beyond this seminal moment. Frazier guides the reader through the 1960s as the organization increasingly adopted Black Power programming designed to build economic and political institutions in the black community through grassroots organizing, rather than the high-profile mobilization campaigns of earlier periods of activism. Enter the [End Page 71] Harambee project in Cleveland from 1966 to 1969, which was a new turn of black nationalism that included "socialist elements of wealth sharing" designed to force "the American economic system to open its doors to more citizens," which Frazier dubs "black power populism" (xxxiii). Harambee is a Swahili word meaning pull together. Finally, Frazier details the complex and contentious political infighting that led many activists to abandon the organization they helped to build after Roy Innis became CORE's national director in 1968, and the group shifted focus to a more conservative program of black nationalism.
If Frazier's work simply filled the void stemming from the paucity of scholarly attention to CORE, the book would be a fine contribution to the historiography of the civil rights movement. But Frazier's work is more than that—the author employs innovative methodologies blending digital humanities with traditional print media. Frazier conducted extensive interviews with CORE activists from Cleveland and beyond (including Frazier's family friends and next of kin) and uses those sources to flesh out the local and national story. Frazier addresses her relationship with interviewees in a refreshingly honest discussion of how she came to the project and her methodology in tackling the subject. If readers find themselves skeptical of the content or of the author's interpretation, they can peruse the sources for themselves on a Web site created by the author and the University of Miami (Ohio), where Frazier is an associate professor of history. The Web site (http://uqr.to/harambee-city) not only contains primary source material, but it also holds lesson plans for teachers. Consequently, the combined project is a solid effort that offers new approaches to the field.
At first glance, one might assume that Frazier's is a local study of civil rights activism that shifts focus away from the southern struggle to northern cities, in keeping with trends in the field like Patrick D. Jones's The Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2009). Though much of the narrative centers on CORE's activism in Cleveland, this is not a local study. Rather, Frazier declares, "It is a conversation between forces on the ground and the national arena" (xxxv). The aim of such an approach, Frazier explains, is to showcase the dynamic and evolving focus of the organization as local and national actors; federal, state, and local governments; shifting political headwinds and private fund-raising initiatives all pulled CORE in different and sometimes conflicting directions. Activists in Cleveland pushed the local and national organization toward Black Power [End Page 72] populism, all the while, an ongoing debate simmered between "mean-oriented" activists beholden to a nonviolent ideology of winning the hearts and minds of the broader populace, and the "ends-oriented" wing of the organization, which saw pacifism as simply a strategy to be employed so...