The work of addressing society’s core challenges—whether they be persistent inequality, a failing education system, or global climate change—can be accelerated when scholarship assumes its role as an agent of engagement and democracy. The books on the following reading list help provide context on the long history of Black protest and activism.
In 1964 an Urban League survey ranked Los Angeles as the most desirable city for African Americans to live in. In 1965 the city burst into flames during one of the worst race riots in the nation’s history. How the city came to such a pass—embodying both the best and worst of what urban America offered black migrants from the South—is the story told for the first time in this history of modern black Los Angeles. A clear-eyed and compelling look at black struggles for equality in L.A.’s neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces from the Great Depression to our day, L.A. City Limits critically refocuses the ongoing debate about the origins of America’s racial and urban crisis.
The Black Revolution on Campus
by Martha Biondi
The Black Revolution on Campus is the definitive account of an extraordinary but forgotten chapter of the black freedom struggle. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Black students organized hundreds of protests that sparked a period of crackdown, negotiation, and reform that profoundly transformed college life. At stake was the very mission of higher education. Black students demanded that public universities serve their communities; that private universities rethink the mission of elite education; and that black colleges embrace self-determination and resist the threat of integration. Most crucially, black students demanded a role in the definition of scholarly knowledge.
Martha Biondi masterfully combines impressive research with a wealth of interviews from participants to tell the story of how students turned the slogan “black power” into a social movement. Vividly demonstrating the critical linkage between the student movement and changes in university culture, Biondi illustrates how victories in establishing Black Studies ultimately produced important intellectual innovations that have had a lasting impact on academic research and university curricula over the past 40 years. This book makes a major contribution to the current debate on Ethnic Studies, access to higher education, and opportunity for all.
The Night Malcolm X Spoke at the Oxford Union
A Transatlantic Story of Antiracist Protest
by Stephen Tuck
Less than three months before he was assassinated, Malcolm X spoke at the Oxford Union—the most prestigious student debating organization in the United Kingdom. The Oxford Union regularly welcomed heads of state and stars of screen and served as the training ground for the politically ambitious offspring of Britain’s “better classes.” Malcolm X, by contrast, was the global icon of race militancy. For many, he personified revolution and danger. Marking the fiftieth anniversary of the debate, this book brings to life the dramatic events surrounding the visit, showing why Oxford invited Malcolm X, why he accepted, and the effect of the visit on Malcolm X and British students.
Why Busing Failed
Race, Media, and the National Resistance to School Desegregation
by Matthew F. Delmont
In the decades after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, busing to achieve school desegregation became one of the nation’s most controversial civil rights issues. Why Busing Failed is the first book to examine the pitched battles over busing on a national scale, focusing on cities such as Boston, Chicago, New York, and Pontiac, Michigan. This groundbreaking book shows how school officials, politicians, the courts, and the media gave precedence to the desires of white parents who opposed school desegregation over the civil rights of black students.
This book collects for the first time the black freedom movement writings of Jack O’Dell and restores one of the great unsung heroes of the civil rights movement to his rightful place in the historical record. Climbin’ Jacob’s Ladder puts O’Dell’s historically significant essays in context and reveals how he helped shape the civil rights movement. From his early years in the 1940s National Maritime Union, to his pioneering work in the early 1960s with Martin Luther King Jr., to his international efforts for the Rainbow Coalition during the 1980s, O’Dell was instrumental in the development of the intellectual vision and the institutions that underpinned several decades of anti-racist struggle. He was a member of the outlawed Communist Party in the 1950s and endured red-baiting throughout his long social justice career. This volume is edited by Nikhil Pal Singh and includes a lengthy introduction based on interviews he conducted with O’Dell on his early life and later experiences. Climbin’ Jacob’s Ladder provides readers with a firm grasp of the civil rights movement’s left wing, which O’Dell represents, and illuminates a more radical and global account of twentieth-century US history.