Cover Image

Larger ImageView Larger

Climbin' Jacob's Ladder

The Black Freedom Movement Writings of Jack O’Dell

Jack O'Dell (Author), Nikhil Pal Singh (Editor)

Available worldwide

Hardcover, 334 pages
ISBN: 9780520259584
January 2010
$85.00, £66.00
Other Formats Available:
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.

“Learn Your Horn”: Jack O’Dell and the Long Civil Rights Movement
Nikhil Pal Singh

Part One: Tracing the Freedomway
Report on Voter Registration Work, Southern Christian,Leadership Conference
Foundations of Racism in American Life
Editorial, Freedomways Special Issue on Mississippi
The Threshold of a New Reconstruction
A Colonized People
The July Rebellions and the “Military State”
Climbin’ Jacob’s Ladder: The Life and Times of the Freedom Movement
Charleston’s Legacy to the Poor People’s Campaign
Report of the Acting Executive Director, Southern Christian Leadership Conference
A Rock in a Weary Lan’: Paul Robeson’s Leadership and “The Movement” in the Decade before Montgomery
An Assessment: PUSH’s First Five Years and Its Next Five
On the Transition from Civil Rights to Civil Equality
The Rainbow Coalition: Organizational Principles

Part Two: Contemporary Reflections
Democracy Charter
Reclaiming the Second Reconstruction: Democracy, Class, and the Social Transformation of the United States

Afterword: Growing Light in a Dark Time
Editor’s Note
Jack O'Dell was Editor of Freedomways, a legendary publication that from 1961-1985 published Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., Pablo Neruda, and Alice Walker, among many others. Nikhil Pal Singh is Associate Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and History at New York University. He is the author of Black is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy.
“O’Dell is an intelligent and astute writer, organizer, and leader. . . . Singh’s . . . introduction is a valuable narrative of the social and intellectual history of the late 20th century, told from a perspective that has been too often missing. . . Important for students of the civil rights movement and US social History.”—Choice
“This book helps to set the record straight, not just through the facts of O'Dell's life, but through introducing the reader to O'Dell's powerful analysis.”—Bill Fletcher Jr., coauthor of Solidarity Divided

“Jack O'Dell describes an 'easy journey…[and] an easy course' through his extraordinary life. But there was and is nothing easy about the roles Jack played—and continues to play—as strategist, tactician, mentor, and leader in so many campaigns for justice. As often behind the scenes as in front of the microphone, Jack fought for internationalism in the African-American freedom movement and held the internationalist movement accountable for fighting racism. Jack O'Dell resides among the greats in the pantheon of our movements and of our country. His words continue to shape our history.”—Phyllis Bennis, author of Challenging Empire: How People, Governments and the UN Defy U.S. Power

"Jack O'Dell is one of the great unsung heroes of the Black Freedom Movement. Climbin' Jacob's Ladder offers a fascinating and inspiring chronicle of O'Dell's long career through his own writings. With a brilliant and exhaustive introduction by Nikhil Singh, one of the sharpest radical thinkers of his generation, this collection is a vital addendum and corrective to our existing knowledge of the 'long' Civil Rights Movement and its legacy."—Barbara Ransby, author of Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision
Loading the player ...
Play audio
Interview with the author, Nikhil Pal Singh

Join UC Press

Members receive 20-40% discounts on book purchases. Find out more