Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama

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The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and '60s is now remembered as a long-lost, sepia-toned era, whose achievements and idealism were soon eclipsed by angry, confrontational Black Power activists. In Dark Days, Bright Nights, acclaimed scholar Peneil E. Joseph puts this pat assessment to the test, showing that the '60s—particularly the tumultuous period after 1965—were in fact the launching pad for a movement that culminated in the inauguration of Barack Obama.

Joseph argues that the 1965 Voting Rights Act wrested open a dam holding back radical democratic impluses. This political explosion initially took the form of the Black Power Movement, which, though conventionally adjudged a failure, in fact laid the groundwork for a crucial new wave of black leadership. To elucidate Black Power's unfairly forgotten achievements Joseph retells the movement through the lives of activists, intellectuals, and artists including Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Amiri Baraka, and Barack Obama. In so doing, Dark Days, Bright Nights re-assesses a half-century fraught with struggle to expose its resounding triumphs and continuing influence on American democracy.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
John Stauffer, Chair, History of American Civilization at Harvard and the author of Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln and The Black Hearts of Men
“Peniel Joseph, the preeminent scholar of African American culture in the postwar period, shows us in Dark Days, Bright Nights how and why Black Power transformed American culture and made possible the election of Barack Obama. Brilliantly conceived and elegantly written, it highlights the possibilities and limits of remaking society and achieving democracy. It thus is a vital, necessary book, one that every American should read.”

Manning Marable, M. Moran Weston and Black Alumni Council Professor of African-American Studies at Columbia University
“Peniel Joseph’s Dark Days, Bright Nights explores the contours of black leadership and politics over the past half century as it examines the strengths and contradictions of black activism and black power. Joseph’s insights and deep knowledge of modern Black Nationalism provide powerful new perspectives on recent African-American History. Dark Days, Bright Nights represents contemporary history at its best.”

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University
“Scholarship on the Civil Rights Movement often takes a holistic approach to the era, submerging individual moments in the successes or failures of the movement as a whole. But Peniel Joseph wisely isolates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as a crucial moment for both the movement and American history—not as the crowning achievement of the movement to that point but as the starting point for the (previously unacknowledged) inroads made by black radicalism, which ultimately led to the historic Presidential election of 2008. Joseph tells the story of the moment and of the individuals who shaped it and were shaped by it with rare insight and vitality. This book adds luster to his stature as a rising star in the field of African American history.”

Publisher’s Weekly
“A much needed discussion of black power’s successes and its contributions to the civil rights movement... [Joseph] makes a persuasive and stimulating case for Obama’s election as a vindication for black power, and his book is a vivid and welcome recasting of the history—and the myriad interpretations—of the movement.”

Kirkus Reviews
Joseph (History/Tufts Univ.; Waiting 'til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America, 2006, etc.) grounds Barack Obama's ascendancy in the historic strides of Black Power leaders like Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X. Some have argued that Obama's election marked "the end of black politics" in America, underscoring the obsolescence of the civil-rights struggle and the bankruptcy of the radical Black Power platform of the '60s and '70s. Yet Joseph demonstrates the enduring relevance of these early pioneers, including Paul Robeson, Lorraine Hansberry, Robert Williams, Gloria Richardson and William Worthy. Obama's early grassroots efforts as a community organizer in Chicago owe enormous debt to these early black militants. Joseph revisits the era, starting from the "freedom surge" before World War II, when African Americans migrated to urban centers like Harlem in massive numbers and significant political organizations like the NAACP were formed. Although the civil-rights and Black Power movements are usually treated separately, they are, Joseph writes, two branches of "the same historical family tree." The struggles against the Jim Crow laws galvanized both branches, bolstered by Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, with the South led by the "quiet dignity" of Martin Luther King and the Northern activists taking cues from his more radical counterpart, Malcolm X. Carmichael moved from civil-rights agitator to Black Power revolutionary, proving to be "perhaps the most important individual key to unearthing the buried intimacies between the civil rights and Black Power eras. Joseph studies Obama's writings and speeches, showing that despite his "typically understatedeloquence," the president's message of an American democracy transformed is no less radical. A palatable history for our times. Agent: Gloria Loomis/Watkins Loomis Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465013661
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 1/5/2010
  • Pages: 277
  • Sales rank: 849,085
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Peniel E. Joseph

Peniel E. Joseph is Professor of History at Tufts University and the author of the award-winning Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour, as well as editor of The Black Power Movementand Neighborhood Rebels. The recipient of fellowships from Harvard University’s Charles Warren Center, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Ford Foundation, his essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Journal of American History, The Chronicle Review, Bookforum, and The American Historical Review. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 20, 2010

    A must for reading pile

    I have not read but I will!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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