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In this exciting revisionist history, Stephen Tuck traces the black freedom struggle in all its diversity, from the first years of freedom during the Civil War to President Obama’s inauguration. As it moves from popular culture to high politics, from the Deep South to New England, the West Coast, and abroad, Tuck weaves gripping stories of ordinary black people—as well as celebrated figures—into the sweep of racial protest and social change. The drama unfolds from an armed march of longshoremen in post–Civil War Baltimore to Booker T. Washington’s founding of Tuskegee Institute; from the race riots following Jack Johnson’s “fight of the century” to Rosa Parks’ refusal to move to the back of a Montgomery bus; and from the rise of hip hop to the journey of a black Louisiana grandmother to plead with the Tokyo directors of a multinational company to stop the dumping of toxic waste near her home.
We Ain’t What We Ought To Be rejects the traditional narrative that identifies the Southern non-violent civil rights movement as the focal point of the black freedom struggle. Instead, it explores the dynamic relationships between those seeking new freedoms and those looking to preserve racial hierarchies, and between grassroots activists and national leaders. As Tuck shows, strategies were ultimately contingent on the power of activists to protest amidst shifting economic and political circumstances in the U.S. and abroad. This book captures an extraordinary journey that speaks to all Americans—both past and future.
Besides its success a riveting piece of narrative writing, Stephen Tuck's account of "the long civil rights movement" is an excellent reminder about the complexities of history...Tuck, a British scholar who lectures on American history at Oxford, has carried out wide-ranging research and written with a fresh approach that enlivens the many sub-themes woven into the whole. From his angle across the waters, his story is as sobering as it is captivating.
— Mark Knoll
Stephen Tuck has written what must be the most comprehensive history of the civil rights movement that you'll find in a single volume...Stephen Tuck has successfully tackled and tamed a beast of a topic. The writing is crisp and clear yet poetic in its way. There is so much documented information that filler is unnecessary, which makes this history of a complex, multi-century process as readable as any page-turner. We Ain't What We Ought To Be belongs in the classroom and on students' reading lists, but it also fits into the personal library as a reference and a reminder of how the conviction and determination of individuals can lead to world-changing unity.
— Deborah Adams
Masterly...From Reconstruction through the election of President Barack Obama, from the blues through hip-hop, from strikes by black longshoremen in New Orleans in 1867 to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Tuck recounts the efforts of blacks to obtain full American citizenship without discarding their cultural heritage. Pluralism, more than integration, characterizes this monumental and tragic history...This book is comprehensive, balanced, and readable. It stands as the best interpretive volume of the black freedom struggle since 1865.
— Steven F. Lawson
A multitude of black experiences have contributed to the complexity and diversity of the civil rights struggle beyond the iconic portrayals of the movement. Historian Tuck juxtaposes local versus national, southern versus northern, violent versus nonviolent, wartime versus peacetime, secular versus religious, separatist versus integrationist, and other polarities. Tuck profiles famous and obscure African Americans who have struggled for human and civil rights since slavery. Along with Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. DuBois, and others, he profiles Robert Smalls, an enslaved assistant to a captain in the Confederate navy, who sailed the ship to freedom while the white crew and captain slept, and Fanny Peck, a black Detroit housewife who launched a boycott in 1930 of businesses that didn't hire blacks. He chronicles struggles of black feminists, gays and lesbians, environmentalists, and others who don't often make the pages of the history books. In this well-researched volume, Tuck details protests large and small, individual and organized, from Emancipation to the election of Barack Obama.
— Vanessa Bush
Oxford University lecturer Stephen Tuck's We Ain't What We Ought To Be is a collection of voices that document our struggle for equality in America from the Reconstruction era until now. It's all here—the great speeches and moments—but it's the nod to the common woman and man that lifts this narrative a notch above similar titles.
— Patrik Henry Bass
We Ain't What We Ought To Be is an astounding exercise in synthesis, bringing together the past decade of research on the African-American experience. To scholars of southern and black history, what Tuck calls "revelations" will be anything but. However, most Americans are still under the spell of the genre's first generation, with its neat divisions between North and South, violent and nonviolent, and civil rights and Black Power. Tuck's book could change that.
— Clay Risen