In July 1964, after a decade of intense media focus on civil rights protest in the Jim Crow South, a riot in Harlem abruptly shifted attention to the urban crisis embroiling America's northern cities. On the Corner revisits the volatile moment when African American intellectuals were thrust into the spotlight as indigenous interpreters of black urban life to white America, and examines how three figuresKenneth B. Clark, Amiri Baraka, and Romare Beardenwrestled with the opportunities and dilemmas their heightened public statures entailed. Daniel Matlin locates in the 1960s a new dynamic that has continued to shape African American intellectual practice to the present day, as black urban communities became the chief objects of black intellectuals' perceived social obligations.
Black scholars and artists offered sharply contrasting representations of black urban life and vied to establish their authority as indigenous interpreters. As a psychologist, Clark placed his faith in the ability of the social sciences to diagnose the damage caused by racism and poverty. Baraka sought to channel black fury and violence into essays, poems, and plays. Meanwhile, Bearden wished his collages to contest portrayals of black urban life as dominated by misery, anger, and dysfunction.
In time, each of these figures concluded that their role as interpreters for white America placed dangerous constraints on black intellectual practice. The condition of entry into the public sphere for African American intellectuals in the post-civil rights era has been confinement to what Clark called "the topic that is reserved for blacks."
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About the Author
Daniel Matlin is Lecturer in the History of the United States of America since 1865 at King’s College London.
Table of Contents
1 Ghettos of the Mind: Kenneth B. Clark and the Psychology of the Urban Crisis 36
The Cry of the Ghetto
Tangle of Pathology
To Challenge the Powers That Be
A Unifying Theory
2 Be Even Blacker: Amiri Baraka's Names and Places 123
A Sense of the Prodigal
Speaking to Black People
Code of Morality
Lift Up Yr Self!
I Will Create a City!
3 Harlem without Walls: Romare Bearden's Realism 195
The Negro Artist's Dilemma
To Paint the Life of My People as I Know It
To See How Life Can Triumph