On the Corner: African American Intellectuals and the Urban Crisis

On the Corner: African American Intellectuals and the Urban Crisis

by Daniel Matlin


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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 figures—Kenneth B. Clark, Amiri Baraka, and Romare Bearden—wrestled 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."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674725287
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 11/01/2013
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.40(d)

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

Introduction 1

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

Epilogue 256

Notes 269

Acknowledgments 327

Index 331

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