Great Black Minds That Paved Way for Diversity in U.S. Politics
Works that brought about expectation of excellence and consciousness in black academia
If browsing through African American literature sections in public libraries, it’s not hard to notice the sparse offering of relatively recent social commentary.
One might conclude either the lazy librarian is uninterested in expanding the branch’s offerings, or publication of “African American thought” peaked during the Black Renaissance.
Arguably, both conclusions are right. However, the latter suggests that what was available to the baby boomer’s generation and their parent continues to provide nuggets of genius to their offspring.
[Also check out: Black-Owned Bookstores in the United States]
In other words, these writings have directly and indirectly awakened the race consciousness of America’s black political heavy weights. Below are three classic works from celebrated black thinkers and then a few more recent works from Black America’s political stars.
(This author, by no means, professes the list to be all encompassing, but rather a diverse representative of black thought past and present.)
The Negro by W.E.B. DuBois
Considered the 20th century’s most notable historical account of Africans, their culture, and their gruesome experience with European colonialism. Author W.E.B. DuBois became known as one of America’s most relevant black historians and writers. Works like ‘The Negro’ continue to inspire race consciousness in even the most conservative black minds in American politics. (Read more about the title.)
The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, edited by Amy Jacques Garvey
A collection of important writings by a man DuBois had dismissed as deranged. Marcus Garvey advocated for the return of freed African people to the Dark Continent and birthed the Black Nationalist movement, later co-opted by the Black Power movement. Garvey’s work is responsible for the brief growth spurt in black communities, served by black-owned businesses and other institutions. (Read more about the title.)
James Baldwin’s Collected Essays, compiled by the Library of America
Arguably delivering some of the most poignant commentary on racial polarization during the Civil Rights movement, Baldwin exposed the paradoxes within and outside of Black America. He and several of his contemporaries exemplified the peak of diversity in American black thought. Baldwin’s evolution as a writer is arguably why America has John Lewis, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice and Barack Obama. Each of the preceding names represents a separate segment of the modern political spectrum, as evident in their memoirs. (Read more about the title.)
Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement by John Lewis and Michael D’Orso
Congressman John Lewis of Atlanta is a C-SPAN star. His fiery speeches on the House floor harken back to his beginnings as a leader and civil rights activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Although he’s spent decades working strategically within America’s current political systems, Lewis is arguably what DuBois wanted to see in blacks that integrated but remained conscious and watchful of the disenfranchised. (Read more about the title.)
My American Journey by Colin Powell with Joseph E. Persico
Gen. Colin Powell, a former Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, was unabashed about his support for the candidacy of Barack Obama. Although his initial financial contribution to Sen. John McCain’s campaign suggested otherwise, Powell said he became “troubled” by the 2008 election cycle’s racially and religiously insensitive characterization of Obama. In Powell, a conservative, we see a sense of DuBois consciousness that colored his decision to buck his own party and support the “transformational figure.” (Read more about the title.)
No Higher Honor by Condoleezza Rice
Condi Rice wasn’t in the tank for Obama during the 2008 election cycle. She was quick, however, to share her pride in seeing the country elect its first African American president. Having grown up in the American south during the Civil Rights movement, Rice has written of her parents insistence she remember who and how they struggled, so that she could later become Secretary of State following Powell’s resignation. (Read more about the title.)
The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
Through his call for a reconciliatory brand of politics, President Barack Obama inspired millions to aspire for change in the American political system. Three years in, that call has been muzzled by bitterly divisive politics on the national, state and local levels. One could say the election of the first black president emphasize how much further the country would need to grow before overcoming the political paradoxes that Baldwin wrote about. (Read more about the title.)