ChickenBones: A Journal

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The conservative movement, as a largely white movement, is not a permanent minority

and indeed has gained majority status as the new politically legitimate ideology

 

 

 Books by Ronald Walters

 

Black Presidential Politics in America (1989) / Pan Africanism in the African Diaspora (1993) / African American Leadership (1999)

 

 Bibliography of African American Leadership: An Annotated Guide (2000) / White Nationalism Black Interests  (2003)

 

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Legitimacy to Lead

By  Dr. Ronald Walters

 

We must consider the fact that the presidency of Bill Clinton is illegitimate. Not for the revelation of a tryst with Monica Lewinsky, but because he was elected both times with votes from only one-quarter of the American population. This alone places in serious question the nature of his governing consensus and the nature of the mandate that he -- or any other president in recent times --exercises. It could also be one of the reasons the Ross Perot revolt of 1992 succeeded in finding a constituency of twenty million voters who felt disconnected from the process of consent.

Yet, both consensus and consent are the primary issues of leadership legitimacy, as is evident from the recent impeachment politics. In fact, there are two paradigms at work where the evaluation of President Clinton’s leadership legitimacy is concerned. One of these is the personal dimension, and here, the American people have responded in opinion polls that they do not approve of his personal life style. However, the other dimension is the public category, and here they respond with substantial support for the job that he has done with regard to the promulgation of various policies -- deserved or not.

Thus, the evaluation of his leadership amidst the politics of impeachment must take into consideration these two dimensions that interact to provide Clinton "the legitimacy to lead."

Clinton derives the source of his authority to lead both from the Constitution and from the nature of his public consensus, and it is the dimensions of both that propel the politics presently at issue in the impeachment process. The constitutional issue compels us to ask: "Does lying under oath about consensual sexual contacts rise to the level of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ envisioned by the founding fathers?" There are strong opinions on both sides of this question, as we have seen.

And the public dimension asks "To what degree does the nature of his public consensus as determined by Clinton’s favorable ratings play a role in influencing the politics of impeachment?" Beyond the opinion polls, the 1998 midterm elections (inasmuch as the Democratic Party won a significant number of seats, reducing the size of the political mandate of the Republicans in Congress and in many states) have resulted in an additional source of authority (or consensus) reaffirming the President’s legitimacy to lead. Still, the basis of Clinton’s "legitimacy to lead" is contested -- and to such an extent that it has provoked a political crisis.

Leadership and Legitimacy

There is in the Clinton saga the problem of leadership legitimacy that applies with equal vigor to non-governmental interest groups -- in fact, to all leadership, especially where democratic leadership is at stake. There is strong emphasis in the leadership literature on the personal characteristics of individual leaders. Some nods to "followership" are also evident in the literature, but without fully exploring the nature of the mutual leader-follower obligations or specifying the sources of implied consent. Nevertheless, the Clinton crisis shows us that one of the most important evaluations of leadership is the crisis of legitimacy, or the issue of by whose right or consent, does the leader lead: by right of the political elite in power, or by a national consensus that is inclusive, even organic?

This question takes us into the murky waters of the sources of leadership legitimacy and in this, we are aided by Ronald Heifetz’s construct of "leadership without authority," which I have called elsewhere "leadership from the bottom up." It is useful because it focuses on the inclusive dimension: upon the nature of the consent of those who would be led and how they evaluate leadership from the perspective of its objectives, style and accountability to their interests.

In addressing this issue, like Warren Bennis I want to question the notion of "followership" as a severely limited paradigm. It seems limited in light of the widely accepted view that the interaction between leader and constituent is captured perfectly well -- that is, with emphasis on its systemic qualities and its process-not-position dimensions -- in the concept of "leadership." The roles of "leader" and "follower" are too discrete, and ultimately artificial.

In the first few pages of his examination of the politics of nonviolent leadership, Gene Sharp begins by asking the question, "Why do men obey?" To this he gives various answers, beginning with Thomas Hobbes’s view that it is out of fear of the ruler’s power. He continues with a retinue of reasons such as habit, moral obligation, self-interest, and others. But it strikes me that this is an offensive question when measured against the pursuit of democratic leadership.

Rather, I believe with Arthur Bentley (whom James MacGregor Burns cites) that "all leadership is group leadership." This truism applies even to presidential leadership, though it appears that the individual in this role often has been portrayed as isolated from collective forces. As Heifetz has suggested, the critical difference in formal leadership is more often its greater scope. But still, even for the president, there exists an expectation of some level of communion with the "American people" through all sorts of group engagement, either indirectly in the realm of public policy or directly through personal contact and their involvement in the process of governing.

Clinton, it should be observed, felt that he had to apologize to his personal staff as well as to the American people at large; thus, there was an explicit group process acknowledged in the pursuit of executive leadership. So, I want to impose a normative value on Leadership Studies which recognizes the various kinds of relationships between leaders and those who consent to their leadership -- a normative value which distinguishes democratic followers from, for example, cult followers or followers of political authoritarian regimes, and which suggests that "good" leadership is substantially defined by its democratic characteristics.

An important consideration here is the nature of the relationship between those who hold power and those for whom power is held. The latter we might call "constituents," who are citizens involved in a dignified and organic relationship with leaders and who expect an empowering value in return for giving their consent to be led. This consent must be voluntary, it must be given with the expectation of reward, it must be based on a trust that the leadership will be faithful to the objectives and style of the collective, and it must be predicated on the understanding that participation and openness will be hallmarks of the governing process.

In this sense, we must regard leadership as process rather than a person. And when we refer to leaders, especially heroic leaders, it may be more accurate to regard them as one of the factors of monumental forces involved in historical change, and therefore, as symbols of those eras of change, rather than as the makers of it altogether.

Legitimate Authority

One of the characteristics of democratic leadership is the issue of legitimacy that involves more than mere authority. Finite authority can be delegated, as indicated, by dint of the grant from superior sources of power such as the Constitution. Legitimacy, however, requires not only that a source of authority be obtained, but that trust in the use of that power is also present largely due to the mutual commitment of leader and constituent to a common set of norms. So, legitimacy involves both normative- and process-oriented values.

With respect to process, trust is important for at least two reasons. First, it is the glue that binds individuals together in a union of informal authority to mobilize interests. Second, it is the implicit quality which demands leadership accountability -- namely, that leaders wield their power and authority in responsible ways that are consistent with the group’s objectives and with its stylistic and tactical character.

The other aspect of legitimacy is that leadership take place, as Max Weber indicated, within the framework of a common set of norms, mores, customs, and objectives of living. It is useful to recognize that legitimacy is based upon norms that are socially valid and that are truthful and morally grounded to the condition of the group and its perspective. Leaders are often regarded as legitimate if they operate within the context of a set of values that are supported by their community.

Thus, autonomous actors, possessing a high degree of flexibility with respect to tactics and to the pace of their agenda’s implementation, may often draw a "bye" on other elements of the democratic process because some members of the collective are more interested in different aspects of accountability. Leaders are most accountable when they act in the interest of the group from which they obtained their writ of legitimate authority, as well as when they employ democratic aspects of leadership, thereby increasing trust levels.

Still, there may be various forms of accountability, depending on the degree of the leader’s independence and the rigor of the sector in which he works. Some leaders’ lack of accountability may be a reflection of the fluidity of organizational circumstances. For others, lack of accountability may be symptomatic of the scarcity of resources or of the persistence of certain historical circumstances. Thus, the question often faced by black leaders -- or by any ethnic or racial subgroup leadership -- is that, without official state power through which leadership may be subject to the enforcement of rigorous standards of accountability, what methods of enforcement are available and how effective might they be?

Very often, leaders act as though they had obtained a writ of formal authority that ordinarily would permit them to operate with the widest grant of legitimacy. According to Heifetz, though, they often run afoul because of the expectation that they will act in accord with the wishes of individuals and groups who are outside the zone of their immediate areas of legitimacy.

This "zone-of-consent" problem is important, since it arises in the context of the majoritarian decision-making requirements of democratic systems. Thus, when President Clinton attempted to foster a revolutionary vision of a national health policy it backfired because he extended his political mandate outside the zone of his actual legitimacy. In other words, this was an illegitimate political act. This lends credence to the nation that leaders are most effective when they operate according to -- or within -- the zone of the sources of their legitimacy.

Thus, with respect to African American leadership, I have devised a racially based typology which suggests that there are at least four types of black leaders, according to whether the source of their legitimacy resides (1) within both the black and white communities, (2) within the white community largely, (3) within the black community largely, or (4) in neither community. By these criteria the leadership styles are listed below:

 

Style

Example

Consensus

Jesse Jackson

Paternalistic

Colin Powell

Autonomous

Louis Farrakhan

Self-appointed

Dick Gregory


The implication of this typology is that legitimacy is a resource that governs values and process, but as it is dependent upon external factors outside the group, it necessarily includes endorsement and other resource provision. This is a useful framework which helps to explain the dichotomous attitude toward some black leaders by both black and white communities.

Illegitimate Leadership

When leadership is not legitimate change values are engendered. In my book Black Presidential Politics in America, I noted at the outset that there was a contradiction inherent in a society where the practice of racism was allowed and which also professed itself to be democratic. Racism violated the principle of consent. Our national Constitution established a republican form of government based on a majoritarian system of politics, which means that the majority is expected to be victorious in the passage of legislation or in the election of individuals to office.

But what, it may be asked, keeps those on the losing side from regularly exhibiting civil unrest regarding decisions made by the majority but seen by the minority as illegitimate? It is a revolving process of consent, in that those on the losing side today may be on the winning side tomorrow, and this expectation builds trust in the system as a fair process. However, what if you knew that as a racial minority in a racially stratified white dominant social system, in many points of decision you would be on the losing side? This would tend to foment distrust, which would lead to unrest and upset the prospect of civil politics.

So, trust is possible only in a system of governance -- either at the formal level or the informal level -- that is perceived to be fair, a circumstance which leads groups to give their support to leaders in informal systems.

But in fact, there is an element of coercion here. The French political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau described this paradox of democracy in the following terms: "In order that the social compact should not be an empty formula, it tacitly includes the agreement, which alone gives force to the rest, that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. That means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free."

So, distrust is engendered by the fact that those who are in the permanent minority are also forced to go along with the majority in a process that spoils their free will and thus their consent, making their view of the use of power illegitimate.

As I have suggested, the perception that illegitimate leadership is in power traditionally has set in motion efforts to effect political change by all sorts of groups in many societies. In fact, I would argue that in some way, it has also been responsible for the emergence in America of the conservative movement that conceives of itself as an historical corrective to the excesses of the earlier movements for social change. The pivotal point, however, is that the conservative movement, as a largely white movement, is not a permanent minority and indeed has gained majority status as the new politically legitimate ideology. And in this, there are several negative effects.

First, with respect to the relationship of this movement to black leadership, it should be understood that its endorsement of conservative black leaders reflects the work of some scholars who have concluded that "endorsement inhibits change-initiating action." One implication of this is that external endorsement must either be paralleled or exceeded by internal endorsement for the values of change to emerge from the empirical condition of those who desire it. A more profound implication, however, is that the contribution of legitimate black leadership is repressed in favor of those new conservative organizations and spokespersons who represent the ideology of the dominant class. This sets up a politics of leadership legitimacy within the black community.

Second, the fact that minority groups who have a disadvantaged status are trapped in the paradox and suffer from its coercive effect represents a violation of democratic norms. For example, by what right is it legitimate for blacks and Hispanics, the most presumptive beneficiaries of affirmative action, to be deprived of it by the majority on the basis of majority rule? Also, it may be asked, is it legitimate for Hispanics, simply because of their ethnicity, to be deprived by the majority of language rights and immigration benefits on the basis of majority rule?

In both cases, vital life objectives and strategies espoused by the leadership of minority groups are mitigated in the interests of the white majority in a ruthless, winner-take-all scenario which certainly cannot be justified as the definition of an enlightened relationship between minority and majority leadership.

Multicultural Leadership

In the coming decades, democratic leadership increasingly will confront the notion of openness, accessibility and inclusion, or the notion of group agency and consent. As the country faces the fact that society is constructed not merely on the basis of individual existences or rights -- except as a theoretical precept which distributes rights constitutionally -- but also on a rich array of group structures through which individuals have mediated their interests, a deeper paradox appears. That paradox lies in the disturbing recognition that groups too play a role in the consent of the governed, and that a violation of this consent is the result of coercion.

There is also the irony that such undemocratic treatment of the political interests of the minority by the majority not only undermines the project of democracy for both groups, but is counter to the material self-interests of the majority. If, as Gene Sharp has suggested, self-interest is one of the reasons people obey leadership, then the issue that emerges is that the civil advance of the multicultural nature of America is the common self-interest of all Americans.

Demographer William Frey has recently discovered that ten cities are the destination for 70 percent of the new mostly Latino and Asian immigrants to America. Since the white population is leaving most of these cities, the metropolitan areas are becoming the new multicultural melting pot, with blacks already there and some Native Americans also migrating.

Meanwhile, Frey and others have found that the bulk of the black population is reconsolidating in the South and the white population is moving into the new cities of the West and Northwest. It is wholly logical to suggest that the leadership patterns which will emerge in these areas will strongly reflect the multicultural character of the population. But will a struggle ensue over the issue of legitimacy in those areas as well? Most probably yes, because the bases of the policy objectives of the residual white suburban middle-class and the migrants and immigrants who have a much lower socioeconomic profile will be very different.

Whites, having an older and more affluent socioeconomic status, will be more interested in such issues as social security and minimal government service delivery, while nonwhites will be more interested in expanded government services and access issues involving a range of opportunities. How will we resolve this political conflict that is occurring as we speak?

Democratic Leadership

I would like to return to my earlier observation about "democratic leadership" to affirm that the discussion about legitimacy is important in any political context. Thus, if one takes seriously the issues involved in national leadership, especially the struggle for its democratic character and the way in which the various elements in the relationship of national leadership to the people of this country have been elaborated by various thinkers as a participatory value, it strikes me that all leadership is a political system with these elements present or absent in relative degrees. An enhancement of this characteristic is the fact that democratic leadership implies a certain contractual relationship between agents of the constituents and the constituents themselves. Since "leaders" are often agents in a social process of commitment, they are the mechanism through which the citizenry’s participation is brought to bear on the political system as a whole.

In the end, though, we must recognize that even though there may be some congruence between the democratic practice of an organization and the context of a democratic state, the immediate values pursued by each may be very different. For, as Kathryn Denhardt has inferred in her discussion of the ethics of public service, loyalty to an administrative system may not translate as loyalty to a given interest of the public.

So, with respect to values, the struggle continues to infuse in democratic practice the human content that is characteristic of what James MacGregor Burns called "good leadership." In this regard Rousseau appropriately noted that "in a well-ordered city every man flies to the assemblies; under a bad government no one is interested in what happens there."

I suggest that one characteristic of "bad" governance is the absence of a democratic practice undergirded by the values of legitimacy, such as trust, accountability, and consent. But perhaps the summary character of this value was best expressed by the writer who noted that the use of authority as power-sharing for the pursuit of enlightened relationships is an expression of "love." So be it.

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Dr. Ronald Walters is internationally known for his expertise on the issues of African American leadership and politics, his writing and his media savvy. Walters carries three major titles. He is director of the African American Leadership Institute and Scholar Practitioner Program, Distinguished Leadership Scholar at the James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership, and professor in government and politics at the University of Maryland. For the 2000 presidential election season, Walters also served as senior correspondent for the National Newspaper Publishers Association and political analyst for Black Entertainment Television's Lead Story.

Walters is a frequent guest on local and major media as an analyst of African American politics.

 He has appeared on such shows as CNN's Crossfire and The Jesse Jackson Show, Lead Story (BET), CBS News Nightline, NBC Today Show, C-Span, public television shows such as the Jim Lehrer News Hour and Think Tank, Evening Exchange, radio shows such as All Things Considered (NPR), Living Room (Pacifica), and many others. Dr. Walters also writes a weekly opinion column for newspapers and Web sites.

Dr. Walters is the author of over 100 articles and six books. His book, Black Presidential Politics in America (SUNY Press, 1989), won the Ralph Bunche Prize, given by the American Political Science Association and the Best Book award from the National Conference of Black Political Scientist (NCOBPS). Pan Africanism in the African Diaspora (Wayne State University Press, 1993) also won the NCOBPS Best Book award. His most recent books are African American Leadership, (SUNY Press, 1999) and, with Cedric Johnson, Bibliography of African American Leadership: An Annotated Guide (Greenwood Press, 2000).

Walters is the winner of many awards, including a distinguished faculty award from Howard University (1982), Distinguished Scholar/Activist Award, The Black Scholar Magazine (1984), W.E.B. DuBois/Frederick Douglas Award, African Heritage Studies Association (1983), the Ida Wells Barnett Award, Association of Black School Educators, (1985), the Fannie Lou Hammer Award, National Conference of Black Political Scientist (1996), Distinguished Faculty Contributions to the Campus Diversity, University of Maryland (1999), and the Ida B. Wells-W.E.B. DuBois Award for Distinguished Scholarship from the National Council for Black Studies (March 2000). He was awarded the honor of "Alumnus of the Year" by the School of InternationalService of the American University in April 2000.

Walters received his Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Government with Honors from Fisk University (1963) and both his M.A. in African Studies (1966) and Ph.D. in International Studies (1971) from American University. He has served as professor and chair of the political science department at Howard University, assistant professor and chair of Afro-American Studies at Brandeis University, and assistant professor of political science at Syracuse University. He has also served as visiting professor at Princeton University and as a fellow of the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. He is a former member of the governing council of the American Political Science Association and a current member of the Board of Directors of the Ralph Bunch Institute of the CUNY Graduate School and University Center. Walters has also served as the senior policy staff member for Congressman Charles Diggs, Jr. and Congressman William Gray.

In 1984, Walters served as deputy campaign manager for issues of the Jesse Jackson campaign for president, and in 1988, he was consultant for convention issues for the Jackson campaign directed by former Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown. He serves as a senior policy consultant to the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and is consultant to its Devolution Initiative Project and Director of its Scholar/Practitioner Program.

Ron Walters, Director African American Leadership Institute (AALI) and Distinguished Leadership Scholar
301.405.1787 and 301.405.2560 Email:
rwalters@academy.umd.edu  

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Democratic Destiny and the District of Columbia

Federal Politics and Public Policy

Edited by Ronald W. Walters

Washington, D.C., is among the most known and least understood cities in the world.  A collection of emerging scholars and activists have produced a rare volume exploring the nation’s capital, or as some describe it, the nation’s “last colony.”  Michael Fauntroy discusses the Home Rule Charter; Toni-Michelle Travis presents chapters on mayors Walter Washington and Sharon Pratt Kelley; Wilmer Leon III writes about Mayor Marion Barry, Jr.; Daryl Harris writes on Mayor Tony Williams; ReShone Moore and Darwin Fishman analyze the city’s educational system, Kevin Glasper presents a chapter on crime; Angelyn Flowers discusses the dynamics of poverty; William Jones analyzes housing policy and Jared A. Ball writes on the impact of the city’s media environment.

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Dr Ron Walters Dies at 72

Ronald W. Walters, one of the country's leading scholars of the politics of race, who was a longtime professor at Howard University and the University of Maryland, died Friday [September 10, 2010] of cancer at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda. He was 72.

[Ronald William Walters was born July 20, 1938, in Wichita, Kansas.. His father was a musician and had served in the military; his mother was a civil rights investigator for the state.]

Dr. Walters was both an academic and an activist, cementing his credentials with his early involvement in the civil rights movement. In 1958, in his home town of Wichita, he led what many historians consider the nation's first lunch-counter sit-in protest. Later, he became a close adviser to Jesse L. Jackson as one of the principal architects of Jackson's two failed presidential campaigns. "Ron was one of the legendary forces in the civil rights movement of the last 50 years," Jackson said Saturday.

Dr. Walters also helped develop the intellectual framework of the Congressional Black Caucus in the 1970s. Some of his political ideas, such as comprehensive health care and a proposed two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem, were viewed as radical. A quarter-century later, they are part of the intellectual mainstream. . . . Dr. Walters had recently edited a book about D.C. politics, Democratic Destiny and the District of Columbia and was at work on a book about Obama at the time of his death. In an essay in January, Dr. Walters defended Obama's record in the face of criticism from the left and the right.WashingtonPost

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

Fiction

#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter

Non-fiction

#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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So Rich, So Poor: Why It's So Hard to End Poverty in America

By Peter Edelman

If the nation’s gross national income—over $14 trillion—were divided evenly across the entire U.S. population, every household could call itself middle class. Yet the income-level disparity in this country is now wider than at any point since the Great Depression. In 2010 the average salary for CEOs on the S&P 500 was over $1 million—climbing to over $11 million when all forms of compensation are accounted for—while the current median household income for African Americans is just over $32,000. How can some be so rich, while others are so poor? In this provocative book, Peter Edelman, a former top aide to Senator Robert F. Kennedy and a lifelong antipoverty advocate, offers an informed analysis of how this country can be so wealthy yet have a steadily growing number of unemployed and working poor. According to Edelman, we have taken important positive steps without which 25 to 30 million more people would be poor, but poverty fluctuates with the business cycle.

The structure of today’s economy has stultified wage growth for half of America’s workers—with even worse results at the bottom and for people of color—while bestowing billions on those at the top. So Rich, So Poor delves into what is happening to the people behind the statistics and takes a particular look at the continuing crisis of young people of color, whose possibility of a productive life too often is lost on their way to adulthood.DemocracyNow

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.”

We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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Ratification

The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788

By Pauline Maier

A notable historian of the early republic, Maier devoted a decade to studying the immense documentation of the ratification of the Constitution. Scholars might approach her book’s footnotes first, but history fans who delve into her narrative will meet delegates to the state conventions whom most history books, absorbed with the Founders, have relegated to obscurity. Yet, prominent in their local counties and towns, they influenced a convention’s decision to accept or reject the Constitution. Their biographies and democratic credentials emerge in Maier’s accounts of their elections to a convention, the political attitudes they carried to the conclave, and their declamations from the floor. The latter expressed opponents’ objections to provisions of the Constitution, some of which seem anachronistic (election regulation raised hackles) and some of which are thoroughly contemporary (the power to tax individuals directly).

Ripostes from proponents, the Federalists, animate the great detail Maier provides, as does her recounting how one state convention’s verdict affected another’s. Displaying the grudging grassroots blessing the Constitution originally received, Maier eruditely yet accessibly revives a neglected but critical passage in American history.Booklist

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Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin

By John D'Emilio

Bayard Rustin is one of the most important figures in the history of the American civil rights movement. Before Martin Luther King, before Malcolm X, Bayard Rustin was working to bring the cause to the forefront of America's consciousness. A teacher to King, an international apostle of peace, and the organizer of the famous 1963 March on Washington, he brought Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolence to America and helped launch the civil rights movement. Nonetheless, Rustin has been largely erased by history, in part because he was an African American homosexual. Acclaimed historian John D'Emilio tells the full and remarkable story of Rustin's intertwined lives: his pioneering and public person and his oblique and stigmatized private self.

It was in the tumultuous 1930s that Bayard Rustin came of age, getting his first lessons in politics through the Communist Party and the unrest of the Great Depression.

A Quaker and a radical pacifist, he went to prison for refusing to serve in World War II, only to suffer a sexual scandal. His mentor, the great pacifist A. J. Muste, wrote to him, "You were capable of making the 'mistake' of thinking that you could be the leader in a revolution...at the same time that you were a weakling in an extreme degree and engaged in practices for which there was no justification."

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 25 June 2012

 

 

 

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