Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour

Gill Scott-Heron once said “the revolution will not be televised” – so Peniel E. Joseph wrote about it instead. In his provocative book, “Waiting ‘Til The Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America,” the young Brandeis University professor/social activist chronicles the highlights and lowlights of the people and the ideas that made up organized black radicalism in the United States over the last century. While the seeds of black power bore their roots in Marcus Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association, the book really takes off during the burgeoning civil rights movement in the 1960s, when black militants like Stokley Carmichael and Malcolm X began to question Dr. Martin Luther King’s peaceful resistance tactics to address racism. Joseph does a good job of giving comprehensive biographies of not only the well-known key players like Amiri Baraka, James Baldwin and Angela Davis, the author also pays homage to long-forgotten names, such as renegade journalist William Worthy who befriended Communist leaders in Viet Nam and Cuba during the height of Sen. Joe McCarthy’s witch trials. Joseph also points out the failures of some black power groups, most notably the Black Panthers, the militant, Oakland-based cadre that fell from national prominence due to internal conflicts and the vices of the Party’s leadership (Huey Newton’s drug addiction and Eldridge Cleaver’s misogyny and conversion to conservatism).

The black power movement left an indelible mark in American history, as can be seen in today’s social movements and particularly the rise of hip hop in the 1980s. The black power movement also provided an opportunity for African Americans to see themselves on the international level and unite with other blacks worldwide in the name of Pan-Africanism. With the high amount of support for Sen. Barack Obama’s Presidential candidancy from the African Diaspora, its seems like black power may have come full circle. This only begs the question – what would Marcus Garvey have thought of Obama if he lived today?



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