Dispatches from the Ebony Tower: Intellectuals Confront the African American Experience

Dispatches from the Ebony Tower: Intellectuals Confront the African American Experience

Dispatches from the Ebony Tower: Intellectuals Confront the African American Experience

Dispatches from the Ebony Tower: Intellectuals Confront the African American Experience


What constitutes black studies and where does this discipline stand at the end of the twentieth century? In this wide-ranging and original volume, Manning Marable -- one of the leading scholars of African American history -- gathers key materials from contemporary thinkers who interrogate the richly diverse content and multiple meanings of the collective experiences of black folk.

Here are numerous voices expressing very different political, cultural, and historical views, from black conservatives, to black separatists, to blacks who advocate radical democratic transformation. Here are topics ranging from race and revolution in Cuba, to the crack epidemic in Harlem, to Afrocentrism and its critics. All of these voices, however, are engaged in some aspect of what Marable sees as the essential triad of the black intellectual tradition: describing the reality of black life and experiences, critiquing racism and stereotypes, or proposing positive steps for the empowerment of black people.

Highlights from Dispatches from the Ebony Tower:

•Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Manning Marable debate the role of activism in black studies.

•John Hope Franklin reflects on his role as chair of the President's race initiative.

•Cornel West discusses topics that range from the future of the NAACP through the controversies surrounding Louis Farrakhan and black nationalism to the very question of what "race" means.

•Amiri Baraka lays out strategies for a radical new curriculum in our schools and universities.

•Marable's introduction provides a thorough overview of the history and current state of black studies in America.


The great challenge every editor faces in the construction of a volume of academic essays is bringing together independent and frequently divergent perspectives into a general intellectual conversation about a common issue or theme. There have been literally hundreds of articles published in scholarly journals during the past thirty years on the definition, character, and meaning of black studies. Even a short list of prolific and widely read scholars whose writings have largely defined the field of African American studies—which would certainly include Molefi Asante, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harold Cruse, Maulana Karenga, Audre Lorde, Cornel West, Angela Y. Davis, bell hooks, and Amiri Baraka—would probably disagree about what black studies is, and what it should become. Scholars involved in gender studies, ethnic studies, queer studies, and other new fields of inquiry are engaged in similar debates, which are also informed at times by larger political questions about the status of minority groups within U.S. society today. My hope here is not to come up with definitive answers or solutions but to generate a set of fruitful and provocative questions about black studies—concerning its past, present, and future—while also encouraging a more constructive conversation among scholars in the field.

Dispatches from the Ebony Tower is the product of more than a quarter-century of my involvement in African American studies. My first real job after graduate school was my appointment in 1974 in the AfroAmerican Studies Program at Smith College in Massachusetts. Hired to . . .

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