Peace Be Still: Modern Black America from World War II to Barack Obama

Peace Be Still: Modern Black America from World War II to Barack Obama

Peace Be Still: Modern Black America from World War II to Barack Obama

Peace Be Still: Modern Black America from World War II to Barack Obama


A concise, engaging, and provocative history of African Americans since World War II, Peace Be Still is also nothing less than an alternate history of the United States in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Organizing this history around culture, politics, and resistance, Matthew C. Whitaker takes us from World War II as a galvanizing force for African American activism and the modern civil rights movement to the culmination of generations of struggle in the election of Barack Obama.

From the promise of the post–World War II era to the black power movement of the 1960s, the economic and political struggles of the 1970s, and the major ideological realignment of political culture during the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, this book chronicles a people fighting oppression while fashioning a dynamic culture of artistic and religious expression along with a program of educational and professional advancement. A resurgence of rigid conservative right-wing policies, the politics of poverty, racial profiling, and police brutality are ongoing counterpoints to African Americans rising to political prominence and securing positions once denied them.

A history of African Americans for a new generation, Peace Be Still demonstrates how dramatically African American history illuminates the promise, conflicts, contradictions, hopes, and victories that all Americans share.


“Moses, my servant, is dead. Therefore arise and go over Jordan.”
There are no deliverers. They’re all dead. We must arise and go over
Jordan. We can take the promised Land.

—NANNIE BURROUGHS, “Unload Your Toms,” Louisiana Weekly,
December 23, 1933

History exists within the past and the present. Although we tend to view the past as complete and fixed regardless of the passage of time, it is far from static. If you consider how many things occurred in the lives of individuals, peoples, and nations at any given moment in history, you will realize that the historian is compelled to select that which is important from these myriad events in order to ascertain the meaning of what happened. These distinctions between the important and the unimportant are of course made in the present. We do not identify that which we believe is essential knowledge if history delves into an impenetrable and irrelevant knot of minutiae. Chronicling and evaluating the past is the vocation of historians, who craft “historical narrative” with the aim of offering readers a sound account of the past that is understandable in the present. Historical narrative, therefore, inevitably empowers some individuals and events with historical significance and neglects, overlooks, and repudiates the historical value of others.

In any event, historical narrative evolves constantly, as what we yearn to know about the past changes in relation to what is important to us now and what will be important to us in the future. You do not have to look very far into our American past to see that such changes have unfolded.

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