Radical Intellect: Liberator Magazine and Black Activism in the 1960s

Radical Intellect: Liberator Magazine and Black Activism in the 1960s

Radical Intellect: Liberator Magazine and Black Activism in the 1960s

Radical Intellect: Liberator Magazine and Black Activism in the 1960s


The rise of black radicalism in the 1960s was a result of both the successes and the failures of the civil rights movement. The movement's victories were inspirational, but its failures to bring about structural political and economic change pushed many to look elsewhere for new strategies. During this era of intellectual ferment, the writers, editors, and activists behind the monthly magazine Liberator (1960-71) were essential contributors to the debate. In the first full-length history of the organization that produced the magazine, Christopher M. Tinson locates the Liberator as a touchstone of U.S.-based black radical thought and organizing in the 1960s. Combining radical journalism with on-the-ground activism, the magazine was dedicated to the dissemination of a range of cultural criticism aimed at spurring political activism, and became the publishing home to many notable radical intellectual-activists of the period, such as Larry Neal, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Harold Cruse, and Askia Toure.

By mapping the history and intellectual trajectory of the Liberator and its thinkers, Tinson traces black intellectual history beyond black power and black nationalism into an internationalism that would shape radical thought for decades to come.


We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand
on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.

—Langston Hughes, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” (1926)

Radical Intellect is a political and cultural history of one of the lesser acknowledged, but widely influential, periodicals of the 1960s and early 1970s, Liberator magazine. More than the story of a periodical, however, this history is concerned with the political and cultural work of a loosely assembled collective of activist-intellectuals and artist-intellectuals in the era of mass protest, decolonization, and “militant transnationalism.” in recent years there have been a range of works that have mentioned Liberator, and a few shorter articles and chapters have discussed its role as a pivotal outlet of the period. Yet, none of these exhaustively cover the spectrum of personalities, shifts, ebbs and flows, and moments of tension and consternation that contributed to the periodical’s overall impact, as this book sets out to accomplish. More than simply recording the news events, the magazine’s work was that of inscription. By inscribing liberatory politics, Liberator stood at the crossroads of knowledge production and insurrection. Placing this periodical’s engagement with black radical perspectives at the center of a history of U.S.-based radicalism opens observation to important shifts taking place in black and Third World political struggle up to and after the articulation of Black Power in the middle of the twentieth century. However, with Liberator’s emergence at the beginning of the decade, in 1960–61, in many ways it anticipated Black Power, and its origins can and should be traced to earlier forms and ideas of radicalism.

As with nearly all black radical projects in this period, Liberator positioned itself in relation to anticolonial movements in Africa and elsewhere around the world where populations of color were attacking and abandoning colonialism. Yet, supporting African liberation, alongside a robust articulation of demands for human recognition in the United States was its . . .

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