Black Camelot: African-American Culture Heroes in Their Times, 1960-1980

Black Camelot: African-American Culture Heroes in Their Times, 1960-1980

Black Camelot: African-American Culture Heroes in Their Times, 1960-1980

Black Camelot: African-American Culture Heroes in Their Times, 1960-1980

Synopsis

In the wake of the Kennedy era, a new kind of ethnic hero emerged within African-American popular culture. Uniquely suited to the times, burgeoning pop icons projected the values and beliefs of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, and reflected both the possibility and the actuality of a rapidly changing American landscape. In Black Camelot, William Van Deburg examines the dynamic rise of these new black champions, the social and historical contexts in which they flourished, and their powerful impact on the African-American community. "Van Deburg manages the enviable feat of writing with flair within a standardized academic framework, covering politics, social issues and entertainment with equal aplomb."--Jonathan Pearl, Jazz Times "[A] fascinating, thorough account of how African-American icons of the 1960s and '70s have changed the course of American history. . . . An in-depth, even-tempered analysis. . . . Van Deburg's witty, lively and always grounded style entertains while it instructs."--Publishers Weekly

Excerpt

Research for this study of popular-cultural heroism began during the 1950s as neighborhood pals and I swapped Topps baseball card images of Hank Aaron and Al Kaline; reenacted aliens versus army guys battle scenes from War of the Worlds; and played Screamin' Jay Hawkins's classic shriekfest "I Put a Spell on You" real loud so as to make grown-ups think that a domestic dispute was in progress somewhere on the block. The earliest stages of the project were funded by my father, who managed a pair of movie houses in our hometown. He supplied me with free butterpop in exchange for swatting flies in the lobby and refilling the ice cream bar machine. Indeed, many a Milk Dud was consumed to the awe-inspiring sight of Johnny Weissmuller or Buster Crabbe conquering the wilderness (and the hearts of distressed damsels) in glorious Sepia-Tone. Thus, when I was a child, I didn't think as one--or so it seemed. I imagined myself a hero--just like the ones I saw every Saturday on TV or at the Michigan and Uptown Theatres. In truth, my friends and I were many different heroes. Roy Rogers, Sky King, and Rory Calhoun as Big Bill Longley the Texan were among those most frequently emulated in our playground portrayals.

In later years, my personal conceptualization of the heroic continued to evolve through devout adherence to the Chicago Bears fans' code of conduct--that is, pledging undying loyalty to Gale Sayers and Walter Payton; weekend screenings of low-budget movies at the college film society; and frequent pilgrimages to the gloriously seedy Shank Brothers music store for James Brown, Beatles, and Four Tops 45s. By this time, I had grown taller, but my heroes seemed to be more than keeping pace. How did they do it?

Much older and presumably more observant, I concluded my research efforts with a trip to the 1995 Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. There, while wedged into the Shrine Auditorium's nosebleed section next to an excited radio station contest winner from Cleveland, I was confirmed in the belief that the star-making machinery was a grand and glorious invention. It was clear that fandom's legendary support network remained solidly grounded and fully operational. Springsteen was there, receiving his song-of-the-year award from a covey of presenters and spokesmodels who acted as if the trophy was filled . . .

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