A White Scholar and the Black Community, 1945-1965: Essays and Reflections

A White Scholar and the Black Community, 1945-1965: Essays and Reflections

A White Scholar and the Black Community, 1945-1965: Essays and Reflections

A White Scholar and the Black Community, 1945-1965: Essays and Reflections


"To teachers of African-American history, August Meier is well respected as a first-rank scholar and editor. But few people are aware of his formative experiences in the two decades following World War II, as a white professor teaching at black colleges and as an activist in the civil rights movement. This volume brings together sixteen of his essays written between 1945 and 1965. Meier has added a substantial introduction, reflecting on those years and setting the context in which the essays were written. John H. Bracey, Jr., contributes an afterword which speaks to the uniqueness of Meier's experience among historians of African-American studies. The essays range from an analysis of the work of black sociologists in the twentieth century to an examination of race relations at predominantly black colleges in the 1950s, to case studies of nonviolent direct action in which Meier participated during the early 1960s. Of particular interest is an account of his debate with Malcolm X at Morgan State College in 1962, in which Malcolm X made the case for black nationalism and Meier defended the integrationist position. Collected for the first time, these essays provide a novel perspective on the early years of the civil rights movement and on the experience of historically black colleges such as Tougaloo, Fisk, and Morgan State." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


Sometimes it seems like only yesterday that I first arrived at Tougaloo College. Seven miles into the countryside north of Jackson we turned off the highway, past a tiny, pathetic railroad flag stop, carefully labeled "colored" on one side and "white" on the other. There followed a drive of perhaps a mile on a semipaved road, then through the arch at the entrance to the campus, under a grove of oaks festooned with Spanish moss, and on to the unpretentious antebellum plantation big house that now housed the small (student body of four hundred) college's administrative offices.

Thus began two decades of teaching at black colleges and of civil rights activism, a period when in most years I lived in the black community in a way that would seem virtually inconceivable today. Coming to Tougaloo was in one sense the beginning of what was probably the most important period of my life. Yet in another sense my arrival there was the end of the beginning. For in retrospect I had had a background and series of experiences that now make the score of years that followed seem almost inevitable.

The Making of a Liberal, 1923-1945

The first part of my life, growing up in Newark, New Jersey, witnessed what I think can best be described as the making of a liberal. In this process my parents were extremely important. My German father and my East European Jewish mother both came from working-class backgrounds and had met shortly after World War I in the Socialist party. My mother, in addition, came from a large family of radical intellectuals whose political affiliations ranged from anarchism to communism and Trotskyism and rightward to democratic socialism. Actually by the middle-1930s my parents were liberal in their thinking -- left-wing New Dealers really -- though still proud of their working-class origins, and socialists now only in a sentimental sense. But they made me sharply aware of the plight of the poor and the oppressed. The question of ethnic identity was of course a constant presence. Anti-Semitism was talked about (especially after the rise of Hitler in Germany) and minimally experienced, but my parents resolutely taught my brother and me that we . . .

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