Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

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

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

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

Article excerpt

Peace Be Still: Modern Black America from World War II to Barack Obama. By Matthew C. Whitaker. (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2013. Pp. [xvi], 393. Paper, $30.00, ISBN 978-0-8032-4964-6; cloth, $75.00, ISBN 978-0-8032-4693-5.)

Matthew C. Whitaker has written a highly readable and sweeping survey of African American history from World War II to the beginning of Barack H. Obama's second term as president of the United States. While not strictly a textbook for undergraduate classroom use (though it draws from several, recently published African American textbooks, some of which I have used), its main audience appears to be the general public. Scholars in the field will be familiar with much of the narrative but may be unsatisfied with certain formulations and conceptualizations.

The main strength of Peace Be Still: Modern Black America from World War II to Barack Obama is the mapping out of the longue dure'e of the civil rights struggle for freedom, democracy, and social justice. In his introduction Whitaker notes that "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 to the present" (p. 1). Whitaker clearly understands that historical narrative as interpretation is constantly evolving. But the main problem with tackling a broad overview of a subject such as modern black America post-World War II to the very recent past is that an analytic framework becomes almost impossible to discern. Moreover, there is a strong compulsion to provide a measured and balanced view in the narrative. This can lead to a sanitization, if not a "triumphalism," of the achievements coming out of what went on in the past. These pitfalls may well be unavoidable; and from a study of this volume, one can see that Whitaker does engage, if not struggle, with them. However, the best insights that can be taken away from this text are the adversities that ordinary African Americans faced and the engagement in struggles to overcome the forces of discrimination and racism that are so deeply embedded in American society. In that sense Peace Be Still is truly a black people's history of the modern United States.

In the end, regrettably, Whitaker strains to show that African Americans have effected change even though we have certainly not entered into a '"postracial"' society (p. …

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