Renewing Black Intellectual History: The Ideological and Material Foundations of African American Thought

By Adolph Reed Jr.; Kenneth W. Warren et al. | Go to book overview

Part I
Emancipation,
Reconstruction,
and Retrenchment

The first part of this book takes up the various tendencies and dynamics—intellectual and political, as well as national and regional—out of which the segregationist order took shape. Understanding the emergence of Jim Crow and gauging the full effect of its consolidation on black life at the turn of the twentieth century requires seeing blacks as political actors who, during and subsequent to Reconstruction, pursued a range of ends that cannot be distilled into a single, corporate racial-group interest. Indeed, the payoff of one of this volume’s interpretive assumptions—namely that black intellectual and political life is embedded within and continuous with American life generally—is crucial to making sense of this period, when black political activity was part of the calculus of elites and popular groups, both black and white, as they sought to achieve or hold power during the decades between Reconstruction and the rise of disfranchisement.

Attempts to account for the emergence of Booker T. Washington solely in terms of whether blacks should have contested more vigorously, or instead have made the best of, the wave of disfranchisement that swept through much of the South at the turn of the century leave unexamined fundamental questions. For example, why did segments of the southern elite turn toward disfranchisement in the late 1890s, after a period of almost two decades of operating with some level of black voting as a feature of the political landscape? Moreover, such approaches tend myopically to view Washington, the pivotal figure of the segregation era, as merely reacting to white political initiatives rather than having himself played a role in shaping the political terms in which he operated. Such a view produces errors of the sort com-

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