In the late sixties and early seventies, black separatist movements were sweeping across the United States. This was the era of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael's and Charles Hamilton's Black Power, and Eldridge Cleaver's Soul on Ice. In 1969 a group of distinguished African American intellectuals met at Haverford College in order to devise strategies to dissuade young blacks from adopting a separatist political agenda. The participants included some of the most prominent figures of the civil rights era--Ralph Ellison, John Hope Franklin, and J. Saunders Redding, to name only a notable few. Although these discussions were recorded, transcribed, and edited, they were never published because the funding for them was withdrawn. This volume at last makes the historic Haverford discussions available, rescuing for the modern reader some of the most eloquent voices in the intellectual history of black America.
Michael Lackey has edited and annotated the transcript of this lively exchange, and Alfred E. Prettyman has supplied an afterword. While acknowledging the importance of the black power and separatist movements, Lackey’s introduction also sheds light on the insights offered by critics of those movements. Despite the frequent characterization of the dissenting integrationists as Uncle Toms or establishment intellectuals, a misrepresentation that has marginalized them in the intervening decades, Lackey argues that they had their own compelling vision for black empowerment and sociopolitical integration.
Michael Lackey’s discovery of this missing gem greatly enhances our understanding of the lively debates around black studies and black nationalism in the 1970s. This work dramatically illustrates how struggles around higher education and intellectual life moved to the forefront of the black freedom struggle. A fascinating find.
The Haverford Discussions, expertly edited by Michael Lackey, brings back into play some of the most sophisticated dissenting voices struggling to be heard during perhaps the most controversial period in modern African American history. This book should be essential reading for anyone interested in American culture in the wake of the Black Power revolution.
Here is a rare opportunity to eavesdrop on the African American establishment as they respond to the tumult and turmoil of the Black Arts and Black Power era. It was not meant that we should have to eavesdrop; the original plan was for these discussions at Haverford to eventuate in a published volume. Many years later, here is a version of that dreamed-of book. At one point the gathered thinkers speculate that much of the militant activity on campuses is the result of a conspiracy by the white educational establishment to admit and encourage unqualified ghetto blacks as a way of discrediting the integrationist imperative. (Sound familiar?) But before we rush to dismiss such speculations, we would do well to recall something the discussants knew at the time, the fact that the International Association for Cultural Freedom they speak of was the renamed organization that had been covertly funded by the CIA as the Congress for Cultural Freedom, and something they did not yet know, that the tragic events on the campus of UCLA they discuss, which led to a shootout between the Panthers and members of Karenga’s US organization, had been largely provoked by the FBI’s Cointelpro program. Such were the times. This is an important, forgotten document, one richly deserving of attention.
Michael Lackey’s recent publication of some of the pertinent materials in The Haverford Discussions: A Black Integrationist Manifesto for Racial Justice represents an important first step toward understanding better both the murky depths of the nation’s stormy passage from Civil Rights to Black Power in the 1960s and 1970s and the contesting personal careers of a whole generational cohort of senior black public intellectuals—Ralph Ellison among them—who tried to mediate, and meditate on, the African American cultural and intrafamilial conflicts that accompanied this watershed of modern American history.
Michael Lackey is Professor of English at the University of Minnesota, Morris, and the author of African American Atheists and Political Liberation: A Study of the Sociocultural Dynamics of Faith.