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Exodus Politics

Civil Rights and Leadership in African American Literature and Culture
Robert J. Patterson

BUY Cloth · 216 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813935256 · $59.50 · Nov 2013
BUY Paper · 216 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813935263 · $24.50 · Nov 2013
BUY Ebook · 216 pp. · ISBN 9780813935270 · $24.50 · Nov 2013

Using the term "exodus politics" to theorize the valorization of black male leadership in the movement for civil rights, Robert J. Patterson explores the ways in which the political strategies and ideologies of this movement paradoxically undermined the collective enfranchisement of black people. He argues that by narrowly conceptualizing civil rights in only racial terms and relying solely on a male figure, conventional African American leadership, though frequently redemptive, can also erode the very goals of civil rights.

The author turns to contemporary African American writers such as Ernest Gaines, Gayl Jones, Alice Walker, and Charles Johnson to show how they challenge the dominant models of civil rights leadership.

He draws on a variety of disciplines—including black feminism, civil rights history, cultural studies, and liberation theology—in order to develop a more nuanced formulation of black subjectivity and politics.

Patterson's connection of the concept of racial rights to gender and sexual rights allows him to illuminate the literature's promotion of more expansive models. By considering the competing and varied political interests of black communities, these writers reimagine the dominant models in a way that can empower communities to be self-sustaining in the absence of a messianic male leader.


Exodus Politics is a work of excellent literary and cultural criticism. Patterson succeeds as a black cultural critic whose eye is consistently on the gendered limits of leadership in fictional representations of the Civil Rights Movement.

Maurice Wallace, Duke University

Engaging, courageous, and profoundly insightful, Patterson's Exodus Politics illuminates, in ways no study has before it, the rough ideological terrain important black American novelists negotiated to arrive at astute representations of the inextricable—but too often disputed—connections between gender equity and racial freedom in the post–civil rights era.

Michael Awkward, Gayl Jones Professor of Afro-American Literature and Culture, University of Michigan, author of Philadelphia Freedoms: Trauma, Memory, and Culture after King

Probing African American literature, along with its literary and political histories and their representations, Robert J. Patterson’s Exodus Politics is an important and necessary text that intervenes in this current ‘post-black,’ ‘post-racial,’ and ‘post–civil rights’ moment of literary and cultural production. This book will be useful for both specialist and non-specialist audiences because of the ways that Patterson carefully historicizes and engages with civil rights narratives.

Christina Sharpe, Tufts University, author of Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects

About the Author(s): 

Robert J. Patterson is Associate Professor of English and Director of the African American Studies Program at Georgetown University.

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