Divided Minds: Intellectuals and the Civil Rights Movement

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9780393020137: Divided Minds: Intellectuals and the Civil Rights Movement

No movement in the 20th century posed such a stark moral challenge to American intellectuals as that of civil rights. Yet the response of prominent writers and thinkers was hesitant and ambivalent. William Faulkner spoke out for desegregation but asked the North to "go slow". Richard Wright and W.E.B. Du Bois had difficulty being heard while editors sought out more moderate voices. Other less patient voices struggled to emerge and put themselves at risk to air their views but it was James Baldwin who threw down a gauntlet to other intellectuals in his brilliant and revolutionary "The Fire Next Time". This text tells the history of the civil rights movement, full of stories of unaccountable bravery and inexplicable timidity - often the products of the same divided minds.

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About the Author :

Carol Polsgrove is professor of journalism at Indiana University. She is the author of It Wasn't Pretty, Folks, But Didn't We Have Fun?: Esquire in the Sixties.

From Publishers Weekly :

In the decade after Brown v. Board of Education, "white intellectuals, in the North and the South... having helped for so long to keep Negroes apart and below... were faced with the challenge of racial equality," asserts Polsgrove (It Wasn't Pretty, Folks, but Didn't We Have Fun? Esquire in the Sixties). In this disturbing book, she shows them to have been "fearful, cautious, distracted, or simply indifferent." Based on interviews and archival research, she indicts not only prominent novelists and thinkers, including William Faulkner, Norman Mailer, Hannah Arendt and even the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr ("none better exemplifies the caution that northern white intellectuals... displayed toward desegregation"), but also their editors (who were "more interested in southern whites' responses to the Negro challenge than in what Negroes had to say") and the media, which "at a time when national magazines ought to have been leading the way to change... opened their pages to those who resisted it." Many of the best-known African-American novelists, cowed by "the emotional and political atmosphere of the McCarthy days," fare little better than their white counterparts in Polsgrove's hands. Only a few heroes emerge from her portrait: Lillian Smith, Kenneth Clark, Lawrence Reddick, James Silver, and most importantly, James Baldwin. Polsgrove concludes her accessible and disturbing account with a thought-provoking broadside against contemporary American intellectuals, who she thinks "have abandoned their responsibility even more completely" than those in the 1950s and 1960s and whose "publishing industry has moved farther and farther from any sense of obligation for the social enterprise." (May) Forecast: A wide range of periodicals (and their editors) from major weeklies and monthlies to small journals take a thrashing here. Polsgrove could set off a firestorm if she doesn't get the silent treatment.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Carol Polsgrove
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