ABOUT THIS BOOK
In 1985, a black veteran of the civil rights movement offered a bleak vision of a long and troubled struggle. For more than a century, black southerners learned to live with betrayed expectations, diminishing prospects, and devastated aspirations. Their odyssey includes some of the most appalling examples of terrorism, violence, and dehumanization in the history of this nation. But, as Leon Litwack graphically demonstrates, it is at the same time an odyssey of resilience and resistance defined by day-to-day acts of protest: the fight for justice poignantly recorded in the stories, songs, images, and movements of a people trying to be heard.
For black men and women, the question is: how free is free? Despite two major efforts to reconstruct race relations, injustices remain. From the height of Jim Crow to the early twenty-first century, struggles over racism persist despite court decisions and legislation. Few indignities were more pronounced than the World War II denial of basic rights and privileges to those responding to the call to make the world safe for democratic values—values that they themselves did not enjoy. And even the civil rights movement promise to redeem America was frustrated by change that was often more symbolic than real.
Although a painful history to confront, Litwack’s book inspires as it probes the enduring story of racial inequality and the ongoing fight for freedom in black America with power and grace.
With How Free is Free?, a master historian elegantly buries Jim Crow only to find his evil twin, Poverty, still haunts the graveyard.
-- William S. McFeely, author of Frederick Douglass and Sapelo's People: A Long Walk Into Freedom
How Free Is Free is a powerful addition to Leon Litwack's now multi-volume epic on African-American travails in slavery and freedom. In concise, though immensely evocative ways, he shows us the new world of possibilities that the Second World War opened as well as the contradictory and unsettling legacies of the ensuing struggles for civil rights.
-- Steven Hahn, author of A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration and The Political Worlds of Slavery and Freedom
In this stunning examination of African-American life after slavery. Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Litwack recounts the physical brutality and crushing legal oppression of Jim Crow America. Drawing on African-American literature, poetry and blues music, as well as traditional archival and media records, the author details lynchings, segregation, denial of education and housing--and the dedication among African-Americans determined not to be treated as second-class citizens. The book pays special attention to the participation of black soldiers in America's wars and concludes with a look at race relations at the dawn of the new century: the legacy of the civil rights movement largely dismantled, the segregation formerly mandated by law replaced by a segregation just as deep driven by economics and tradition, and the voice of black dissent expressed through rap instead of blues...Jim Crow is long gone from our law books, but the struggle for equality continues.
-- Publishers Weekly
In this fluid retelling of the civil rights struggle from Reconstruction to Katrina, Leon Litwack, a Pulitzer Prize winner and UC Berkeley professor emeritus of history, shreds any notion of a feel-good narrative. Peppering his argument with quotations from freed slaves and fiery protesters, bluesman Charley Patton and rapper Chuck D., Litwack charts both the fight for black equality and the white pushback--from Southern poll taxes to Northern white flight--that accompanied each civil rights victory. While the "mechanics of repression" have changed over the years, he concludes, the ground truths have not. In other words, the lynchings are over, but subtler discrimination remains--for example, in the yawning disparities in our schools and courts (black Californians, he notes, are more likely to end up in state prison than at a state college)...It offers a powerful corrective to the purveyors of truthiness who insist (sans irony) that we've fixed our race problem.
-- Chris Smith San Francisco Magazine
An interesting analysis of the dynamics of race and class and how they continue to affect progress.
-- Vernon Ford Booklist
As a fledgling academic at UC Berkeley, I enjoyed the dubious privilege of guest-lecturing in Leon Litwack's History 7B, "The United States since 1865." To someone who had done little public speaking, the experience was akin to following the Beatles on Ed Sullivan: The best you could hope for was that the customers wouldn't walk out. (I was only somewhat successful in this endeavor.) My 50 minutes marked a passing irritation, but Litwack's lectures, notable for their seamless flow and encyclopedic grasp of African American history, moved listeners to tears, an effect I witnessed repeatedly. Those same virtues are on display in this collection of lectures, whose elegant compression renders them no less angry in their politics or radical in their sympathies. The measured literary grace with which the argument is expressed, in fact, amplifies its power...Barack Obama appears nowhere in the text, but this small, pungent book makes clear that anyone who believes that the 2008 election eradicated racism possesses, at best, a perilously thin understanding of history.
-- Jesse Berrett San Francisco Chronicle
This short account of the black experience in America from the Civil War to Hurricane Katrina could turn any reader into a radical...It chronicles nearly 150 years of lynching, exploitation and institutionalized oppression. Litwack views the whole sweep of the American Century, including both world wars, through a racial lens. But the accumulated facts here, gathered over a lifetime of first-rate scholarship (Litwack won a Pulitzer Prize in 1980), show that for many Americans racial struggle isn't a chapter or a sidebar in our national story; it is our national story. Quotations crowd every page: from poets and novelists, former slaves, black laborers and professionals, bluesmen and rappers--as well as legions of white bigots. They form a chorus affirming Litwack's excruciating record of injustice, and breathe pity and pain into the crimes and humiliations he documents. In his presentation, America has a long way to go: school integration has effectively failed, and the rise of many blacks into the middle class and positions of power belies the "larger number...left to endure lives of quiet despair." As Litwack writes of lynchings: "This is not an easy history to absorb. The images and details can numb the mind, deaden the senses; they tax our sense of who we are and who we have been." The same is true of this searing, challenging book.
-- Blake Wilson New York Times Book Review