"Stimulating and subtle, the author's arguments are also refreshingly forthright. . . . King's book is a salutary and thought-provoking reminder that the civil rights movement, for all its limitations, did extend the boundaries and meanings of freedom in a creative and compelling manner."
—Journal of Southern History
"This is a splendidly lucid volume about a vital and oddly neglected topic. . . . King is deeply immersed in the history of the epoch and, as well, in social and political thought."
The book includes chapters on the concept of freedom in its many varieties, both individual and collective; on self-interest and self-respect; on Martin Luther King's use of the idea of freedom; and on the intellectual evolution of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, especially in light of Frantz Fanon's thought among movement radicals.
In demonstrating that self-respect, self-determination, and solidarity were as central to the goals of the movement as the dismantling of the Jim Crow system, King argues that the movement's success should not be measured in terms of tangible, quantifiable advances alone, such as voter registration increases or improved standards of living. Not only has the civil rights movement helped strengthen the meaning and political importance of active citizenship in the contemporary world, says King, but "what was at first a political goal became, in the 1970s and 1980s, the impetus for the academic and intellectual rediscovery and reinterpretation of the Afro-American cultural and historical experience."
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