book review: black against empire by joshua bloom and waldo martin
The American Historical Review published my book review of Black Against Empire by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin. BAE is the first book that gives a comprehensive account of the Black Panther Party. Oddly, nobody had ever sat down and just wrote the blow-by-blow history of the Panthers:
For the first time, one can read, in a single volume, a well-researched history that explains the origins of the Panthers in the context of Oakland neighborhood politics and the group’s transformation into a social service organization. For that reason alone, the book will become a classic in the growing black power scholarship.
Even though I was highly impressed, I felt that the book relies on a framing of Black Power history that contemporary historical and sociological writing is drawing us away from. A lot of early Black Power literature employed what one might called the “tragic hero” narrative – courageous activists created a powerful movement that was quickly undermined by factionalism and state suppression. As Carson Byrd and I argued in the Black Diaspora Review, that narrative only captures one dimension of the Panthers and the broader Black Power movement. Also, I think that some tough questions needed to be asked about the efficacy of the Panthers that Bloom and Martin fail to ask. Was the type of activism employed by the Panthers really an effective use of resources? My take away: excellent narrative and an important contribution, but there are still important debates about the Panthers that need to happen.