Dark Days, Bright Nights | Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour | Neighborhood Rebels | The Black Power Movement

Dark Days, Bright Nights
From Black Power to Barack Obama

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The Black Power movement has consistently been given short shrift by historians—the accepted version of American history writes it off as an aberration, a footnote to the civil rights story. To dismiss it out of hand, however, ignores a crucial element of the black experience. Black Power was no less important than the nonviolent contingent of civil rights with which most people are familiar, and a discussion of African-American history is incomplete without careful consideration of each one.

In DARK DAYS, BRIGHT NIGHTS: From Black Power to Barack Obama (Basic Civitas; January 5, 2010), acclaimed historian Peniel E. Joseph tests the pat assumptions that many people have about the Black Power and civil rights movements. While many people point to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as the culmination or end of the era, Joseph counters that it was only the beginning, and that it opened the doors for increased activism, fueled by radical democratic impulses that had previously been held in check.

All too frequently reduced to the ruthless, violent counterpart to civil rights, Black Power actually had a much broader reach—it incorporated students, intellectuals, artists, and politicians, and sparked political change on a global scale. DARK DAYS, BRIGHT NIGHTS delves into the finer points of Black Power that are rarely addressed, and demonstrates how it has been misrepresented over the years. Joseph goes back to its grassroots origins among scholars as well as farmers and the working class; he highlights the cosmopolitan politics espoused by the movement, exposing the motivation and reasoning that fueled its combative stance.

Looking back at the second half of the twentieth century, Joseph examines the actions and legacy of Black Power leaders. He addresses the critical role of the Nation of Islam in Malcolm X’s work, especially its capacity for community organization, and the importance of Harlem as a rallying point for social change. DARK DAYS, BRIGHT NIGHTS also takes a close look at Stokely Carmichael, leader of the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee who advocated black leadership at the local level as the best way to effect social change. Carmichael had a friendly yet competitive relationship with Martin Luther King, Jr., as they worked side by side toward the same goals, but with very different styles. By addressing Carmichael’s and Malcolm X’s achievements alongside King’s, Joseph highlights the strides that Black Power made for democracy. DARK DAYS, BRIGHT NIGHTS looks to these two leaders and the progression of Black Power from its earliest roots to the events leading up to the election of Barack Obama in 2008.

Offering a new perspective on Black Power and its connections to civil rights, Peniel Joseph explores the movements in extensive detail and clarifies their role in a larger historical context. DARK DAYS, BRIGHT NIGHTS is an important contribution to our understanding of the role of Black Power and the influence it has had on politics, even to this day.


Peniel E. Joseph is Professor of History at Tufts University and the author of Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour. He is the recipient of fellowships Harvard University’s Charles Warren Center, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Ford Foundation, and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Chronicle Review, The Journal of American History, and American Historical Review. A frequent national commentator on race, democracy, and civil rights issues, Professor Joseph served as an historical analyst during the 2008 Democratic and Republican Conventions for the PBS NewsHour. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.


“A much needed discussion of black power’s successes and its contributions to the civil rights movement…[Joseph] makes a persuasive and stimulating case for Obama’s election as a vindication for black power, and his book is a vivid and welcome recasting of the history—and the myriad interpretations—of the movement.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Grounds Barack Obama’s ascendancy in the historic strides of Black Power leaders like Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X…Joseph studies Obama’s writings and speeches, showing that despite his ‘typically understated eloquence,’ the president’s message of an American democracy transformed is no less radical.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“Scholarship on the Civil Rights Movement often takes a holistic approach to the era, submerging individual moments in the successes or failures of the movement as a whole. But Peniel Joseph wisely isolates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as a crucial moment for both the movement and American history—not as the crowning achievement of the movement to that point but as the starting point for the (previously unacknowledged) inroads made by black radicalism, which ultimately led to the historic Presidential election of 2008. Joseph tells the story of the moment and of the individuals who shaped it and were shaped by it with rare insight and vitality. This book adds luster to his stature as a rising star in the field of African American history.”
—Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University

“Peniel Joseph’s Dark Days, Bright Nights explores the contours of black leadership and politics over the past half century as it examines the strengths and contradictions of black activism and black power. Joseph’s insights and deep knowledge of modern Black Nationalism provide powerful new perspectives on recent African-American History. Dark Days, Bright Nights represents contemporary history at its best.”
—Manning Marable, M. Moran Weston and Black Alumni Council Professor of African-American Studies at Columbia University

“Peniel Joseph, the preeminent scholar of African American culture in the postwar period, shows us in Dark Days, Bright Nights how and why Black Power transformed American culture and made possible the election of Barack Obama. Brilliantly conceived and elegantly written, it highlights the possibilities and limits of remaking society and achieving democracy. It thus is a vital, necessary book, one that every American should read.”
—John Stauffer, Chair, History of American Civilization at Harvard and the author of Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln and The Black Hearts of Men.

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