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The Fight Back From Slavery
on 28 May 2010
The focus of Adam Faircloughs book, as is evident from the title "Better Day Coming", is on black efforts at fighting for full citizenship within American society. Things had become extremely bleak for them after the radical Republicans (it was not an oxymoron in the 1860's and 70's) efforts at Reconstruction were defeated, and blacks lost their vote and representatives, land and legal equality. Any attempts at seeking re-dress were brutally put down by Southern Democrats and the Klu Klux Klan. Faircloughs narrative takes the reader from those bleak times through the variety of accommodations and rebellions, dead-ends and progress, that make up the black experience in America up to the end of the twentieth century.
A good deal of this history is focussed on the personalities that stood out in black history, from militants such as the forthright campaigner against lynching Ida B. Wells at one end of the spectrum, to the black Americans Samuel Smiles - Booker T. Washington, with many others including Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey and Martin Luther King. Fairclough doesn't ignore some of the movements (the communist party, the NAACP, the Black Panthers, etc) or events (the civil rights movement, the legal battles, the battle for integration, etc). In short he captures a good deal of the black Americans twentieth century experience and struggle for equality.
If there is a shortcoming in the book it is Fairclough can be on occasions a little wishy-washy in his narrative. Sometimes in his efforts to achieve "balance" he appears a little lame, merely repeating both sides of the argument without making a judgement, or calculating the costs and benefits of actions on the struggle for black equality. In contrast with the events he describes, Fairclough seems to be always on the look out for a silver lining, for the American system, if not for the blacks themselves. As an example consider this quote with regards to the Great Depression - "President Roosevelts vigorous leadership and evident sympathy for the "forgotten Americans" deepened the interest of everyone in politics." Did it really? Or was it the catastrophic economic depression, and the failure of the established political classes, year after year, to find a solution that caused an upsurge in Americans interest in politics? In another case he describes how Martin Luther King bowed to pressure from the Kennedy administration and dismissed two of his advisors and fellow activists who had a communist background, and then without qualification adds, "yet King was nobodies puppet."
Those shortcomings aside, Faircloughs "Better Day Coming" is an interesting narrative of the black struggle for equality in the twentieth century. His opinion may on occasions be questionable, but he does provide a full enough account in the text for the readers to ask meaningful questions of their own, and on that basis it is well worth reading. For anyone who is interested in the period of Reconstruction that immediately precedes the events described in this book, one could do no better than Eric Foners magnificent Reconstruction.