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The Making of African American Identity: Volume III, 1917-1968
Theme: SegregationTheme: MigrationsTheme: ProtestTheme: CommunityTheme: Overcome?
Theme: Overcome

Julius Lester, 1966
Julius Lester, 1966
- Julius Lester, "The Angry Children of Malcolm X," essay, Sing Out!, October/November 1966, excerpt (PDF)

"Identity," writes Julius Lester, "has always been the key problem for blacks." By the mid sixties, blacks were solving that problem by discovering and embracing "those things that are theirs," and those things constituted "soul." In this excerpt from "The Angry Children of Malcolm X," Lester captures the rage, frustration, and disillusionment many blacks felt as bullets, bombs, and billy clubs destroyed the hopes of the early civil rights movement. He describes a turning inward, the emotional and psychological counterpart of black political separatism. At one time, he argues, blacks sought to communicate with whites, sought to create the Beloved Community. But now after repeated and violent rejections, whites, for many African Americans, "no longer exist." The white man "is not to be lived with and he is not to be destroyed," Lester writes. "He is simply to be ignored."

Julius Lester (1939-), the son of a Methodist minister, was born in St. Louis, Missouri. In his teen years, he lived in Nashville, Tennessee. When he graduated from Fisk University in 1960, he went to New York to pursue a career as a musician, eventually recording two albums and performing on the folk circuit. In the sixties he also became active in the civil rights movement, heading the photo department of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). His first book, Look Out Whitey! Black Power Gon' Get Your Mama, was published in 1968. The American Library Association awarded his second book, To Be a Slave, the Newbery Honor Medal, recognizing it as the most distinguished American children's book published in 1968. He began teaching in the Afro-American Studies Department at the University of Massachusetts in 1971. Converting to Judaism, he pursued a scholarly interest in his new faith and in 1988 became a professor in the Judaic and Near Eastern Studies Department. (3 pages.)

Discussion questions
  1. In what ways does Lester's article echo Langston Hughes's "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" (see Theme IV: COMMUNITY)?
  2. What is Lester's critique of African Americans who identify completely with Africa?
  3. How does Lester define a new black consciousness?
  4. How does this new consciousness differ from the consciousness of the New Negro Movement?
  5. How does Lester's article illuminate Bearden's Sermons: The Walls of Jericho?
  6. Judging from the work of Bearden and Lester, what role did Africa play in the black consciousness of the 1960s? How does that role differ from the role it played in the New Negro Movement?
  7. How does Lester's argument echo the black nationalism of Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael?
  8. What does Lester's article tell us about the place of gender in the civil rights movement?

Framing Questions
  •  By the end of the 1960s, what had African Americans overcome?
  •  How had the civil rights movement affected the lives of African Americans?
  •  What remained to be overcome?

Lester: 3 pages
Supplemental Site
Julius Lester, biography, books, and links to photographs, from the Authors Guild

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.

Image: Julius Lester, 1966. Reproduced by permission of Julius Lester.

1. New Hope?   2. "People Get Ready"   3. From Negro to Black
4. Attacking Stereotypes   5. Soul   6. Dubious Victory
  7. Making It

TOOLBOX: The Making of African American Identity: Volume III, 1917-1968
Segregation | Migrations | Protest | Community | Overcome?

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