Marable, a professor at Columbia University, brings together academic analysis and social activism. By addressing electoral politics, grassroots movements, and inequitable concentrations of wealth, Marable unites several intersecting elements that he believes are all necessary aspects of a complete examination of issues of race and American democracy—elements that are too often considered only in isolation. Marable writes in a style that is accessible to general readers and those who are not well informed about African American history. Each of his chapters centers on post-Civil Rights-era events, giving the book a currency that readers will find useful if they are unfamiliar with such later events as the Million Man March, changes in the leadership of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and twenty-first century debates about reparations.
The concept of racialization is one of the most important elements of Marable’s work. Defining “racialization” as an expression of power is particularly useful when considering the often confusing history of race in America. By broadening his discussion to address power, Marable makes possible an examination of the economic and social policies that contribute to structural racism and that should be targets for the political action he hopes will emerge from the grass roots. His decision to target the extreme concentration of wealth and privilege that perpetuates structural...
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Throughout his work, Manning Marable’s dedication to African Americans and to progressive change has been evident. Through a gradual reconsideration of the nature of such change, however, Marable has come to conclude that leadership has largely failed. For example, in Black American Politics: From the Washington Marches to Jesse Jackson (1985), Marable examined the history of social protest movements and argued that such movements were taking on an electoral form, as exemplified by the Rainbow Coalition. The concept of leadership was revisited in Black Leadership (1998), in which Marable concluded that contemporary black leaders remain mired in the strategies and language of the Civil Rights movement.
The Great Wells of Democracy brings those concerns together in a single work. While Marable’s belief in the possibility for social movements to take electoral forms seems to have waned after Black American Politics was written, his confidence in social protest movements as a method of change only grew.