Falling Pieces of the Broken Sky
With a few glances backward to his youth and his years as a college student, Julius Lester chronicles his political, literary, and spiritual life over the last three decades. Lester popped into national attention in the 1960’s with his first book, LOOK OUT WHITEY! BLACK POWER’S GON’ GET YOUR MAMA. However, he stepped quickly beyond the stereotype role of black militant when he began to speak and write against black anti-Semitism and urged reason and racial tolerance in an era when most other black leaders were advocating violence.
Lester’s subjects in this collection range from safe sex, Bernhard Goetz, the Voyager spacecraft, and video games to Jesse Jackson, Louis Farrakhan, Henry Miller, Thomas Merton, Aldous Huxley, and James Baldwin. The lengthy essays on Huxley and Merton are insightful appreciations; clearly both the British man of letters and the American monk were shaping influences in Lester’s intellectual growth. His essay on James Baldwin balances the achievements of the early Baldwin against the failures of the later Baldwin as a writer and a public figure. While the early Baldwin was stylistically brilliant and advocated a truly humane vision, the later Baldwin was “perhaps an object lesson in what can happen to an artist who becomes the voice of a collective, and of that collective’s worst tendencies.”
Lester himself is an outspoken critic of the worst tendencies of those who speak for the black man. In “The Responsibility of the Black Intellectual” he describes how his colleagues expelled him from the university’s Department of Afro-American Studies for being “an anti-Negro Negro.” He concludes, “The threat to open-mindedness and free inquiry being posed by many black intellectuals and the increasing pressure of a spirit that equates critical inquiry with malevolent opposition are not only a threat to the souls of the black folk, they are a threat to America itself.”