Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Inspired by the belief of Martin Luther King, Jr., that a flawed American democracy can be made more inclusive, Manning Marable pledges in the introduction to The Great Wells of Democracy to begin a new conversation about race. Using personal recollections and recent events as illustrations, Marable claims that the United States has fallen short of its ideals because “racialization,” or the “social expression of power and privilege” based on past discrimination and present inequalities, has permeated democracy. A revitalization of civil society is necessary to bring the United States closer to the promise of democracy.

Marable’s book—and his argument—is organized into three sections. The first section, “The American Dilemma,” describes two incompatible narratives on race and democracy in the United States. The first narrative claims the United States is the finest example of democracy in the world, and the second claims that democracy is shaped by “structural racism,” defined as institutional barriers that limit democratic rights as well as social and economic opportunities. Through a brief historical account, Marable demonstrates that this racism existed before American democracy began. In response to structural racism, he says, some have advocated “state-based”—political and legal change—change, while others have advanced “race-based” change based in Black Nationalism and racial separation. Finally, a third group advocates “transformationist” policies, which are essentially “class-based.”

The book’s second section, “The Retreat from Equality,” describes the dimensions of structural racism and explains why...

(The entire section is 690 words.)


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Dauphin, Gary. “Authentically Black: Essays for the Black Silent Majority.” Review of The Great Wells of Democracy, by Manning Marable. Black Issues Book Review 5, no. 1 (January/February, 2003): 53-54. Favorable review of Marable’s work. Valuable for reflections on the September 11 attacks and racial history.

Harris, Robert. Review of Black Leadership, by Manning Marable. The Journal of American History 85, no. 4 (March, 1999): 1673-1674. Review of Black Leadership that includes a significant discussion of Marable’s doubts about leadership and the need for more “group-centered” movements.

Kirkus Reviews. Review of The Great Wells of Democracy, by Manning Marable. 70, no. 21 (November, 2002): 1593. Brief but interesting critical review accusing Marable of “foggy” thought and frequent generalizations.

McWhorter, John. “Still Losing the Race?” Review of The Great Wells of Democracy, by Manning Marable. Commentary 117, no. 2 (February, 2004): 37-41. McWhorter’s critical review of Marable’s work, written partly in response to Marable’s criticism of McWhorter’s work in The Great Wells of Democracy. Particularly interesting for the very different account of racism offered by McWhorter.

Marable, Manning. “An Interview with Manning Marable.” Souls 7, no. 2 (Spring, 2005): 75-87. Lengthy discussion with Marable about the role of electoral politics in transforming black America, especially using third parties as an avenue for change.