416 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 33 illus., notes, bibl., index
Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power
2000 James A. Rawley Prize, Organization of American Historians
Honorable Mention, 2000 Outstanding Book Award, Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights in North America
2000 Frederick Jackson Turner Prize, Organization of American Historians
This book tells the remarkable story of Robert F. Williams--one of the most influential black activists of the generation that toppled Jim Crow and forever altered the arc of American history. In the late 1950s, as president of the Monroe, North Carolina, branch of the NAACP, Williams and his followers used machine guns, dynamite, and Molotov cocktails to confront Klan terrorists. Advocating "armed self-reliance" by blacks, Williams challenged not only white supremacists but also Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights establishment. Forced to flee during the 1960s to Cuba--where he broadcast "Radio Free Dixie," a program of black politics and music that could be heard as far away as Los Angeles and New York City--and then China, Williams remained a controversial figure for the rest of his life.
Historians have customarily portrayed the civil rights movement as a nonviolent call on America's conscience--and the subsequent rise of Black Power as a violent repudiation of the civil rights dream. But Radio Free Dixie reveals that both movements grew out of the same soil, confronted the same predicaments, and reflected the same quest for African American freedom. As Robert Williams's story demonstrates, independent black political action, black cultural pride, and armed self-reliance operated in the South in tension and in tandem with legal efforts and nonviolent protest.
"Tyson has written, with compelling prose and great insight, an excellent biography as well as a definitive history of armed self-defense doctrines in the civil rights movement. He has produced a fascinating book that is a welcome antidote to the historical pap being spooned out in popular documentaries these days."
--Journal of Southern History
"Tyson’s firecracker text crackles with brilliant and lasting images of black life in the Carolinas and across the South in the 40s, 50s and 60s. Liberally peppered with quotes from Williams . . . the book is imbued with the man’s voice and his indefatigable spirit. . . . Tyson successfully portrays Williams as a troubled visionary, a strong, stubborn and imperfect man, one who greatly influenced what became the Black Power Movement and its young leaders."
"An important study of a forgotten Civil Rights leader. . . . [A] groundbreaking, skillfully written revisionist monograph (the first full-length study of Williams ever published)."
"[A] stunning new biography. . . . Written in lucid and confident prose with a solid reliance on first-hand accounts, Radio Free Dixie presents an engaging portrait of one man’s continuous struggle to resist political and social oppression."
"Meticulously researched. . . . [and] magisterially argued."
--Journal of American History
"A sympathetic, absorbing portrait of one of the most influential and controversial African-American leaders of the twentieth century. . . . A remarkable, often harrowing, account of the civil rights movement and some of the people that made it possible. . . . A book that powerfully conveys the life and voice of one of the key personalities of the modern civil rights struggle."
--American Historical Review
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