Book review: Yes We Did? by Cynthia Griggs Fleming

Sunday, December 6, 2009


From King's Dream to Obama's Promise

By Cynthia Griggs Fleming

Univ. of Kentucky. 281 pp. $29.95

If Barack Obama's 2008 election is history's answer to Martin Luther King's 46-year-old "I Have a Dream" speech, then African Americans must be on the cusp of . . . what, exactly? In "Yes We Did?" historian Cynthia Griggs Fleming offers an academic overview of the civil rights movement's triumphant past and uncertain future.

Drawing on interviews with prominent black leaders -- including former Senator Carol Moseley Braun, Freedom marcher and Georgia Congressman John Lewis and Washington's own Eleanor Holmes Norton -- Griggs aims for an oral history in which "the black leaders' voices are not circumscribed by the analysis; instead, their voices shape the analysis."

But that nod to objectivity is half-hearted. Griggs takes a dim view of the hip-hop generation and basks in 1960s nostalgia instead of mulling over the controversial work of Cornel West or Todd Boyd, the self-styled "Notorious Ph.D.," who has argued that the civil rights movement is dead. But if, as Fleming argues, an African American president has shifted the focus "from the civil rights leaders of the 1960s to a new generation of African American leadership" and created a "potentially fertile ground for generational conflict," historians must map that battleground. If not always forward-looking, Griggs's book at least offers a thoughtful question mark instead of a rapturous exclamation point.

-- Justin Moyer

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