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From Du Bois to Obama

From Du Bois to Obama

African American Intellectuals in the Public Forum

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Charles Pete Banner-Haley


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
182 pages, 6 x 9


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About the Book

In his groundbreaking new book Charles Pete Banner-Haley explores the history of African American intellectualism and reveals the efforts of black intellectuals in the ongoing struggle against racism, showing how they have responded to Jim Crow segregation, violence against black Americans, and the more subtle racism of the postintegration age. Banner-Haley asserts that African American intellectuals—including academicians, social critics, activists, and writers—serve to generate debate, policy, and change, acting as a moral force to persuade Americans to acknowledge their history of slavery and racism, become more inclusive and accepting of humanity, and take responsibility for social justice.

Other topics addressed in this insightful study include the disconnection over time between black intellectuals and the masses for which they speak; the ways African American intellectuals identify themselves in relation to the larger black community, America as a whole, and the rest of the world; how black intellectuals have gained legitimacy in American society and have accrued moral capital, especially in the area of civil rights; and how that moral capital has been expended. Among the influential figures covered in the book are W. E. B. Du Bois, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, James Weldon Johnson, E. Franklin Frazier, Ralph Bunche, Oliver C. Cox, George S. Schuyler, Zora Neale Hurston, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesse Jackson, Cornel West, Toni Morrison, bell hooks, Charles Johnson, and Barack Obama.

African American intellectuals, as Banner-Haley makes clear, run the political gamut from liberal to conservative. He discusses the emergence of black conservatism, with its accompanying questions about affirmative action, government intervention on behalf of African Americans, and the notion of a color-blind society.  He also looks at how popular music—particularly rap and hip-hop—television, movies, cartoons, and other media have functioned as arenas for investigating questions of identity, exploring whether African American intellectuals can also be authentically black.

A concluding discussion of the so-called browning of America, and the subsequent rise in visibility and influence of black intellectuals culminates with the historic election of President Barack Obama, an African American intellectual who has made significant contributions to American society through his books, articles, and speeches. Banner-Haley ponders what Obama’s election will mean for the future of race relations and black intellectualism in America.



Charles Pete Banner-Haley is an associate professor of history and the former director of the Africana–Latin American Studies Program at Colgate University. He is the author of To Do Good and to Do Well: Middle Class Blacks and the Depression, Philadelphia, 1929–1941 and The Fruits of Integration: Black Middle Class Ideology and Culture, 1960–1990.


"...Banner-Haley's Du Boisian treatment of black public intellectuals is highly commendable. This work represents a tour de force that will ignite much debate in the fields of African American intellectual history and Africana studies concerning the proper function of black public intellectuals, to a similar degree as Harold Cruse's The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (1967)."—Zachery R. Williams, Journal of American History

“Charles Pete Banner-Haley has given us a work that will help to redefine the parameters of our ongoing discourse on this provocative subject.”—Robert A. Pratt, author of WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED: The Desegregation of the University of Georgia

“This book will surely be debated and will become a classic in African American intellectual history and African American Studies.” —Derrick P. Alridge, University of Georgia

“This is a substantial, wide-ranging, imaginative, and significant contribution to the literature on African American intellectuals. Rooted firmly in historical analysis, From Du Bois to Obama deepens our understanding of the African American intellectual experience.”—Louis Ferleger, Boston University

“Banner-Haley offers scholars and the reading public alike a probing, thoughtful meditation on some of the most salient, pressing, and tenacious issues facing Americans today.”—Mark M. Smith, author of How Race Is Made: Slavery, Segregation, and the Senses