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Divided Minds: Intellectuals and the Civil Rights Movement Hardcover – May 1, 2001

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (May 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393020134
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393020137
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,076,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the decade after Brown v. Board of Education, "white intellectuals, in the North and the South... having helped for so long to keep Negroes apart and below... were faced with the challenge of racial equality," asserts Polsgrove (It Wasn't Pretty, Folks, but Didn't We Have Fun? Esquire in the Sixties). In this disturbing book, she shows them to have been "fearful, cautious, distracted, or simply indifferent." Based on interviews and archival research, she indicts not only prominent novelists and thinkers, including William Faulkner, Norman Mailer, Hannah Arendt and even the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr ("none better exemplifies the caution that northern white intellectuals... displayed toward desegregation"), but also their editors (who were "more interested in southern whites' responses to the Negro challenge than in what Negroes had to say") and the media, which "at a time when national magazines ought to have been leading the way to change... opened their pages to those who resisted it." Many of the best-known African-American novelists, cowed by "the emotional and political atmosphere of the McCarthy days," fare little better than their white counterparts in Polsgrove's hands. Only a few heroes emerge from her portrait: Lillian Smith, Kenneth Clark, Lawrence Reddick, James Silver, and most importantly, James Baldwin. Polsgrove concludes her accessible and disturbing account with a thought-provoking broadside against contemporary American intellectuals, who she thinks "have abandoned their responsibility even more completely" than those in the 1950s and 1960s and whose "publishing industry has moved farther and farther from any sense of obligation for the social enterprise." (May) Forecast: A wide range of periodicals (and their editors) from major weeklies and monthlies to small journals take a thrashing here. Polsgrove could set off a firestorm if she doesn't get the silent treatment.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From The New Yorker

Between 1954, when the Supreme Court declared segregated schools unconstitutional, and the mid-sixties, when Congress passed civil-rights and voting-rights bills, American academics and writers were invited to opine on race relations. In this brisk and understated account, Polsgrove shows that, with a few brave exceptions, whites told blacks to be patient rather than risk white Southerners' violence. Editors were slow to call on black thinkers, and, in the McCarthy era, racists found support for their argument that desegregation was a Communist plot. In 1960, the sit-ins staged by black students interrupted the timid debate, and, soon after, James Baldwin's New Yorker essay "Letter from a Region in My Mind" gave condescending white intellectuals a sense of black anger and suffering.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

More About the Author

Carol Polsgrove's histories tap the roots of her own life: growing up in British West Africa in the last years of colonial rule and then coming of age in America in the 1960s. She has been an editor at The Progressive and Mother Jones and written for The American Prospect, Sierra, and other magazines. She has taught in universities in Kentucky, California, and Indiana. She interviews other writers for her website, Carol Polsgrove on Writers' Lives, http://carolpolsgrove.com.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By "tgm3" on July 30, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Carol Polsgrove has written an insightful and provocative commentary on the caution and reserve with which most of the nation's leading liberal intellectuals responded to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 ruling that institutionalized racial segregation was unconstitutional. She shows how the atmosphere of suspicion and fear of communist subversion generated by the McCarthy Era was used by those opposed to racial equality to smear the academics and intellectuals, both black and white, who spoke publicly in favor of desegregation, ruining their careers and diminishing their influence in the movement for civil rights. A series of personal stories involving public figures as diverse as William Faulkner, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, and Lorraine Hansberry keep the narrative constantly changing scene. But the central story involves the emergence of James Baldwin as the unlikely intellectual soul of the movement who gave voice to the rising anger and impatience among blacks for true social change. The author weaves a compelling, behind the scenes account of the first dozen years of the civil rights movement that adds deeper meaning to the hateful images of police dogs, fire hosings of marchers, National Guard troops separating black school children from angry white mobs and others that are seared into the collective consciousness. The author concludes with a pointed indictment of academic intellectuals who forsook the risk of invoking moral leadership in outage against the most enduring evil in American society in favor of the comfort and security of ivory tower discourses. Polsgrove has made an important contribution to illuminating what is surely one of the least inspiring eras of American intellectual history.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By "tgm3" on July 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Carol Polsgrove's excellent work is a compelling account that has the feel of a behind-the-scenes report of how the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling began a slow evolution of political and intellectual thought that initially was muted and cautious in support of the emerging civil rights movement. Well-researched and thoughtfully written, the book fills in around many edges of the mental collage of hateful images that anyone growing up in America in the late 1950s and 1960s carries around with them today. Southern literary fans should particularly find the book illuminating. Anyone that did not grow up during the 1960s will find the book an essential reference. I highly recommend it.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book recounts recent history with the excitement of today's news. Participating in the civil rights movement required courage-- some intellectuals had it, and some didn't. The portrait of James Baldwin is particularly interesting, as is the discussion of novelist William Faulkner's off-again on-again public support of what he really knew to be right.
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