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The Unsteady March: The Rise and Decline of Racial Equality in America [Paperback]

Philip A. Klinkner , Rogers M. Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 1, 2002 0226443418 978-0226443416 1
American life is filled with talk of progress and equality, especially when the issue is that of race. But has the history of race in America really been the continuous march toward equality we'd like to imagine it has? This sweeping history of race in America argues quite the opposite: that progress toward equality has been sporadic, isolated, and surrounded by long periods of stagnation and retrenchment.

"[An] unflinching portrait of the leviathan of American race relations. . . . This important book should be read by all who aspire to create a more perfect union."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Could it be that our unswerving belief in the power of our core values to produce racial equality is nothing but a comforting myth? That is the main argument put forth by Philip Klinkner and Rogers Smith . . . The Unsteady March is disturbing because it calls into question our cherished national belief and does so convincingly. . . . [It] is beautifully written, and the social history it provides is illuminating and penetrating."—Aldon Morris, American Journal of Sociology

Winner of the Horace Mann Bond Award of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research at Harvard University.

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Editorial Reviews Review

This examination of the era after the civil rights movement can best be described by the old saying "one step forward, two steps back." Klinkner and Smith attack the widely held view that greater racial equality in the United States is preordained by the characteristics and principles of the founding fathers or the tides of history. The authors look at the circumstances that fostered black civil rights, including wars and political instability; when those factors are reduced, they argue, antiblack backlash sets in, from the Reconstruction era up to post-Reagan Republicanism. The Unsteady March is an alarmist book, but not without hope. The authors offer solutions that include increased commitment to enforcing civil rights legislation, economic parity, and reform of the criminal justice system--as well as bringing back the draft and introducing a universal national service program. --Eugene Holley Jr. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Political scientists Klinkner (Hamilton Coll.) and Smith (Yale) argue that American racial progress has occurred only in ten- to 15-year bursts and then only in three specific sets of circumstances: when war required black bodies, when fighting an enemy required egalitarian rhetoric, or when domestic political protest pressured for reforms. Progress, they note, has always been followed by years of stagnation and decline, as the white elite reconsolidates its (entrenched) power, blocking reform and embracing inequalities. In other words, whether we shall overcome depends on the national will to realize classic American ideals. The authors' rigorous, exhortatory exposition promises to unsettle some readers, but, in the end, it stands with important works such as Jennifer L. Hochschild's Facing Up to the American Dream: Race, Class, and the Soul of the Nation (Princeton Univ., 1995). It calls on Americans to confront the persistent black-white divide and the disparity between democratic promise and practice. Recommended for the U.S. politics, history, or race relations sections of public and academic collections.AThomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 426 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (April 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226443418
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226443416
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #902,432 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Philip Klinkner is James S. Sherman Professor of Government at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY. He graduated from Lake Forest College in 1985 and received his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1992. In 1995, he received the Emerging Scholar Award from the Political Organizations and Parties section of the American Political Science Association. He was a Research Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. in 1990-91 and a Guest Scholar in 1993 and 1995.

Professor Klinkner has authored numerous books and articles. He is the primary author (with Rogers Smith) of The Unsteady March: The Rise and Decline of America's Commitment to Racial Equality (University of Chicago Press, September 1999) which examines the dynamics of race in American politics and history. The book received the inaugural Horace Mann Bond Book Award from the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research at Harvard University and was a semifinalist for the 2000 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award.

In addition to his publications, Professor Klinkner has also contributed to the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Nation,, the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and many other newspapers and magazines. He has also appeared on many television and radio broadcasts, including C-SPAN, NPR, and Black Entertainment Television.

Professor Klinkner lives with his wife and two children in Utica, NY.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
I believe a measure of a great Historical work is one that acts as a catalyst for further inquiry. As I read "The Unsteady March" I noted other topical areas discussed which would keep me reading for several months.
This is not a dry textbook it is eminently readable. I am not suggesting this is a light read. I am saying the Authors did a remarkable job of conveying History, together with their own thesis, to create a book that should find a wide audience.
The book goes well beyond the primary premise that the progression of Civil Rights only occurs when the need for non-white assistance is needed, and for varying period of times thereafter. Examples would include the larger military conflicts this country has experienced.
What impressed me was that documentary sources were provided for the positions that the Authors espoused. There are nearly 60 pages of notes, which attest to the meticulous nature of their research.
The subject of Race is extremely complex, and unlike other works this book does not offer up stillborn utopian solutions. The reader is given a detailed walk through the history of the issue, often accompanied by riveting quotes from historical figures that will surprise, and often shock.
Another feature I found extremely useful were the occasional use of surveys that the Authors used sparingly but very effectively. The book also managed to utilize important statistical information without the obvious distortions that frequently contaminate such figures.
In the final section entitled "Shall We Overcome" the book is brought to a well thought out and organized review.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
This survey of the rise and decline of racial inequality in America argues that progress in racial equality has occurred only in conjunction with large-scale wars. The Unsteady March redefines civil rights events and issues, examining the historical foundations which have made racial progress possible. An unsettling survey of some hitherto-undisclosed influences on racial equality's progress.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One African American Man's view April 10, 2001
By A Customer
About six months ago, Klinkner's book fell into my lap having been dropped off by my brother who knew me to be an avid reader. My initial thought was that this book was another attempt to recycle the old liberal ideas of the 60's. Liberalism, for all intents and purposes, has been discredited, relegated to the scrap heap of forgotten history-along with the Edsel, leisure suits, 8 tracks and E.S.T. Later that evening, I sat down to read the introduction. After completing the introduction, I wanted to call my brother to thank him for delivering such a find. It is imperative to read the introduction before tackling the main body of the book. Also, try not to read the book too quickly, it is better digested in small pieces. As a historical document, there is no more scholarly or analytical a treatise out there. It stablizes the argument in favor of reconsidering the issues surrounding the way we--as a country--have in the past and present continue to treat the progeny of former slaves. The issue is not reparations for the effects of slavery, but rather the institutional structures in place that perpetuate the superior/inferior relationship between Americans separated by the color of their skin. In short, if we could eliminate the current effects that became ingrained during the 300 or so years of slavery, we would gladly forego any compensation we may be arguably entitled to. This book is a must read for anyone grappling with the issues of equality-or inequality--in it's present transmuted form.
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