Keppel rehabilitates Bunche, Clark, and Hansberry from their devaluation by civil rights activists since the late 1960s as alleged representatives of failed solutions. The three successfully stimulated a national dialogue on race and worked to embed the idea of racial equality in America's value system. Despite that, the dominant cultural politics filtered out subversive parts of their messages while simultaneously rendering them icons. This, as the author emphasizes throughout this imaginative work, testifies not so much to their failings as to the strength of the 'cultural forces arrayed around them' and the unfinished work of democracy. (Kenneth R. Janken Georgia Historical Quarterly
A new and refreshing way of looking at the struggle for racial equality in the United States. Use of the concept 'political culture' helps us to understand the popular manipulation of images and their relationship to discussions of the race problem. The lives and products of Bunche, Clark, and Hansberry work well in supporting Keppel's hypothesis about the transformation of the symbolic place of African Americans after World War II...The Work of Democracy
is an important and welcome departure from traditional studies of the civil rights era that employ the rhetoric of military campaigns. Keppel has joined the issue of civil rights in an unprecedented manner to the reality of American political culture. (Robert L. Harris, Jr., Cornell University)
The issues Keppel raises are important for historical and contemporary reasons. That Ralph Bunche, Kenneth Clark, and Lorraine Hansberry had such different experiences and yet still shared so much demands that The Work of Democracy
be read as a cautionary tale--an extended warning we should all heed in our age of antiintellectualism, spin-doctors, and the continuing development of politics based on difference and a quixotic search for a mythical, symbolic American past. (Jonathan Scott Holloway Reviews in American History
About the Author
Ben Keppel is a Visiting Instructor of History at the University of Oklahoma.