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April 2020, Week 4

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 		 [Liberator Magazine was one of the most important African American
periodicals to be published in the United States during the 1960s. The
book under review is the first full-length account of the life and
times of this pivotal journal.] [https://portside.org/] 

 PORTSIDE CULTURE 

 DEBATING BLACK FREEDOM  
[https://portside.org/2020-04-22/debating-black-freedom] 

 

 Robert Greene II 
 December 14, 2017
Jacobin
[https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/12/radical-intellect-tinson-review-liberator-magazine]


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 _ Liberator Magazine was one of the most important African American
periodicals to be published in the United States during the 1960s. The
book under review is the first full-length account of the life and
times of this pivotal journal. _ 

 , Google Books 

 

_Radical Intellect
Liberator Magazine and Black Activism in the 1960s_
Christopher M. Tinson
The University of North Carolina Press
ISBN: 978-1-4696-3455-5

Throughout US history, African Americans have pushed the limits —
and beyond — of what America claims to be. The questions posed by
both intellectuals and everyday African Americans during the
Reconstruction, New Deal, and Civil Rights eras have all left lasting
effects on the country. So too with the US left: time and again, black
radicals have pressed for an expanded scope of political and economic
freedoms, for Americans at home and for people abroad.

Christopher Tinson’s important new book, _Radical Intellect:
Liberator Magazine and Black Activism in the 1960s
[https://www.uncpress.org/book/9781469634555/radical-intellect/]_,
spotlights one critical organ of the African-American left during the
tumultuous Civil Rights and Black Power eras. At a time when
intellectual currents were in flux, inchoate and colliding, _Liberator
_simultaneously served as an important forum for debate and a reminder
of the diversity of the African-American left. The magazine, Tinson
writes, “stood at the crossroads of knowledge production and
insurrection,” providing activists and intellectuals a place where
they could hash out their ideas and make appeals to others.
Intellectually, it proved to be an important waypoint between the
resurgent black nationalism seen in places like Harlem in the early
1960s and the burgeoning Black Power movement of the late 1960s.

_Liberator _magazine was founded in 1961 by several radical African
Americans living in New York City. It operated at the nexus of a
rising black nationalism, the nascent New Left, the remains of the Old
Left, and the more militant elements of the Civil Rights Movement. The
founders of the publication embodied this ideological and temporal
mix. Pete Beveridge was a former member of the Communist Party, while
Richard Gibson spent his early career reporting on the anticolonial
struggle in Africa. (Editor in chief Dan Watts was the relative
outlier, with a background as an architect.) 
Two tenets anchored the magazine’s politics: a Pan-Africanism
“that appreciated some sense of the political and cultural unity of
African descendants, while also fully embracing local exigencies of
considerable difference”; and a skepticism “of liberalism and
gradualist approaches to social change.”

Founded to provide news and analysis about decolonization from a more
radical perspective than mainstream publications, _Liberator_ was an
unabashed partisan of anticolonial struggles
[https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/01/patrice-lumumba-congo-belgium-colonialism-murder/].
The magazine deplored the depredations of colonial regimes and
championed the movements seeking to overthrow them. Emerging as it did
in the early 1960s, when elements of the US left were concerned the
Cold War superpowers would pull newly independent Third World nations
into their spheres of influence, the magazine became an important
organ for those opposing oppression in the Global South.

At home, the magazine’s brand of radicalism led it to look askance
at more mainstream left figures. In their eyes, Martin Luther King Jr
and other civil rights leaders were too cozy with liberal politicians,
too limited in their tactics and demands. More laudable were figures
like Malcolm X and radical organizations such as the Revolutionary
Action Movement, or RAM.

The publication’s analysis of the 1963 March on Washington
[http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_march_on_washington_for_jobs_and_freedom/]
reflected these ambiguities. While they agreed with the economic aims
of the demonstration — remember, it was a march for “jobs and
freedom” — many of _Liberator’_s writers and editors expressed
skepticism about the utility of “relying on such a dramatization to
generate the full range of black political and economic desires.”

The question of what African Americans could achieve in the US — not
just through civil rights victories but through wholesale changes in
the American system — kept the _Liberator’_s pages alive with
debate throughout the 1960s. New Left collided with Old Left,
old-school Pan-Africanism came into play with the new black
nationalism. The journal, Tinson writes, “demonstrate(d) the sheer
amount of energy devoted to black radical futures, and yet it also
reveals how deeply contested definitions and practices of radicalism
were in this period.”

One noted participant in these intellectual battles was Harold Cruse
[https://s-usih.org/2013/10/the-left-confronts-harold-cruse-responses-to-crisis-of-the-negro-intellectual/].
In 1963 and 1964, _Liberator _published a series of essays by the
University of Michigan scholar titled “Rebellion or Revolution?”
Cruse argued that Africans Americans needed to fight for thoroughgoing
cultural change, to “move the struggle from a civil rights-based
rebellion to a full-fledged revolution.” He explicitly linked the US
civil rights struggle to Third World revolutions, where people waging
battles for independence from European rule were fighting for control
of not just political and economic but also cultural institutions.

Later that decade, in his 1967 magnum opus _Crisis of the Negro
Intellectual_, Cruse would issue stinging rebukes
[https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2007/08/29/40-years-crisis-negro-intellectual]
of numerous black radicals and publications, including _Liberator.
_But he was better off for having the magazine as a clearinghouse for
his early, wide-ranging essays on black nationalism and Marxism.

Larry Neal [https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/larry-neal] also
benefited from having _Liberator _as a playground for his ideas on
black aesthetics, which would serve as key frameworks for the Black
Arts Movement
[http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/blackarts/historical.htm] of the
late 1960s and 1970s. Like Cruse and many others at _Liberator, _Neal
argued that black people had to take ownership of the arts and culture
within their community, and use them to benefit their fellow African
Americans.

At the same time, he was critical of stalwarts on the black left like
Bayard Rustin, who was close to labor liberals. In a 1965 _Liberator
_essay, Neal invoked Malcolm X to push against Rustin, arguing that
African Americans had to make their struggle part of a larger,
international movement for human rights. Neal’s case for a “black
spiritual and intellectual awakening” was, again, a window into the
debates among African Americans over the future of the black freedom
struggle in America.

Tinson also shows how _Liberator _served as an intellectual home for
radical African-American women. _Liberator _ran articles about figures
like playwright Loraine Hansberry and activist Gloria Richardson, and
published some of the earliest works of Toni Cade Bambara, future
editor of the groundbreaking anthology _The Black Woman
[http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/The-Black-Woman/Toni-Cade-Bambara/9780743476973].
_The magazine gave women a chance to hone their literary and debating
skills before assuming leadership roles in the Black Power and
feminist movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

_Liberator _operated during a golden age for African-American radical
publications. _Freedomways
[http://www.blackpast.org/aah/freedomways-1961-1985], _cofounded by W.
E. B. Du Bois, launched in 1961, the same year as _Liberator. _By the
end of the decade, a revitalized _Negro Digest _
[https://archive.org/details/bub_gb_6jkDAAAAMBAJ]— printed under the
Johnson Publication Company banner (the same publisher of _Ebony _and
_Jet _magazines) — would establish itself as a redoubt of black
intellectual thought (and change its name to _Black World _to reflect
its more radical stance on social issues). _Black Scholar_ set up shop
in 1969, and helped catalyze the first wave of black studies
scholarship in the early 1970s. 
But money was always a problem for publications like _Liberator_. In
1971, lacking a steady stream of income — and beset by personality
clashes — the magazine_ _closed its pages. Others on the black left
would follow. _Black World_ stopped printing in 1976. _Freedomways
_made it through the decade, but closed in 1985. The Institute of the
Black World, a black-run think tank that was another important
institution for thinking through the black radical tradition was
finished by the early 1980s.

_Liberator_’s lifespan was relatively short, and its subscription
base was relatively small. Yet it was read by radicals across the
United States — and quite a few abroad — who wanted to make sense
of the world they lived in. Its links to groups well outside its New
York City base gave the publication greater influence than its editors
could have initially imagined. Fusing intellectual life and activism,
the magazine demonstrated anew the centrality of the black radical
tradition to the larger left project in America.

Today, as the Black Lives Matter movement
[https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/03/black-lives-matter-keeanga-yamahtta-taylor-police-brutality]
calls out the contradictions of American democracy and sparks debates
about the direction of the country, _Radical Intellect _reminds us of
the vital role that intellectuals and periodicals can play in that
tradition.

_Robert Greene II is a Visiting Assistant Professor of History at
Claflin University and book review editor for the Society of U.S.
Intellectual Historians._

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