Wednesday, January 15, 2014

David Chappell: "Waking from a Dream"

David Chappell's new book went on sale yesterday, just in time for the holiday weekend.  It's full title is Waking from a Dream: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Chappell is the Rothbaum Professor of Modern American History at the University of Oklahoma and the author of the acclaimed Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow.

Over at Religion in American History, Michael Hammond has published a two-part interview with Chappell.  You can read Part I here.  And here is a taste of Part II:

Hammond: So, getting at this broad and deep story, you wrote in your introduction that after the victories of the civil rights era, there is no heroic narrative. The years after King appear aimless, without one unifying force. As I read the book, this is not the story most of us have heard before: the story of busing, affirmative action, the Bob Jones case, for example. Those battles are left out of your book, probably intentionally. Does this aimlessness in the story point back to Martin Luther King as an exemplary leader? Or is this just the random nature of history as it unfolds in different times?

Chappell: There is a narrative thread through the story I tell in the book. Many people saw themselves carrying on Martin Luther King’s unfinished business, even in cases where they came to disagree with him. Martin Luther King’s name signifies changes in our social and political system. And he wasn’t finished. If you pay any attention to what he actually said before he died, he was nowhere near. That gives the story a kind of coherence, but I don’t want people to go away with that as the point of the story.

You could see it more loosely as just this ongoing struggle for African American freedom that’s been going on since the middle passage, and some ways since before the middle passage. I think each new chapter takes a very, very different perspective and tells a very, very different story from the previous chapter. And I do think I am more of a splitter than a lumper—that it’s the uniqueness of historical events and historical characters historical circumstances that leap out to you and demands attention.