It was a phrase that consumed the American imagination in the 1960s and 70s and inspired a new agenda for black freedom. Dynamic and transformational, the black power movement embodied more than media stereotypes of gun-toting, dashiki-wearing black radicals; the movement opened new paths to equality through political and economic empowerment.
In Harambee City, Nishani Frazier chronicles the rise and fall of black power within the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) by exploring the powerful influence of the Cleveland CORE chapter. Frazier explores the ways that black Clevelanders began to espouse black power ideals including black institution building, self-help, and self-defense. These ideals challenged CORE’s philosophy of interracial brotherhood and nonviolent direct action, spawning ideological ambiguities in the Cleveland chapter. Later, as Cleveland CORE members rose to national prominence in the organization, they advocated an open embrace of black power and encouraged national CORE to develop a notion of black community uplift that emphasized economic populism over political engagement. Not surprisingly, these new empowerment strategies found acceptance in Cleveland.
By providing an understanding of the tensions between black power and the mainstream civil rights movement as they manifested themselves as both local and national forces, Harambee City sheds new light on how CORE became one of the most dynamic civil rights organizations in the black power era.
About the Author
Nishani Frazier is associate professor of History at Miami University. She is the coeditor, with Manning Marable and John McMillan, of Freedom on My Mind: The Columbia Documentary History of the African American Experience.
“Nishani Frazier has given us an important new story of the Congress of Racial Equality, demonstrating what happens when we center the history not on a bus full of Freedom Riders heading South but with a group of Cleveland activists encountering significant resistance to their direct action campaigns for racial equity in jobs, housing, and schools in the Midwest. In the process, Harambee City changes how we see the organization, the racial limits of northern liberalism, and the diversity of Black Power politics on the ground.”
—Jeanne Theoharis, author of The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks
"Historian Frazier (Miami Univ.) uses extensive oral histories and archival sources to provide a detailed account of the mid-20th-century intermittent development of the Cleveland Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Supporting analysis of CORE’s national leadership frames the Cleveland story. Acknowledging both the ideals put forth in organizational materials and the reality of members’ actions, she shows how conflicts over interracialism and nonviolence played out at local and national levels. Frazier also demonstrates the organization’s dependency on individual leaders (many of them women) and financial support. Her account joins those of other scholars in tracing the historical development of black power prior to 1966. In this case, black leadership that emphasized self-determination emerged in Cleveland CORE in the early 1960s. The chapter’s wide-ranging struggles with school desegregation, McDonald’s, and the Ford Foundation illustrate the complexities of the black freedom movement in the urban North. Particularly useful is Frazier’s examination of CORE’s embrace of communal capitalism as a foundation of economic development in the late 1960s."
Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.
—Choice Reviews, October 2017
“Using archival sources and interviews, Frazier lays bare the ways in which Black Nationalism appeared in much of CORE’s early history and how it aided the development of Black Power in the organization by the 1960s. … Black Studies scholars, social movement historians, and historians of capitalism will find Harambee City a welcomed addition to their fields.”
—Dara Walker, The Black Scholar, January 2019
“Both the book and Web site present important interpretations about the relationship between core’s local chapters and its national office and the emergence and assessment of black power. Frazier’s work also raises interesting questions about the relationship between scholars and historical actors and their respective roles and obligations in the process of historical production. The digital archive Harambee City does not resolve these difficult—perhaps unresolvable—tensions, but its expansive vision to engage scholars, activists, and other audiences is admirable and much needed.”
—Watson W. Jennison, The Journal of American History Metagraph, June 2019