Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour

Jerome Carlos Johnson SOCI 3345: Sociology of the 1960’s Five Page Book Review: Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour by Peniel Joseph February 28, 2013 Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour by Peniel Joseph Within the eleven chapters that comprise Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour lays a treasure chest of information for anyone interested in Black or African American history, particularly the civil rights movement that took place during the 1950’s and 1960’s. I am a self-professed scholar of African American history and I found an amazing amount of information that I was not aware of.
Like most who claim to be Black History experts, I was aware of the roles of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, W. E. B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey. However, I was not aware of the impact that so many lesser known figures had in the civil rights movement. It was refreshing to learn of the roles played by Harold Cruse, Arturo Schomburg, Richard Wright, Ella Baker and Robert F. Williams. Reading this book definitely gave me a new perspective on the civil rights movement and the legacies of its leaders.
Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour took me on a journey through the tumultuous events of the civil rights movement, as well as introducing me to key players in the movement of which I was previously unaware. In addition, the book served as an avenue of connecting the various segments and factions of the civil rights movement. The book also did a great job of presenting the nationwide struggle of African Americans rather than focusing on one specific geographical area. It was a daunting task, but the author did a great job of accurately placing all the pieces of the puzzle together that comprised the struggle for freedom.

Through his writings in Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour, Peniel Joseph did a great job of contrasting the stark difference between integrationists like Martin Luther King and nationalists (or separatists) like Malcolm X. Peniel Joseph was able to paint the stark contrast between the two major factions of the civil rights movement by exploring their beginnings several decades prior to the climax of the movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The book begins by detailing Malcolm X’s rise to prominence within the Nation Of Islam. The book clearly shows the power that Malcolm X wielded in the African American community.
In many ways this book provides solid evidence of my personal opinion that Malcolm X was indeed a more powerful leader than Martin Luther in the African American community. Both men were charismatic and eloquent orators, but Malcolm X had a much more commanding presence. Again, this is my personal opinion, but the book definitely paints a vivid picture of the abundant power that was held by Malcolm X. The book gives an excellent discourse on the different ideological views of the two great leaders: Malcolm’s militant thinking of getting justice and equality by any means necessary versus the non-violent, Gandhi-like movement led by Dr.
Martin Luther King. While King is mentioned often, the book is clearly more focused on Malcolm X and his great role in moving black people from passive, non-violent methods towards more assertive methods of achieving racial justice and equality. The book provides information about Malcolm X’s history and background, which helped to better understand his militant thinking. Malcolm X played a great role in the great shift in the methods used to fight for civil rights in the 1960’s. Many lesser known leaders looked at Malcolm X as a role model. His legacy as a leader is still felt 48 years after his assassination.
Malcolm served as inspiration to the Black Power Movement that took fire in the mid and late 1960’s. Another great thing about Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour is the way it shows the geographical aspect of the struggle for racial equality. In great detail, the author highlights the workings of civil rights leaders in major cities like Detroit but also gives a great deal of attention to the struggles of rural southerners. This allowed me to make a connection between the struggles of urban African Americans and blacks in the rural southern, thus seeing the entire picture more clearly.
This book makes clear that the struggle for racial equality was nationwide and not just isolated to certain geographical locations. A common misconception about the civil rights movement is that blatant racism was a problem only encountered in the Deep South. However, Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour does a great job of clarifying this misconception and showing the many elements of the struggle for justice that blacks from coast to coast experienced. One of the most elements of the book is the evolution of the organization called SNCC.
SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) was founded in conjunction with the lunch counter sit0ins that originated in Greensboro, North Carolina in February 1960. SNCC activists were known to practice slow, tedious and patient voter registration drives in the most dangerous parts of the South. However, they seldom received credit for their efforts on a national level. Despite their lack of national attention, SNCC activists often managed to annoy white federal officials and black civil rights leaders.
SNCC attracted radicals from the Revolutionary Action Movement, black nationalists from the North and a host of other mavericks. From its humble beginnings, SNCC was a peaceful group that used nonviolent methods to seek racial equality. Over the course of time, SNCC became more assertive in their methods of demanding racial equality and social justice. At the very center of the evolution of SNCC was a young man from Trinidad by the name of Stokely Carmichael. Perhaps the most poignant chapter in the book is chapter 7, which is entitled, “What We Gonna Start Saying Now Is Black Power! In this chapter we see the birth of the Black Power movement. This is a very powerful chapter for many reasons, including that in my opinion this is the point where the civil rights movement began to move toward a more assertive methodology and Dr. Martin Luther King began to lose relevance. At first SNCC was an organization that believed in non-violent civil disobedience but over time the organization became more militant. By 1965 it was obvious that Stokely Carmichael was leading the organization from its roots as a non-violent integrationist group toward a much more militant nationalist way of thinking.
During the summer of 1966 attention shifted to the Mississippi Delta, which was a hotbed of racial discord. This is of special significance to me because my parents were both born and reared in the Mississippi Delta. My grandfather shared many stories with me about the tumultuous 1960’s in the Mississippi Delta. Most of those stories were horrific but Waiting “Til the Midnight Hour put a whole new perspective on it by introducing me to the major players with great detail. In this chapter we see Dr. Martin Luther King and Stokely Carmichael in Mississippi during the time that James
Meredith was embarking upon his March Against Fear. His plan was to march from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi as a symbol of his defiance against the racial discrimination so prevalent in Mississippi. Meredith was famous for integrating the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) four years prior. While marching from Memphis to Jackson, James Meredith was shot in the neck, back and both legs. He was seriously injured but would eventually recover. This incident divided the civil rights activists in Mississippi.
Stokely Carmichael, James Baldwin and LeRoi Jones were identified as provocateurs behind a growing trend of racial militancy. Officials from the Urban League, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, CORE, the NAACP and SNCC met to discuss joining the march in Mississippi as a form of protest against the shooting of James Meredith as well as commemorating the assassination of Medger Evers. The different organization leaders had opposing views on the methodology of implementing the march and therefore a long argument ensued.
Eventually a compromise was met. However, in the end, the more conservative leaders from the North refused to support the compromise that Dr. Martin Luther King and returned to New York after warning that the march would be a disaster. During the long march through the Mississippi Delta, Stokely Carmichael lost his patience with the racial climate of Mississippi. He was tired of the racial hatred and blatant discrimination. Following his release from jail (after his 27th arrest), Stokely Carmichael made his way to Broad Street Park in Greenwood, Mississippi.
In an impassioned speech, he told the crowd of tired and listless marchers that he had grown tired of the slow pace of the civil rights movement and his frustration had reached its boiling point. At that point he said the poignant words, “what we gonna start sayin’ now is black power! ” It was at that point that America began to recognize that many blacks throughout the nation had grown wary of the methods of Dr. Martin Luther King and his turn the other cheek way of thinking. The tide was turning and African Americans were ready to get their freedom and equality by any means necessary.
From that day forward the slogan “Black Power” began to spread like wildfire. The Meredith March ended on June 26, 1966 as thousands of people gathered at the Mississippi State Capitol Building in Jackson. The burning of a Confederate flag on the capitol grounds by a SNCC member drew rousing applause. Dr. Martin Luther King struggled with the reality that the national political landscape may not be able to keep up with the pace of the new found black militancy. He confessed to the crowd that his dream “had turned into a nightmare. King defiantly proclaimed “that even in Mississippi justice will come to all of God’s children. ” Carmichael sounded a message that was the polar opposite of that of Dr. King. Carmichael said that the movement must build a political base so powerful that blacks would “bring them [whites] to their knees every time they mess with us. ” Carmichael’s message began to resonate among black people across the nation and the mood among blacks began to shift from non-violent civil disobedience to that of militant defiance. Thus the Black Power came into existence and dominated the political scene for the remainder of the 1960’s.

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