From Fri Sep 1 08:59:30 2000
Date: Fri, 1 Sep 2000 02:10:02 -0400
From: Art McGee <>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] BOOK: A Nation Within A Nation
Precedence: bulk

Review of A Nation within a nation, and Black power politics

By James Smethurst, The Journal of American History, Vol.86 no.4, March 2000

A Nation within a Nation: Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Black Power Politics.
By Komozi Woodard.
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.
xxii, 329 pp. Cloth, $45.00, isbn 0-8078-2457-7. Paper, $17.95, isbn 0-8078-4761-5.)

Komozi Woodard’s A Nation within a Nation is the best published work on the black power movement to date, because it is rooted in the close study of a local movement, the Committee for a Unified Newark (cfun), later the Newark chapter of the Congress of African People (cap), led by Amiri Baraka. The great strength of Woodard’s book is its attention to cfun/cap’s day-to-day activities. Woodard shows the considerable organizing skills of Baraka and cfun/cap, which led to the election of the first black mayor of a major East Coast city in 1970. Woodard also calls into question truisms about the antagonistic relations between cultural nationalist organizations, such as cfun and Maulana Karenga’s US Organization, and revolutionary nationalists, such as the Black Panther party and the Young Lords party, as they worked out locally. While Woodard does not minimize the often intense conflicts within black power, he also points out that cfun had a close working relationship with the Young Lords, laying the basis for a political alliance between the black and Puerto Rican communities that was crucial to the mayoral campaign of 1970.

Woodard also successfully links his history of cfun/cap to the national movement through an account of the modern black convention movement, from the national black power conferences in the 1960s to the 1972 National Black Political Convention, in which Baraka and cap came to play central roles. A Nation within a Nation concludes with an account of the unraveling of 1970s cultural nationalism, using the Newark cap to embody the larger movement in miniature. That account details the defeat of a cap housing initiative by an alliance between elements of the old racist Essex County political machine and some African American officials cap helped to elect who wished to establish a new patronage system that would coexist with remnants of the old. Baraka and cap subsequently moved away from cultural nationalism toward a more strictly Marxist identity, a move Woodard suggests distanced them from the larger African American community.

A Nation within a Nation overestimates the importance of the Northeast to the black power movement. To suggest that Harlem’s Black Arts Repertory Theater and School was virtually the sole catalyst of the black arts movement is to ignore or misrepresent crucial institutions across the United States. Similarly, the implicit claim that an account of cap’s Kawaida Towers project, though fascinating, can stand for the decline of the entire black power movement needs more sustained argument.

Woodard also takes an essentially anti-Marxist stance that leads him sometimes to underestimate continuing connections of some important older black activists to Old Left ideologies and institutions. For example, Woodard suggests that the scholar-activist John Henrik Clarke abandoned his involvement with the Communist Left before Clarke’s close association with Malcolm X. However, Clarke remained engaged with the Left at least until the 1980s. The end result is the blurring of continuities between different eras of African American political struggle.

Nonetheless, A Nation within a Nation is a seminal discussion of the black power movement based in both the ideological and the practical activities of a local organization led by one of the most important political and cultural figures in the post-World War II United States. Woodard’s more local approach is a departure from most previous scholarship and opens a new and productive area of inquiry.

James Smethurst
University of North Florida
Jacksonville, Florida