In the ’60s many liberal whites believed black separatism threatened the possibility of a unified left. This belief led a generation of white leftist writers to attack the achievements of the black liberation movement, resulting in the repression, distortion, and caricature of the historical record of black leadership. In this context, [Michael C.] Dawson’s frontal challenge to liberal and social democratic pontificates and his passionate defense of the black revolutionary tradition is a great gift to all students, especially black youth who have been robbed of their own history. Dawson brings to life the complexity of building a black and multi-racial left and highlights the profound achievements of black leaders and organizations that were purged from popular history. He emphasizes several important leaders who are too-little known today: Hubert Harrison, Cyril Briggs, Harry Haywood, Claudia Jones, W.E.B DuBois, A. Philip Randolph, Paul Robeson, and Fannie Lou Hamer. By reminding us that black revolutionary action has a long and influential tradition that extends well beyond the ’60s, Dawson challenges the white intellectuals who saw the unification of minority groups as a threat to their own interests. Here, for example, is Todd Gitlin:
In the late 1960s, the principle of separate organizations on behalf of distinct interests raged throughout ‘the movement’ with amazing speed. On the model of black demands came those of feminists, Chicanos, American Indians, gays, lesbians. One grouping after another insisted on the recognition of difference and the protection of their separate and distinct spheres… . from the 1970s on, left-wing universalism was profoundly demoralized.As discouraged as white social democratic males may have felt, their domination caused a similar reaction among the revolutionary forces. Separation from the imposed universalism of the imperialist enlightenment allowed black groups to establish their own leadership, explore their own cultures, and use their own identities as the basis for self-determination. For most, separation was not separatism but an attempt to integrate self-determination into the multiracial, world struggle for socialist revolution. Indeed, the common future envisioned by blacks, Chicanos, and American Indians also attracted many whites. Rather than fracturing the left, black radicalism’s internationalist perspective provided an alternative to a universalism that was not universal.