American political thought has been shaped by those who fought back against social inequality, economic exclusion, the denial of political representation, and slavery, the country’s original sin. Yet too often the voices of African American resistance have been neglected, silenced, or forgotten. In this timely book, Alex Zamalin considers key moments of resistance to demonstrate its current and future necessity, focusing on five activists across two centuries who fought to foreground slavery and racial injustice in American political discourse. Struggle on Their Minds shows how the core values of the American political tradition have been continually challenged—and strengthened—by antiracist resistance, creating a rich legacy of African American political thought that is an invaluable component of contemporary struggles for racial justice.
Zamalin looks at the language and concepts put forward by the abolitionists David Walker and Frederick Douglass, the antilynching activist Ida B. Wells, the Black Panther Party organizer Huey Newton, and the prison abolitionist Angela Davis. Each helped revise and transform ideas about power, justice, community, action, and the role of emotion in political action. Their thought encouraged abolitionists to call for the eradication of slavery, black journalists to chastise American institutions for their indifference to lynching, and black radicals to police the police and to condemn racial injustice in the American prison system. Taken together, these movements pushed political theory forward, offering new language and concepts to sustain democracy in tense times. Struggle on Their Minds is a critical text for our contemporary moment, showing how the political thought that comes out of resistance can energize the practice of democratic citizenship and ultimately help address the prevailing problem of racial injustice.
“Struggle on Their Minds places Alex Zamalin at the forefront of scholars concerned with the political thought of African American activists. I can think of no reading more timely than this rich account of the centrality of black resistance to U.S. democracy and democratic citizenship.”Nick Bromell, University of Massachusetts, Amherst