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Yes We Did?

From King's Dream to Obama's Promise

Barack Obama's presidential victory demonstrated unprecedented racial progress on a national level. Not since the civil rights legislation of the 1960s has the United States seen such remarkable advances. During Obama's historic campaign, however, prominent African Americans voiced concern about his candidacy, demonstrating a divided agenda among black political leaders. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. changed perceptions about the nature of African American leadership.

In Yes We Did?, Cynthia Fleming examines the expansion of black leadership from grassroots to the national arena, beginning with Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois and progressing through contemporary leaders including Harold Ford Jr., Louis Farrakhan, Jesse Jackson Jr., and Barack Obama. She emphasizes socioeconomic status, female black leadership, media influence, black conservatism, and generational conflict. Fleming had unprecedented access to a wide range of activists, including Carol Mosley Braun, Al Sharpton, and John Hope Franklin. She deftly maps the history of black leadership in America, illuminating both lingering disadvantages and obstacles that developed after the civil rights movement.

Among those interviewed were community activists and scholars, as well as former freedom riders, sit-in activists, and others who were intimately involved in the civil rights struggle and close to Dr. King. Their personal accounts reflect the diverse viewpoints of the black community and offer a new understanding of the history of African American leadership, its current status, and its uncertain future.

About the Authors

Cynthia Griggs Fleming, professor of history at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is the author of Soon We Will Not Cry: The Liberation of Ruby Doris Smith Robinson and In the Shadow of Selma: The Continuing Struggle for Civil Rights in the Rural South.


"Fills an important void in post-1960s analyses . . . links us to the legacy of the King era but challenges us to confront the contradictions of what has transpired, and what has not transpired, since King's death."—Barbara Ransby, author of Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical D"

"Fleming aims for an oral history in which 'the black leaders' voices are not circumscribed by the analysis; instead, their voices shape the analysis."—Washington Post"

"Fleming delves into the interactions between participants in early civil rights actions, describing the general conflicts, the use and important of the media, the developing goals of the SNCC and other groups, and how these goals have changed today."—Book News"

"Fleming seems to suggest that there are few genuine black leaders, but instead "leading blacks." She points out that the crusade for the improvement of the lives of African Americans has always been far from monolithic."—Portland Observer"

"As we experience the Age of Obama, Cynthia Griggs Fleming helps us to understand how far we have advanced in American race relations and yet also how far we still have to go. By distilling the hard-won wisdom of several generations of African American leaders, she has crafted a book filled with perceptive insights about our incomplete experiment with multiracial democracy. Amidst the flood of books with King and Obama in their titles, this one stands out as both readable and informed by a sophisticated treatment of class, gender, and generational issues."—Clayborne Carson

"A must-read for anyone who has even the slightest interest in the black leadership of America. Rich in summary and insight, this book presents the thoughts, desires, and hopes of a cross section of black male and female leaders from King to Obama. In addition to offering a new understanding of the history of African American leadership, it will produce stimulating intellectual debate."—Merline Pitre

"A timely reflection on the complex history of African American leadership. . . . Yes We Did is packed with historical information and commentary so helpful to the new generation of readers who often are not familiar with civil rights history."—Journal of East Tennessee History"

"Fleming provides a mosaic of voices to illuminate the complexity of black leadership."—Journal of Southern History"—Journal of Southern History

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