Soul Power

Culture, Radicalism, and the Making of a U.S. Third World Left

Soul Power

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 10 b&w photos Published: November 2006

Activism, African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Cultural Studies

Soul Power is a cultural history of those whom Cynthia A. Young calls “U.S. Third World Leftists,” activists of color who appropriated theories and strategies from Third World anticolonial struggles in their fight for social and economic justice in the United States during the “long 1960s.” Nearly thirty countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America declared formal independence in the 1960s alone. Arguing that the significance of this wave of decolonization to U.S. activists has been vastly underestimated, Young describes how literature, films, ideologies, and political movements that originated in the Third World were absorbed by U.S. activists of color. She shows how these transnational influences were then used to forge alliances, create new vocabularies and aesthetic forms, and describe race, class, and gender oppression in the United States in compelling terms.

Young analyzes a range of U.S. figures and organizations, examining how each deployed Third World discourse toward various cultural and political ends. She considers a trip that LeRoi Jones, Harold Cruse, and Robert F. Williams made to Cuba in 1960; traces key intellectual influences on Angela Y. Davis’s writing; and reveals the early history of the hospital workers’ 1199 union as a model of U.S. Third World activism. She investigates Newsreel, a late 1960s activist documentary film movement, and its successor, Third World Newsreel, which produced a seminal 1972 film on the Attica prison rebellion. She also considers the L.A. Rebellion, a group of African and African American artists who made films about conditions in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. By demonstrating the breadth, vitality, and legacy of the work of U.S. Third World Leftists, Soul Power firmly establishes their crucial place in the history of twentieth-century American struggles for social change.


Soul Power is a significant contribution to the study of US radicalism, highlighting the roles African Americans and other people of color played in these movements. Considering the ambitious range of her project, Young delivers an admirable mix of breadth and depth, covering a number of individuals and organizations and their relevance to the development of the US Third World Left. The carefully chronicled historiography provides a valuable foundation for further investigations of this period.” — Rychetta N. Watkins, MELUS

Soul Power is a stunning work . . .” — Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, Journal of American Ethnic History

Soul Power is an intriguing book, and contributes to a broader historical understanding of the U. S. New Left which does not privilege white student activism and posits a critique of empire as formative rather than a late development.” — Van Gosse, Left History

“[A] valuable new work for its suggestive arguments that define the U. S. Third World Left as cultural and not just sociopolitical formation.” — Trevor Griffey, H-Net Reviews

“[T]he great virtue of Soul Power is to complicate our understandings of 1960s-era social movements. Soul Power successfully challenges New Left narratives that place the activities of white middleclass youths at their center, and civil rights narratives that concentrate on the struggle against racial oppression while ignoring that against class oppression. By focusing on a series of important, fascinating, and neglected historical actors, Young offers us a much richer understanding of the 1960s-era left.” — Daniel Geary, Journal of American Studies

“The impressive range of examples that Young presents will hearten even the most disillusioned of activists. . . . Young has managed to create an archive of 1960s activism in which the complexity of movements and ideologies fashioned by activists and artists of color has the power to inform and inspire present and future generations.” — Beandrea Davis, ColorLines

“Young . . . writes perhaps the most exceptional analytical piece ever written about a union’s commitment to global justice. In an inspiring chapter focused on Hospital Workers Union 1199, Young shows how a union of black and Jewish leftists combined worker, civil, and anticolonial politics into an assault on domestic inequities and international abuses. This chapter alone should be required reading of labor education classes.” — Robert Bruno, Labor Studies Journal

“I read Soul Power with a combination of pleasure and intellectual profit that is rare to come across in academic writing these days. There is so much fresh material here, supported by provocative theses. The result is a welcome challenge to the seasoned reader of postwar American culture and politics.” — Andrew Ross, author of Fast Boat to China: Corporate Flight and the Consequences of Free Trade: Lessons from Shanghai

“In Soul Power, Cynthia A. Young recovers the important hidden history of internationalism and world-transcending citizenship within the U.S. Black Freedom movement of the mid-twentieth century. This lively, engrossing, and engaging study reveals how commitments to global justice permeated the actions and ideas of Black trade union organizers, armed self-defense groups, community-based nationalists, visionary filmmakers, and radical feminists. Young demonstrates that the ferment and upheaval in Black communities in the mid-twentieth century did not just generate demands for equal rights inside the U.S. nation but raised as well programs aimed at ending imperialism, colonialism, and exploitation around the world.” — George Lipsitz, author of American Studies in a Moment of Danger


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Cynthia A. Young is Associate Professor of English and the Director of the African and African Diaspora Studies Program at Boston College.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction 1

1. Havana Up in Harlem and Down in Monroe: Armed Revolt and the Making of a Cultural Revolution 18

2. Union Power, Soul Power: Class Struggle by Cultural Means 54

3. Newsreel: Rethinking the Filmmaking Arm of the New Left 100

4. Third World Newsreel Visualizes the Internal Colony 145

5. Angela Y. Davis and U.S. Third World Left Theory and Praxis 184

6. Shot in Watts: Film and State Violence in the 1970s 209

Coda 245

Notes 253

Bibliography and Filmography 271

Index 295
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3691-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3679-2
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