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No Coward Soldiers

No Coward Soldiers

Black Cultural Politics in Postwar America

Waldo E. Martin, Jr.

ISBN 9780674015074

Publication date: 02/28/2005

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In a vibrant and passionate exploration of the twentieth-century civil rights and black power eras in American history, Waldo Martin uses cultural politics as a lens through which to understand the African-American freedom struggle.

In black culture, argues Martin, we see the debate over the profound tension at the core of black identity: the duality of being at once both American and African. And in the transformative postwar period, the intersection between culture and politics became increasingly central to the African-American fight for equality. In freedom songs, in the exuberance of an Aretha Franklin concert, in Faith Ringgold’s exploration of race and sexuality, the personal and social became the political.

Martin explores the place of black culture in this vision and examines the multiple ways in which various forms of expressive culture and African-American cultural figures influenced consciousness and helped effect social action. From the music of John Coltrane and James Brown to the visual art of Jacob Lawrence and Betye Saar to the dance movements of Alvin Ailey and Arthur Mitchell, Martin discusses how, why, and with what consequences culture became a critical battle site in the freedom struggle. And in a fascinating epilogue, he draws the thread of black cultural politics into today’s hip-hop culture.

This engaging book brings a new perspective to the civil rights and black power eras, while illuminating the broader history of American and global freedom struggles.


  • Waldo E. Martin, Jr. draws on the development of postwar black aesthetic-cultural forms to read African-American political history. He argues that what developed between the 1940s and 1970s was a ‘distinctive black cultural politics’ where culture and politics overlapped and merged… He keeps the reader focused on his central themes of hope and possibility for black political and cultural struggle between 1940 and 1979 and the drive for freedom, equality, and justice underlying cultural politics and the political culture… No Coward Soldiers constitutes a strong addition to cultural studies and analyses of African-American politics alike. While it doesn’t seek to replace more detailed historical studies of black power and civil rights that already exist, it does provide a new outlook on those histories. It is indeed an important book that ought to be read by academics and students with an interest in either or both disciplines.

    —Kalbir Shukra, Ethnic and Racial Studies


  • Waldo E. Martin, Jr. is Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley.

Book Details

  • 176 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press