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Black Prophetic Fire by Cornel West
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Black Prophetic Fire

by Cornel West, Christa Buschendorf (Author & Editor)

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Excellent read. Fascinating conversation about several amazing Black prophets. So much history that's hard to find elsewhere. ( )
  MFenn | May 4, 2016 |
Man, this was a fantastic read!

I've been meaning to read more Cornel West, so when I found this browsing through the library, I immediately grabbed it. And I'm so glad I did, because it's a brilliant look at several outstanding figures of the Black prophetic tradition through a series of conversations between West and Christa Buschendorf.

These conversations, held over the past few years, cover Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King, Jr, Ella Baker, Malcolm X, and Ida B. Wells. Wells and Baker were new names to me, which probably says something vital about the patriarchal approach to history we are presented with (and which is one of the points West and Buschendorf make throughout their conversations).

This book is an honest, frank look at the Black prophetic tradition, both in the day of those discussed and in the present. West has a keen mind and a strong system of belief, and he doesn't let anything interfere with the truth that he feels needs to be shared with the world. ( )
  regularguy5mb | Mar 24, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
From Amazon

http://www.amazon.com/Black-Prophetic-Fire-Cornel-West/dp/0807018104/ref=sr_1_1?...

In an accessible, conversational format, Cornel West, with distinguished scholar Christa Buschendorf, provides a fresh perspective on six revolutionary African American leaders: Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker, Malcolm X, and Ida B. Wells. In dialogue with Buschendorf, West examines the impact of these men and women on their own eras and across the decades. He not only rediscovers the integrity and commitment within these passionate advocates but also their fault lines.

West, in these illuminating conversations with the German scholar and thinker Christa Buschendorf, describes Douglass as a complex man who is both “the towering Black freedom fighter of the nineteenth century” and a product of his time who lost sight of the fight for civil rights after the emancipation. He calls Du Bois “undeniably the most important Black intellectual of the twentieth century” and explores the more radical aspects of his thinking in order to understand his uncompromising critique of the United States, which has been omitted from the American collective memory. West argues that our selective memory has sanitized and even “Santaclausified” Martin Luther King Jr., rendering him less radical, and has marginalized Ella Baker, who embodies the grassroots organizing of the civil rights movement. The controversial Malcolm X, who is often seen as a proponent of reverse racism, hatred, and violence, has been demonized in a false opposition with King, while the appeal of his rhetoric and sincerity to students has been sidelined. Ida B. Wells, West argues, shares Malcolm X’s radical spirit and fearless speech, but has “often become the victim of public amnesia.”

By providing new insights that humanize all of these well-known figures, in the engrossing dialogue with Buschendorf, and in his insightful introduction and powerful closing essay, Cornel West takes an important step in rekindling the Black prophetic fire so essential in the age of Obama.
  feministmama | Nov 7, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
*Note: My husband and I share this account. This review was written by him, Adam P. Newton. *

Let’s get my bias and privilege out on the table. I’m a college-educated straight cis white male living in Houston, TX in 2015. I am the embodiment of white privilege in the United States of America. I have benefitted more from our society because of the institutional racism, patriarchy, homophobia, and general systemic oppression that have dominated this country since its founding. When Dr. West goes looking for black prophetic fire in this generation of African-Americans, he’s looking for people to speak out, speak against, and actively dismantle hundreds of years of systems and structures that benefit me at the expense of nearly everyone else in this country (and world).

Yet, I was enamored and enthralled by this text from beginning to end. Black Prophetic Fire represents the keenest possible distillation of the current stage of Dr. West’s career - it’s a delicious blend of philosophy, theology, sociology, and political science laced with heaps of practical ideas..

This series of conversations with long-term friend and fellow academic Dr. Christa Buschendof extended from 2009 to 2013. The reader is treated to a healthy, intelligent, and ultimately hopeful discourse about the nature, history, and contemporary status of black prophetic fire. And while the second half of this dialogue was conducted in the shadow of the initial months of the Occupy Movement, it actually addresses the growth, development, and organizational power of the recent Black Lives Matter movement.

Six key figures from the 19th and 20th centuries provide the content and context for these discussions - each of which speaks to a different key facet of the voice Dr. West wants to see reclaimed and reborn in modern-day African-American activism.

• Frederick Douglass - The ex-slave abolitionist freedom fighter who rose to public prominence in the decades leading up to the Civil War but became subsumed by national politics.
• W.E.B. DuBois - The Northern intellectual who eventually left the ivory tower to embrace leftist politics as a way forward for his people living under Jim Crow.
• Martin Luther King, Jr. - The seminary-educated Baptist preacher who became the charismatic voice of the Civil Rights Movement, only to lose his life when his moral furor for justice for everyone disenfranchised by American Empire became too radical for the powers-that-be.
• Ella Baker - A powerful figure in the Civil Rights Movement with both the SCLC and SNNC who preferred a democratic leadership style, rather than relying upon hierarchy and cult of personality.
• Malcolm X - The revolutionary firebrand and self-taught intellectual from the Nation of Islam who spoke sincerely, truthfully, and caustically from the experience of poor African-Americans in the streets and the prisons.
• Ida B. Wells - Standing historically between Douglass and DuBois, this uncompromising journalist and teacher fought for the rights of African-Americans and women in a time when her voice was neglected and disparaged.

West and Buschendorf give each figure their own chapter, while still comparing and contrasting their styles, personalities, impact, and heft of their black prophetic voices. Proper due is paid to the context in which these six icons lived, with special attention given to factors like education, religious beliefs, gender, public perception, socioeconomics, and more. They’re also considered alongside the presence of contemporaries like Marcus Garvey, James Baldwin, Elijah Mohammed, Booker T. Washington, and Huey Newton.

A further subtle underpinning to these discussions is the role of Barack Obama as President of the United States. Dr. West has been on record long before this book’s publication that Obama hasn’t been the black President he thought he should or could be in terms of engaging with (much less using) black prophetic fire. He compares Obama to a latter-day Douglass in terms of trying to fix things from within the system, but without having faced anything akin to the trials and tribulations experienced by pre-Civil War Douglass.

Ultimately, what the book seeks to define is this concept of “black prophetic fire” and how it can be rekindled in this millennium to address the problems facing African-Americans today - which sadly aren’t too much different than what existed under Jim Crow. It’s about speaking truth to power like Jeremiah from the Old Testament: you warn, cajole, and strive to lead your people onwards and upwards, while working to address the ills of society from outside the structures of systemic power, often while facing violent pushback from those in power.

And as someone who stands to lose power and privilege if true equality for all is ever achieved, I found this book to be brilliant, engaging, and insightful, as it encouraged me to seek out prophetic voices in my world - both to encourage them and to adhere to their wisdom. ( )
  jenniferb | Oct 6, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
In Black Prophetic Fire, Dr. West discusses the lives and legacies of six preeminent Black intellectuals and activists (Frederick Douglass, W.E.B Du Bois, MLK, Ella Baker, Malcolm X and Ida B. Wells) and how their examples of prophetic vision are needed to counter the forces of neoliberalism and capitalist imperialism that have silenced those voices.

Much has been made of Dr. West’s criticism of President Obama but Dr. West’s reasoning here is made clear and one cannot legitimately claim it is based on anything other than substance.

Black Prophetic Fire weighs the reader down with a lot of insights on each of the figures. The book is written as a series of dialogues between Dr. West (author) and Dr Buschendorf (editor), both of whom are likely far more erudite than most readers, and while it’s a fascinating conversation to be eavesdropping on, it’s going to be very hard for the reader to follow without delving back and forth from the dialogue to the (thankfully) extensive notes at the end of the book. I can’t help but thinking it would have been more rewarding for the reader had Dr. West and Ms. Buschendorf collaborated to write this in traditional narrative form rather than just transcribed dialogues. For substance, I’d give the book 4.5 (of 5) stars, but only 3 for format.

Still, this is a very rewarding read and highly recommended. ( )
  SoschaF | Sep 21, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
West, CornelAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Buschendorf, ChristaAuthor & Editormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0807003522, Hardcover)

Celebrated intellectual and activist Cornel West offers an unflinching look at nineteenth- and twentieth-century African American leaders and their visionary legacies.

In an accessible, conversational format, Cornel West, with distinguished scholar Christa Buschendorf, provides a fresh perspective on six revolutionary African American leaders: Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker, Malcolm X, and Ida Wells-Barnett. West examines the impact of these men and women on their own eras and across the decades. He not only rediscovers the integrity and commitment within these passionate advocates but also their fault lines. West finds that Douglass and, to some extent, Du Bois fall short of the high standards he holds them to, while King has been sanitized and even “Santaclausified,” rendering him less radical. By providing new insights that humanize all of these well-known figures, West takes an important step in rekindling the Black prophetic fire so essential in the age of Obama.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:52 -0400)

"Celebrated intellectual and activist Cornel West offers an unflinching look at nineteenth- and twentieth-century African American leaders and their visionary legacies. In an accessible, conversational format, Cornel West, with distinguished scholar Christa Buschendorf, provides a fresh perspective on six revolutionary African American leaders: Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker, Malcolm X, and Ida Wells-Barnett. West examines the impact of these men and women on their own eras and across the decades. He not only rediscovers the integrity and commitment within these passionate advocates but also their fault lines. West finds that Douglass and, to some extent, Du Bois fall short of the high standards he holds them to, while King has been sanitized and even 'Santaclausified,' rendering him less radical. By providing new insights that humanize all of these well-known figures, West takes an important step in rekindling the Black prophetic fire so essential in the age of Obama"--… (more)

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