Clarence Lang is dean of the College of the Liberal Arts and Professor of African American Studies at The Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of Grassroots at the Gateway: Class Politics and Black Freedom Struggle in St. Louis, 1936–75 (2009) and Black America in the Shadow of the Sixties: Notes on the Civil Rights Movement, Neoliberalism, and Politics (2015). He is a coeditor, with Robbie Lieberman, of Anticommunism and the African American Freedom Movement: "Another Side of the Story" (2009) and, with Andrew Kersten, of Reframing Randolph: Labor, Black Freedom, and the Legacies of A. Philip Randolph (2015). A cowinner of the OAH EBSCOhost America: History and Life Award, Lang has published in the Journal of African American History, Journal of Urban History, Journal of Social History, the Black Scholar, New Politics, Critical Sociology, American Studies Journal, and the Crisis. He also has written for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Against the Current, LaborOnline, Working-Class Perspectives, and the Black Commentator.
This presentation argues that constant comparisons between our contemporary moment and the 1960s (the "Sixties") not only distorts that past, but it also substitutes for political creativity and imagination today. In the case of a phenomenon like "Black Lives Matter," the persistence of the "Sixties" as a cultural and political point of reference can blind us to the current challenges and opportunities that we confront in the early twenty-first century. Thus, while it is appropriate, even healthy, to review the past in order to grapple with the present, resorting to a "Sixties" framing can have unintended negative consequences for how we might understand the prospects for a transformative black politics in the here and now.