Following the collapse of Reconstruction in 1877, African Americans organized a movement–distinct from the white Populist movement–in the South and parts of the Midwest for economic and political reform: Black Populism. Between 1886 and 1898, tens of thousands of black farmers, sharecroppers, and agrarian workers created their own organizations and tactics primarily under black leadership.
Dr. Omar H. Ali has written a new book, In the Lion’s Mouth: Black Populism in the New South, 1886-1900 (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010) which chronicles the largest independent black movement prior to the modern civil rights movement. Dr. Ali traces its origins, growth, and demise. It’s particularly relevant to what independents are struggling with today in the building of a black and independent alliance.
In the Lion’s Mouth breaks new ground … Omar Ali paints a compelling portrait of an independent movement. But understand that by independent, he does not mean separatist. It is an important distinction, for if we follow Ali’s arguments and the evidence he marshals seriously, we can only conclude that the white Populist movement, more than any, exhibited separatist tendencies. Ali flips the script, if you will, and compels us to rethink the entire history of late 19th century Southern politics.
—Robin D.G. Kelley, author of Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression
In this insightful survey of a generation of African American political activism, Omar Ali lays to rest the common misconception that black politics in the South ended with the death of Reconstruction. He shows how, during the 1880s and 1890s, two Populist movements, black and white, mainly separate and unequal, challenged the political status quo. Any one interested in the innovative and often bold political action undertaken by black southerners in these trying times will benefit from reading In the Lion’s Mouth.
—Charles Postel, author of The Populist Vision
Watch for Dr. Ali’s new column on The Hankster, historical notes on independents throughout American history … from the Abolitionists, the Populists, to today’s movement of non-aligned voters.