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S.F. State professor creates first encyclopedia on African American politics



Ted DeAdwyler
SFSU Office of Public Affairs
(415) 338-1665


Press Release published by the Office of Public Affairs


SAN FRANCISCO, July 14, 2003 - What is thought to be the first encyclopedia on African American politics has just been published by San Francisco State University's Robert C. Smith, providing a comprehensive reference book on the people, events and ideas that shaped life for millions of black Americans.

"African American politics is a politics about freedom and equality," said Smith, who is African American and the author of several books on black politics. "The encyclopedia tells the story of how politics and issues of power created and changed policies that have affected generations of black Americans."

In the development of African American politics, Smith said, whites acquired and maintained bases of power and used them to subordinate blacks and maintain control. While blacks, on the other hand, have tried to acquire bases of power to end their subordinate relationship. "Historically, however, whites have monopolized virtually all of the bases of power," said Smith. "From this perspective, African American politics is an oxymoron: a politics without power."

It is that ensuing tug-of-war that makes African American politics so fascinating to the professor of political science at SFSU.

Smith, who has degrees from Berkeley, UCLA and Howard University, began working on the book in early 2000 after being approached by Facts on File, a leading publisher of reference books for libraries and schools. Many books exist on African American history but apparently none that focus on blacks and politics in a standard reference book.

The book's entries range from the abolitionist movement, described as the first interracial movement, to the life of Whitney Young, executive director of the Urban League from 1961 until his death in a drowning accident at 49 years of age in 1971. For readers who want more information about a subject Smith concludes entries with notes on books for further reading. Although most of the material was widely known by students of politics and history, Smith conducted his own research to verify all the information for each entry.

The book provides answers to just about any question on black political history.

  • The Black Cabinet -- an informal association of blacks during the administration of several presidents, beginning with William Howard Taft, who served as race relations advisers to white cabinet members.

  • The Colfax Massacre -- one of the most glaring examples of violent political repression in the African American experience in the United States when an estimated 150 to 280 blacks were killed by whites over voting rights in Colfax, Louisiana in 1873.

  • Jim Crow -- a term used to refer to the widespread practice of racial segregation instituted in the southern states after the end of reconstruction.

  • Pan-Africanism -- a cultural, historical and political movement that asserts that there are common bonds that unite all peoples of African descent wherever they are in the world.

  • "Strange Fruit" -- a black protest song against lynching written by a Jewish high school teacher in 1937 that became popular following its recording by Billie Holiday, who sang about the "strange fruit. of southern trees…with blood on the leaves and blood at the root…and a black body swinging in southern breeze."

Smith hopes the book will help readers understand the breadth of the African American experience in politics. "Readers will learn something about the impact of this unique black experience and its integral relationship to the political theory and development of politics in the United States," said Smith, the author of "African American Leadership" and "American Politics and the African-American Quest for Universal Freedom."


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Last modified April 20, 2007, by the Office of Public Affairs