“This is the first full-length scholarly work on African American political independents and their sometimes allies, African American third-party activists. No other historical work has undertaken such a longitudinal study of this group of unattached partisans over the entire sweep of American history. Minority political independents and third-party activists are voters that are in constant motion—aligning, realigning, and dealigning—fluid in their alliances and electoral support. Professor Ali's profound scholarship has finally given the disciplines of political science, history, sociology, and African American studies a holistic political portrait. It is a landmark work.”
The National Political Science Review
“Ali links economics to the formation of third-party movements…The connections between the expanding trade union movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and black political activism were strengthened through third-party movements agitating for the economic advancement of the working classes confronting unrestrained and monopolistic industrial capitalism…. In the Balance of Power (makes) important contributions to the field of third-party politics and should prove useful to researchers.”
The Journal of African American History
“Ali presents an important survey of the most popular independent and third party movements among African Americans since the founding of the country [and] captures the most important nuances of the ways that African Americans have fought for their own political and economic interests.”
Journal of African American Studies
“For far too long, conventional wisdom regarding black political participation has suggested that they comprise a monolithic, liberal voting bloc that moves in lockstep with the Democratic Party. Ali, however, shows that there are competing ideological traditions in black thought and that black voters will use other means to advance their interests when they are shut out by the two major parties.”
Journal of American Ethnic History
Historically, most black voters in the United States have aligned themselves with one of the two major parties: the Republican Party from the time of the Civil War to the New Deal and, since the New Deal—and especially since the height of the modern civil rights movement—the Democratic Party. However, as In the Balance of Power convincingly demonstrates, African Americans have long been part of independent political movements and have used third parties to advance some of the most important changes in the United States, notably the abolition of slavery, the extension of voting rights, and the enforcement of civil rights.
Since the early nineteenth century, there has been an undercurrent of political independence among African Americans. They helped develop the Liberty Party in the 1840s and have continued to work with third parties to challenge the policies of the two major parties. But despite the legal gains of the modern civil rights movement, elements of Jim Crow remain deeply embedded in our electoral process.
In the Balance of Power presents a history and analysis of African American third-party movements that can help us better understand the growing diversity among black voters today.
Omar H. Ali is dean of Lloyd International Honors College and professor of global and comparative African diaspora history at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. A graduate of the London School of Economics, he received his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University and was named the Carnegie Foundation North Carolina professor of the year. More info →
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