This history of renegade intellectuals and artists of the African diaspora throughout the twentieth century begins with the premise that the catalyst for political engagement has never been misery, poverty, or oppression. People are drawn to social movement because of hope: their dreams of a new world radically different from the one they inherited.
Freedom Dreams is a kind of crossroads for me. I spent more than half my life writing about people who tried to change the world, largely because I, too, wanted to change the world. The history of social movements attracted me because of what it might teach us about our present condition and how we might shape the future. When I first embarked on this work nearly twenty years ago, the political landscape looked much clearer: We needed a revolutionary socialist movement committed to antiracism and antisexism. Buoyed by youthful naïveté, I thought it was very obvious then. Over time, the subjects of my books as well as my own political experience taught me that things are not what they seem and that the desires, hopes, and intentions of the people who fought for change cannot be easily categorized, contained, or explained. Unfortunately, too often our standards for evaluating social movements pivot around whether or not they “succeeded” in realizing their visions rather than on the merits or power of the visions themselves. By such a measure, virtually every radical movement failed because the basic power relations they sought to change remain pretty much intact. And yet it is precisely these alternative visions and dreams that inspire new generations to continue to struggle for change.