In This Land of Plenty

In This Land of Plenty
Mickey Leland and Africa in American Politics

Benjamin Talton

328 pages | 6 x 9 | 8 illus.
Cloth 2019 | ISBN 9780812251470 | $45.00s | Outside the Americas £39.00
Ebook editions are available from selected online vendors
A volume in the series Politics and Culture in Modern America
View table of contents and excerpt

"Benjamin Talton's compelling new book focuses our attention on a forgotten, heroic American: Representative Mickey Leland. Talton deftly shows how Leland brought the sensibilities and concerns of the 1960s African American freedom movements to the politics of the 1980s. In doing so, Leland played a key role in crafting American humanitarianism, in rethinking U.S. policy toward Africa, and in bringing a powerful African American perspective to U.S. politics. By placing Leland at the center of a number of vital policy issues, Talton helps us better understand American politics and foreign policy in the 1980s."—Carl Bon Tempo, University at Albany

"Benjamin Talton makes an important intervention that ought to reset the scholarship on U.S. foreign policy in postcolonial Africa, on Black Power and its concrete effects in Africa, and on the rise and fall of African American commitment to and influence on government-led humanitarian intervention on the continent."—Gregory Mann, Columbia University

On August 7, 1989, Congressman Mickey Leland departed on a flight from Addis Ababa, with his thirteen-member delegation of Ethiopian and American relief workers and policy analysts, bound for Ethiopia's border with Sudan. This was Leland's seventh official humanitarian mission in his nearly decade-long drive to transform U.S. policies toward Africa to conform to his black internationalist vision of global cooperation, antiracism, and freedom from hunger. Leland's flight never arrived at its destination. The plane crashed, with no survivors.

When Leland embarked on that delegation, he was a forty-four-year-old, deeply charismatic, fiercely compassionate, black, radical American. He was also an elected Democratic representative of Houston's largely African American and Latino Eighteenth Congressional District. Above all, he was a self-proclaimed "citizen of humanity." Throughout the 1980s, Leland and a small group of former radical-activist African American colleagues inside and outside Congress exerted outsized influence to elevate Africa's significance in American foreign affairs and to move the United States from its Cold War orientation toward a foreign policy devoted to humanitarianism, antiracism, and moral leadership. Their internationalism defined a new era of black political engagement with Africa. In This Land of Plenty presents Leland as the embodiment of larger currents in African American politics at the end of the twentieth century. But a sober look at his aspirations shows the successes and shortcomings of domestic radicalism and aspirations of politically neutral humanitarianism during the 1980s, and the extent to which the decade was a major turning point in U.S. relations with the African continent.

Exploring the links between political activism, electoral politics, and international affairs, Benjamin Talton not only details Leland's political career but also examines African Americans' successes and failures in influencing U.S. foreign policy toward African and other Global South countries.

Benjamin Talton is Associate Professor of History at Temple University. He is author of Politics of Social Change in Ghana: The Konkomba Struggle for Political Equality.

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