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DANIELS: Arnold Pinkney a 'Tailor' of Democracy

Lee A. Daniels | 2/5/2014, 3 p.m.
Lee A. Daniels

Taylor Branch makes the point in the introduction to the third volume of his magisterial narrative of King and the civil rights years that “Nonviolence is an orphan among democratic ideas. It has nearly vanished from public discourse even though the most basic element of a free government – the vote – has no other meaning. Every ballot is a piece of nonviolence, signifying hard-won consent to raise politics above firepower and bloody conquest.”

In other words, even as they rhetorically ignored nonviolence, blacks were busy adapting and applying the energy of the nonviolent, mass-action protest movement and its hard-won products directly to the mainstream political system. That was the kind of work at which Arnold Pinkney was so much an expert.

So, one could say that Arnold Pinkney was an exemplary political activist. But he could also be considered a “tailor” – a tailor of democracy because he was one of the many people spread across the country who amid and after the days of the Civil Rights Movement, worked to institutionalize the principles and practices of democracy: to sew them, one might say, into the fabric of American society.

Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is "Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America."