Dancing Down the Barricades: Sammy Davis Jr. and the Long Civil Rights Era

Univ. of California. Feb. 2023. 344p. ISBN 9780520391802. $29.95. BIOG
With Sinatra’s Rat Pack, Sammy Davis Jr. could claim that, by talent alone, he’d raised himself to inclusion in the great American melting pot. Throughout his career, he headlined in Las Vegas, integrated venues, and appeared on many television shows. But a younger Black generation wanted recognition for their differences; to them, Davis was a sellout. Yet in the ’60s, Martin Luther King Jr. relied on Davis’s star power for fundraisers, with Davis eventually traveling to the South to protest in person. Still, this book shows that Davis was caught between warring views of what it meant to be Black in a racist U.S. Jacobson (history, Yale Univ.; The Historian’s Eye) is one of the subtlest commentators on what it means to be caught in such a cultural bind.
VERDICT A subtle, insightful book likely to be on many readers’ radar for its nuanced look at the consequences of a racial divide with roots that, as Jacobson makes clear, are longstanding, systemic, and institutional.
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