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Jack O' Dell, Unsung Hero of Black Freedom Movement

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Victor Navasky's new book explores the role of Jack O'Dell African-American freedom movement.

The general public has never heard of Jack O'Dell. But many of those who worked with him in the '50s and '60s consider him the unsung hero of the Black Freedom Movement. Victor Navasky, the longtime editor of The Nation and author of the acclaimed book Kennedy Justice, drawing on secret government files and interviews with O'Dell himself, seeks to correct this historical oversight.

In The O'Dell File, Victor Navasky tells the extraordinary story of the life and career of Jack O'Dell, now 91 years old and his contribution to the civil rights movement.

The career of Hunter Pitts O'Dell (Jack O'Dell) is the untold story in the history of American radicalism. A close confidant of Martin Luther King Jr., O'Dell was described by J. Edgar Hoover as "the number five Communist in the United States", cited as a reason for the wiretapping of MLK, and was subsequently forced out of King's inner circle. In this compassionate and vivid biography, Navasky reveals O'Dell's unique organizing capacity and brilliant mind while lamenting what American society, obsessed by the so-called Communist menace and McCarthy witch hunts, lost by disqualifying him from being a visible contributor to the Civil Rights movement.

Jack O'Dell, born and raised by his grandparents in Detroit, MI became head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's Harlem office (SCLS). To President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, O'Dell was a dangerous man. If King wanted presidential support for the civil rights bill from the Kennedy Administration, he needed to cut ties with Jack O'Dell.

Now, over 50 years after the Civil Rights Act, Victor Navasky says The O'Dell File is the story of "an instance where an alleged member of an anti-democratic movement turns out to be the key player in the advancement of democratic values."

Victor Navasky is the former editor and publisher of The Nation and a former editor at The New York Times Magazine. Navasky is also the founder of Monocle, a "leisurely quarterly of political satire."He is the author of several books, including Kennedy Justice, Naming Names, which won a 1982 National Book Award, A Matter of Opinion, which won the George Polk Book Award, and The Art of Controversy: Political Cartoons and Their Enduring Power. He teaches at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where he is the director of the Delacorte Center for Magazine Journalism and chair of the Columbia Journalism Review. He lives in New York.

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