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.
Chapter 1. "The Low Rising Against the High and Mighty": Radicalism and Protest in Addis Ababa and Houston
Chapter 2. Redefining Black Politics: The Third World Spirit and Black Internationalism in Congress
Chapter 3. "Horrendous Are the Hard Times": Western Food Aid and Ethiopia in the Age of Reagan
Chapter 4. Activists on the Inside: The Black Caucus Battles White Rule and U.S. Anticommunism in Southern Africa
Chapter 5. Ending Hunger in Africa: Humanitarianism Against Austerity
Chapter 6. "Flying in the Face of the Storm": Ethiopia, the United States, and the End of the Cold War
Conclusion. The Tragic Demise of Third World Politics in the United States
"This masterful work underscores how a deeply talented historian can artfully weave a tapestry of transnational diasporic history, one that balances African history and U.S. history, individual stories and broad historical currents, clashes of Cold War triumphalism and human rights activism, and transnational networks and domestic politics, all while returning the important, remarkable story of U.S. Congressman Mickey Leland to our collective understanding…We all should thank Talton for his remarkable efforts to resurrect Leland’s life and work, and for the ways in which Talton connects that life to reveal broader currents in African and United States relations and history."—African Studies Review
"In This Land of Plenty helps fill two gaps in the literature. First, the book rescue's the legacy of a significant figure in the fight against famine from obscurity. Leland is a model for those transitioning from outsider status to inside player without compromising ideals. Second, it reminds us that human rights and humanitarian aid cannot be separated from the political context in which they operate. Effects, whether they be political prisoners or starving children, always have causes. We ignore those causes at our peril."—Human Rights Quarterly
"In this fascinating biography, Benjamin Talton situates Leland firmly in the pantheon of Pan-African leaders with diasporic backgrounds and transnational global reach… In This Land of Plenty is an extraordinary book [that] deserves a wide readership."—The Journal of Southern History
[A]n important and engaging examination of the life, activism, and political tenacity of Texas Congressman"—The Journal of African American History
Mickey Leland...In This Land of Plenty provides a welcome examination of a man that many people outside of Texas may know little about or understand his importance to US foreign policies regarding Africa. Furthermore, this is an extremely smart and important work that should deeply alter the way we conceptualize African Americans’ participation in and shaping of American foreign policy, as well as the important role Africa has played within African American politics and activism.
"In This Land of Plenty: Mickey Leland and Africa in American Politics challenges its readers to reconsider the history of U.S. foreign policy to Africa during the 1980s."—Diplomatic History
"[A] fascinating history of U.S. involvement in Africa...Talton’s narrative operates both as a biography of the charismatic Leland and his political evolution from a radical activist in Houston to a well-established Washington insider and as an insightful history of the role that groups such as the Congressional Black Caucus played in U.S. policy toward Africa during the later years of the Cold War."—Foreign Affairs
"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
- Winner of the Wesley-Logan Prize in African diaspora history granted by the American Historical Association