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What My Left Hand Was Doing: Lessons from a Grassroots Activist


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“A searing, unflinching account of black and white political activism in the ‘60s and ‘70s.” --Herb Boyd, author of Black Detroit: A People’s History of Self-Determination

In 1967, race riots burned across America, fueled by white blindness and black rage. In Detroit, the fire burned hottest and brightest. Faced with this unforgettable devastation, grassroots activists rose from the ashes to advance a radical social vision: blacks and whites working together toward a just society.

In What My Left Hand Was Doing, Joann Castle takes us into the heart of the movement, tracing her transformation from a naive, white working-class Irish Catholic mother of six young children in segregated post-war Detroit into a passionate foot soldier in the radical Catholic, civil rights, and black self-determination movements.

A priceless activist history lesson, What My Left Hand Was Doing chronicles the more common, less discussed reality of the day-to-day efforts, interactions, triumphs, and failures that reflect every movement. Castle explores a wide range of experiences, including the inevitable push-forward and push-back ignited by the civil rights and black power crusades, the challenging dynamics of white privilege, and why genuine political coalitions between blacks and whites have often been stalled by whites’ unwillingness to become allies and defenders of non-whites’ push for self-determination.

As a new wave of activists from Black Lives Matter to the Trump resistance respond to the latest tide of repression, misogyny, and racism, today’s activists are becoming the next link in a long line of American social justice movements. Looking to strengthen this historical bond, Castle turns to her deep experiences for lessons learned that speak to universal social and political issues, which resonate today.

What My Left Hand Was Doing’s exclusive “Activist’s Survival Guide” offers a relevant, critical bridge between generations of world changers fighting for a better tomorrow.

About the Author

Joann Castle is a lifelong Detroiter and political activist. She was the mother of six young children when she became involved in the radical Catholic movement for racial equality during the Civil Rights Movement in the mid-1960s. Against the incendiary backdrop of the 1967 Detroit insurrection and its aftermath, Castle invested in community work, foster care, and co-founded Hourglass, a group which lobbied the Catholic Church to support black self-determination. By 1968, she was an active member of the Ad-Hoc Action Group struggling against police brutality and later joined the Motor City Labor League, a radical left organization. In the early ‘70s, she co-founded the unprecedented Control, Conflict & Change Book Club which united blacks and whites in collective consciousness raising and political action.

As Castle became more intensely involved in political activities her marriage failed, she broke with her church, and her family disowned her. Against all odds, she embraced her new life and moved on with her children at her side. Castle married Michael Hamlin in 1975, at the height of his work in the Black Power Movement. She later embarked on a twenty-seven-year career in health care services and earned an M.A. in medical anthropology.

What My Left Hand Was Doing is drawn from Castle’s personal experience as an activist corroborated by archival materials from Wayne State University’s Walter P. Reuther Library Archives. In 2012, Castle founded, Against the Tide Books, a company dedicated to the publication of Personal Histories in the Struggle for Justice.

Praise for What My Left Hand Was Doing

“When Joann Castle chose to devote her life of the community rather than the convent, she stepped into the epicenter of political struggle in Detroit. Her unique perspective as a white woman offers a searing, unflinching account of black and white political activism in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The social justice in the marrow of her bones inspires a memoir that lacks neither truth nor passion. It’s a Detroit story we all need to know.” --Herb Boyd, author of Black Detroit: A People’s History of Self-Determination

“If one wants to know how a white Catholic working-class girl, who grew up in a relatively conservative, racially insensitive environment, became a political activist, a crusader for social justice, and later a committed revolutionary—this poignantly written, sensitive memoir is a must-read. This is a story about America.” --Michael Goldfield, author of The Color of Politics: Race and the Mainsprings of American Politics

“Joann’s life story, which unfolds during one of the most intense times in Detroit’s history, will resonate with social justice mothers struggling with racial injustices today as well as inspire the activists of tomorrow.” --Rashida Tlaib, community and environmental activist, recipient of the 2017 President’s Award from The Audubon Society

“Powerful proof that while we do not choose the time we live in, we do choose how to respond to them. Joann captures rarely documented responses to the black revolution of the 1960s. She shares courageous choices she made and the spiritual, personal, familial and political challenges these choices created...Joann’s life gives substance and grit to the words of Grace Lee Boggs: ‘These are the times to grow our souls.’” --Rich Feldman, James and Grace Lee Boggs Center

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Joann Castle
Page Count:
Against the Tide Books

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