[Watts] is at her best when she gives a frank accounting of the barriers the Black Cabinet encountered ... the value of this thoughtful book becomes clear. For far too long we’ve lived with the comfort the movement’s sacred story provides, that the suffering of a single generation of activists — great as it was — redeemed the soul of America. Now it’s time to face the fact that whatever redemption this nation can claim came through a long, hard, often dispiriting struggle littered with defeats like those the Black Cabinet experienced, inflicted by a racial system of overwhelming and enduring power. That’s not a comforting story to tell. But it is a necessary one.
Every once in a long while, a book comes along that pulls back the curtain on an unheralded time in America’s civil rights past and leaves one inspired and eager to learn more. The Black Cabinet is an invaluable historical contribution to an overlooked era of American history that had far-reaching impacts for African American civil rights movements still to be born ... Watts brings to life these fascinating and inspiring lives ... Watts’s elegant and understated writing never leads the reader by the nose, but rather lets these vanguard civil rights leaders speak for themselves. The Black Cabinet is essential reading, now more than ever, to remind Americans of how long and hard the road to achieving civil rights was and still often is for African Americans. The courage, dignity, and fortitude of the men and women of the Black Cabinet serve as a continuing inspiration for all of us.
Meticulously researched and elegantly written, The Black Cabinet is sprawling and epic, and Watts deftly re-creates whole scenes from archival material. With six main Cabinet characters, several subplots, infighting and at least three presidencies involved, however, it’s a lot to take in ... The book clearly revolves around the larger-than-life Bethune, offering an object lesson on race and political expediency[.]