This essay supplies an historical review of black thought (from the Civil War forward) in the American South. Its emphasis is upon the biography of figures born in the region, whether resident or exile, concentrating on three foundational actors: Booker Washington, Frederick Douglass and Ida Wells. Significant strands of later thought are seen as largely derived from the latter two. The thematic anchor of this review is ‘resistance and nonviolence’, involving (1) a primary focus on equal rights, (2) a derivative focus on emancipation and desegregation, (3) exploration of nonviolence as a mode of resistance to oppression, (4) exploration of liberative violence, and (5) a larger concern with the appropriate type and degree of integration/separation implicit in or consistent with an equal rights regime. Douglass and Wells are cast as attending to sub‐themes (1) and (2).This essay is designed to fit within the larger framework of the collection, in which the religious leaders Howard Thurman and Martin King are allocated to sub‐theme (3), the novelist Richard Wright to (4), and the lawyers Thurgood Marshall, Barbara Jordan and Fred Gray to (5). The future challenge to black thought is assumed to lie in deeper reflection on (5), with a view to locating an ever more perfect balance between ‘nation’ (the ethnic community of Afro‐America) and ‘state’ (the US federal government).