Tag Archive for African American Studies

The Riddle of Black Republicans: More Than Meets the Eye

Leah Wright

“When one surfaces on the national stage, most people tend to view the event as a sort of political phenomenon,” Leah Wright says. “They look at it with nearly the same disbelief and surprise as they would do with a unicorn sighting.”

The phenomenon Wright is referring to? Why black Republicans, of course.

“When we see a Herman Cain, Colin Powell, Condolezza Rice or Allen West appear on the national scene, the news media and many people tend to view these individuals as extreme outliers. In reality they are much more common than we are led to believe,” says Wright, assistant professor of history, assistant professor of African-American studies.

The presence of black Republicans is also much more long-standing than most reporters or commentators often lead people to believe. In fact, for several decades after the Civil War, blacks were almost exclusively Republican. After all, that was the “Party of Lincoln” and emancipation while southern Democrats were the party of oppression, Jim Crow and the KKK.

However, allegiances began to change significantly in the 1930s with the Great Depression and the rise of the New Deal. The move to the Democratic Party solidified with the civil rights movement and President Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and advancing his great society programs. Still, in 1966, Edward Brooke from Massachusetts, a Republican, became the first popularly-elected black U.S. Senator.

Brooke’s rise through the Republican Party was not an anomaly. In fact, Wright argues, the ascension of Brooke and other black Republicans is in part a design drawn up by moderate and independent civil rights-era leaders, including Nobel Laureate Ralph Bunche.

“Bunche’s strategy, at times, was to advance civil rights and issues confronting black communities through both parties,” Wright says. “He was a mentor to Brooke and to others. There was, and continues to be, a segment of the black community to whom the Republican Party presents a reasonable political choice.”

Wright is quick to add that the choice is not purely mercenary, that the individual’s values must line up with at least most of the party’s values.

“Most politicians are not ideologues; they do not subscribe to rigid dogma,” she says. “As a result, both parties offer a certain flexibility. What is forgotten is that many of the values embraced by Republicans and conservatives were also embraced by the civil rights movement, and continue to be embraced by many in the black community.”

These include beliefs in personal accountability, respectability, preference for small government and the free market, embracing of “family values,” and an acceptance of a brand of social justice that focuses more on judicial equality than on redistribution of wealth. These are all areas openly embraced by some conservatives and Republicans, as well.

For black people who strongly believe in these values, the Republican Party feels like more of a home than the Democratic Party.

“This falls exactly in line with the thinking of those in the Civil Rights movement who openly advocated for black people to become involved in both parties,” Wright says. “They argued that being involved with both parties means no party can take you for granted. That creates leverage for minority groups. It also affords different paths to expand party flexibility and access to genuine political power.”

Wright says that there are also black conservatives in non-elected policy positions, think tanks and other areas where they often affect large party perspectives and work toward policy changes.

“Black Republicans are out there and well-established,” she says. “They shouldn’t continue to be seen as the equivalent of unicorns.”

Wright is currently completing her book manuscript, The Loneliness of the Black Conservative: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power.

Millett Visiting Writer Edwidge Danticat to Speak Feb. 8

Edwidge Danticat is the 2012 Millett VIsiting Writer. (Photo courtesy of the MacArthur Foundation)

MacArthur Fellow and award-winning author Edwidge Danticat will deliver a reading at 8 p.m. Feb. 8 in Memorial Chapel. Danticat, a Haitian-American writer, is the 2012 Fred B. Millett Visiting Writer.

Danticat, a 2011 recipient of the Langston Hughes medal, is the author of Breath, Eyes, Memory (an Oprah Book Club selection), the story collection Krik? Krak! (a National Book Award finalist), The Farming of Bones (an American Book Award winner), and the novel-in-stories, The Dew Breaker. Her memoir, Brother, I’m Dying, was a 2007 finalist for the National Book Award and a 2008 winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography. Create Dangerously, her most recent book, is a collection of essays.

She also is the editor of The Butterfly’s Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States and Haiti Noir.

Danticat received a B.A. from Barnard College and an M.F.A. from Brown University. She worked as a visiting professor of creative writing at New York University and the University of Miami.

“I am absolutely thrilled that we are finally able to bring Edwidge to Wesleyan especially in this particular manner as the Fred B. Millet visiting writer— given Millet’s defense of free speech,” says Gina Athena Ulysse, associate professor of anthropology, associate professor of African-American Studies, director of Center for African-American Studies. “Besides her numerous accomplishments and personal lost, she continues to work tirelessly exercising such graceful restraint in her work as she gives voice to experiences that are often erased. Since the 2010 earthquake, she remains a devoted soldier in Haiti’s non-ending battle for humanity.”

The Millett Visiting Writer event is held annually in honor of the late Fred Millett, professor of English, emeritus. Cynthia and George Willauer ’57 are two of the initial donors.

The English Department, African American Studies, Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies, the Office of Diversity, the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship and Academic Affairs are co-sponsoring the event.

Danticat’s visit is part of the Spring 2012 Writing at Wesleyan Russell House Series on Prose and Poetry.  To view the upcoming speakers, see: http://www.wesleyan.edu/writing/community/writing-events.html

McAlister Joins SSRC Working Group, Attends Conference

Elizabeth McAlister, associate professor of religion, associate professor of African American studies, associate professor of American studies, is a member of the Social Science Research Council’s working group on Spirituality, Political Engagement and Public Life.

Comprising both younger and well established scholars representing anthropology, political theory, religious studies, and sociology, the working group plans workshops to further elaborate and articulate the project’s overarching goals and key commitments.

In addition, McAlister participated in a  conference titled, “States of Devotion: Religion, Neoliberalism and the Politics of the Body in the Americas” conference Nov. 4-5  at The Hemispheric Institute of New York. McAlister examined “the changing role of religious discourses and practices in the wake of the transformations wrought by neoliberal globalization upon communities, societies, and polities across the Hemisphere.”

Dupuy, McAlister, Ulysse Discuss Haiti

Following the catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12, three Wesleyan faculty, Alex Dupuy, Elizabeth McAlister, and Gina Ulysse have appeared in numerous publications and on radio programs to provide context for thinking about the disaster.

Alex Dupuy.

Alex Dupuy.

Alex Dupuy, the Class of 1958 Distinguished Professor of Sociology, spoke to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp and wrote an essay titled “Beyond the Earthquake: A Wake-Up Call for Haiti” on the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) forum, saying, “There is no doubt that the dominant economic and political classes of Haiti bear great responsibility for the abysmal conditions in the country that exacerbated the impact of the earthquake (or of hurricanes or tropical storms).  However, these local actors did not create these conditions alone but did so in close partnership with foreign governments and economic actors with long-standing interests in Haiti, principally those of the advanced countries—the United States, Canada, and France—and their international financial institutions (IFIs)—the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Inter-American Development Bank.  Since the 1970s and under various free market mantras, these international actors and institutions sought to and succeeded in transforming Haiti into a supplier of the cheapest

Leah Wright: New History, African American Studies Assistant Professor

Leah Wright, assistant professor of history, assistant professor of African American studies, is an expert on United States history, African American studies and American politics. (Photo by Stefan Weinberger '10)

Leah Wright, assistant professor of history, assistant professor of African American studies, is an expert on United States history, African American studies and American politics. (Photo by Stefan Weinberger '10)

Leah Wright, assistant professor of history, assistant professor of African American studies joined Wesleyan’s staff this summer.

Wright says she loves being part of an interdisciplinary community and “was impressed by the intellectual curiosity and academic excellence of the students at Wesleyan.” Multiple factors attracted her to the university.

“I was also excited about the faculty—there is equal attention paid to teaching and research, and as a result, Wesleyan faculty excel at both. Joining Wesleyan was a major opportunity to join a vibrant and welcoming intellectual community.”

She graduated cum laude from Dartmouth College in 2003 with a bachelor’s in history. Wright went on to obtain a Master’s and a Ph.D. in History from Princeton University. This summer she defended her doctoral dissertation titled “The Loneliness of the Black Conservative: Black Republicans and the Grand Old Party, 1964-1980.” Wright is currently negotiating with publishers to convert her manuscript into a published book.

Wright’s book proposal abstract reads: “Traditionally, the scholarship on civil rights has assumed that the movement existed solely within the boundaries of liberalism; however, this project argues that black Republicans also attempted to promote a genuine agenda of racial equality, civil rights, and black uplift through the conservative movement and the Republican apparatus. Despite the seeming contradiction of African Americans working for civil rights in a party that appeared increasingly hostile to that very idea, many black Republicans did see themselves as part of the movement. In many ways this story is a comparative project about the vision for black equality and advancement.”

Her research interests include United States history, African American studies and American politics. Her extensive research on Black conservatives in the U.S.—specifically Black Republicans—combines all of her interests. Additionally, she has studied women in the Black Power movement and Marcus Garvey, the founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association

Wright is the author and co-author of several articles, including “Conscience of a Black Conservative: The 1964 Election and the Rise of the National Negro Republican Assembly,” in Federal History.

Wright was awarded with a Woodrow Wilson Foundation Dissertation Writing Fellowship for 2008 – 2009. Notably, she has received three presidential libraries grants (i.e. the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library Research Grant, the Gerald Ford Presidential Library Research Grant and the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library O’Donnell Research Grant). Wright received multiple Social Science Research Council (SSRC) Development/Enhancement Grants throughout her scholarship. She was a Andrew W. Mellon Fellow from 2001 to 2003 and is the first Mellon Fellow to join the Wesleyan faculty, according to Krishna Wilson, who is the coordinator of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship at Wesleyan.

This semester, Wright is teaching 20th Century Black Conservatism and The Long Civil Rights Movement in America. In spring 2010, she will be teaching Modern African-American History and U.S. Political History Since 1945.

For her civil rights course, Wright enjoyed working with Valerie Gillispie, Assistant University Archivist, to expose students to the resources within Wesleyan’s archives.

“The Civil Rights Archive at Wesleyan is a wonderful resource,” Wright says.

“Val Gillispie took us through a guided tour of archival resources that allowed the students to better understand Wesleyan’s significant connection to the broader Civil Rights Movement. It was an exciting opportunity for students to ‘get their hands dirty’—and search through interesting, and relevant archival resources—which is a critical component for any historian.”

Wright is a native of Hartford and enjoys traveling, reading, and watching college basketball (her brother plays for Providence College).

Listen to Leah Wright’s recent appearance on WNPR’s Where We Live.