Tag Archive for African American Studies

Americas Forum to Focus on Artist, Poet Aimé Césaire April 5-6

"The Centenary of Aimé Césaire 1913-2008: Poet, Pragmatist, a Voice for the Voiceless" is the theme of the 2013 Americas Forum April 5-6.

“The Centenary of Aimé Césaire 1913-2008: Poet, Pragmatist, a Voice for the Voiceless” is the theme of the 2013 Americas Forum April 5-6.

For its 2013 Americas Forum, Wesleyan’s Center for the Americas is commemorating the centenary of Aimé Césaire, éminence grise of the Francophone Caribbean. Taking place on April 5-6 at Russell House, the annual symposium brings scholars and artists from “north” and “south” into dialogue about Césaire, who was not only a regional figure but also a global presence as an intellectual, poet, artist and politician.

Celebrating his influential life, spanning from the movements of Surrealism and Negritude to his ideas on decolonization and spiritual and cultural pan-Africanism, the Americas Forum is also an intellectual consideration of Césaire’s contributions to our understanding of the Americas, Marxism, imperialism, independence, race and the role of art.

This year’s event, which is free and open to the public, is organized by Indira Karamcheti, director of the Center for the Americas and associate professor of American studies; Typhaine Leservot, associate professor of romance languages and literatures and the College of Letters; and Suzanna Tamminen, director of the Wesleyan University Press. Scholars will represent the fields of Caribbean studies, French literature and poetics, Césaire studies, American studies, and African diaspora studies, with musicians, poets, and performers presenting both their own and Césaire’s work.

All talks take place in the Russell House.

After a welcome at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 5, Clayton Eshleman, professor emeritus of poetry and literature at Eastern Michigan University; A. James Arnold, professor emeritus of French at the University of Virginia;

Assisted by Fellowship, Wright Reveals Black Agendas in GOP

Leah Wright, assistant professor of African American studies, assistant professor of history, received a grant worth $31,500 from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. The award is supporting her her current book project.

Leah Wright, assistant professor of African American studies, assistant professor of history, received a grant from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. The award is supporting her current book project.

On a chilly January morning in 1978, Jesse Jackson delivered a rousing keynote address to a large group of political leaders. Energized from a recent meeting with President Jimmy Carter at the White House, the civil rights activist dazzled his audience with nearly an hour of political “gospel rock.” At the end of Jackson’s fiery speech, his audience launched a five-minute standing ovation. Oddly, his audience was a group of white Republicans.

Why would a liberal civil rights activist – with ties to the Democratic Party – engage a political party that had a reputation for turning its back on the black interests? Jackson wasn’t alone. Throughout the modern postwar period, a number of black Americans worked with and within the GOP to influence the direction of the party. And in the past two decades, America has witnessed a surprising number of high-profile black Republicans including Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Michael Steele, Clarence Thomas, J.C. Watts and Herman Cain.

“The extensive literature on the histories of civil rights and American politics suggests, in no uncertain terms, that African Americans have no business being conservative,” says Leah Wright, assistant professor of African American studies, assistant professor of history.

As a recent recipient of a Career Enhancement Fellowship for Junior Faculty, Wright, assistant professor of African American studies, assistant professor of history, is working to revise a historical blind spot by demonstrating that black Americans have worked consistently with Republicans to pursue an agenda of racial uplift.

The Career Enhancement Fellowships for Junior Faculty Program, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and administered by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, supports junior faculty who have a demonstrated commitment to eradicating racial disparities,

Brown Panelist at National Youth Summit on Abolition

Lois Brown

Lois Brown

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History hosted the National Youth Summit on Abolition on Feb. 11.

Lois Brown, the Class of 1958 Distinguished Professor of African American Studies and English, joined a team of experts, scholars and activists in a moderated panel discussion to reflect upon the abolition movement of the 19th century and explore its legacy on modern-day slavery and human trafficking.

The event was webcast live to more than 2,000 students and adults from 31 states and to schools in Kenya, Pakistan and the Republic of Suriname in South America.

The program featured excerpts from the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE documentary The Abolitionists, which weaves together the stories of five of the abolition movement’s leading figures: Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Angelina Grimke, Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Brown. Lois Brown was on the film’s advisory board.

Brown’s fellow panelists included Kenneth Morris, founder and president of the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation and the great-great-great-grandson of Frederick Douglass and the great-great-grandson of Booker T. Washington; Luis CdeBaca, ambassador-at-large in the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; and Ana Alarcon, a high school student in Hartford, Conn., who is president of the organization Student Abolitionists Stopping Slavery. Allison Stewart, an award-winning journalist, moderated the event.

The National Youth Summit on Abolition will be broadcast live to students and adults all over the world.

The National Youth Summit on Abolition will be broadcast live on Feb. 11.

Brown, whose teaching and research focuses on 19th Century African American and American literature, history, and culture, as well as and race and memory in colonial and antebellum America, is the author of Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins: Black Daughter of the Revolution and The Harlem Literary Renaissance: An Encyclopedia. She edited the first modern edition of Memoir of James Jackson, The Attentive and Obedient Scholar, the pioneering 1835 biography by Bostonian Susan Paul that is the earliest known biography of a free child of color and the first biography published by an African American woman.

Brown has held research fellowships from the American Antiquarian Society, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University. A 2000 Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Award recipient, she has been affiliated with the Harvard University Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research where she also has been a visiting fellow. Brown has lectured widely and published articles on African American literature, women’s writing, early American education, and African American history and religion. The Museum of African American History in Boston recognized her work with one of its first African American History Awards and lauded her for her “extraordinary commitment to American history” and her “obvious commitment to education and equality.” Her passion for African American history has led to successful curatorial experiences that have included exhibitions at the Museum of Afro-American History in Boston and at the Boston Public Library. Since 2003, she has curated and co-curated five exhibitions including two major exhibitions honoring William Lloyd Garrison: Words of Thunder: William Lloyd Garrison and The Ambassadors of Abolition and of Words of Thunder: The Life and Times of William Lloyd Garrison.

 

5 Questions With . . . Ashraf Rushdy on Lynching in America

In his new book, Professor Ashraf Rushdy explains how lynching became a form of spectacle in the late 19th Century until the 1930s.

In his new book, Professor Ashraf Rushdy explains why lynching became a form of spectacle in the late 19th Century until the 1930s. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

(Story contributed by Jim H. Smith)

In this issue of The Wesleyan Connection, we ask “5 Questions” of Ashraf Rushdy, professor of English, professor of African American Studies and chair of the African American Studies Program. Rushdy is the author of American Lynching, a meticulously researched interpretive history of how lynching became a uniquely American phenomenon and how it has endured, evolved and changed over the course of three centuries. The book was published by Yale University Press in October 2012.

American Lynching by Ashraf Rushdy

American Lynching by Ashraf Rushdy

Q: Scholars have been writing about lynching for more than a century now. There is a significant body of extant literature. What did you aim to achieve with American Lynching? How is it different from other books on the subject?

A: There are, indeed, many books about lynching, and I’m beholden to that body of scholarship. Many of the books that have been written are about specific cases of lynching. There are fewer books that attempt to interpret the phenomenon generally. That’s what I have attempted to do with my book.

Lynching has been part of the American fabric for a long time, but the term has not consistently described the same thing over that time. I wanted to understand how lynching had taken root in America and how one practice, widely referred to as lynching, could develop into something quite different. And I wanted to offer a strong interpretation.

It’s interesting to note that lynching was not always a racially motivated act. The relative absence of lynchings in slaveholding Northern states and the occurrence of lynching in non-slaveholding western states is explained by the extent to which the mores and established precedents that emerged from those original slave laws took hold of the imagination of the residents of those states.

Q: Is lynching a uniquely American phenomenon, or is there a uniquely American “style” of lynching?

A: Well, the term “lynching” is certainly uniquely American. It derives from Colonel Charles Lynch,

Long ’89 Studies the Politics of African American Medical Care in Slavery and Emancipation

Gretchen Long ’89

In her illuminating new book, Doctoring Freedom (University of North Carolina Press), Gretchen Long ’89 shares the stories of African Americans who fought for access to both medical care and medical education, as she reveals the important relationship between medical practice and political identity. Even before emancipation, African Americans recognized that control of their bodies was an essential battleground in their struggle for autonomy, and they devised strategies to retain some of that control.

Book by Gretchen Long ’89

During her research, Long, an associate professor of history at Williams College, closely studied antebellum medical journals, planters’ diaries, agricultural publications, letters from wounded African American soldiers, WPA narratives, and military and Freedmen’s Bureau reports. Within these documents, she was able to trace African Americans’ political acts to secure medical care: their organizing of mutual-aid societies, their petitions to the federal government, and, as a last resort, their founding of their own medical schools, hospitals, and professional organizations. She also writes about the efforts of the earliest black physicians who worked in times of slavery and freedom.

 

Ulysse to Perform Avant-Garde “Voodoo Doll” Meditation in Brazil, Ghana

Gina Athena Ulysse performs "Voodoo Doll, What if Haiti Were a Woman?" in the Center for the Arts.

Gina Athena Ulysse performs “Voodoo Doll, What if Haiti Were a Woman?” in the Center for the Arts.

Gina Athena Ulysse, associate professor of anthropology, associate professor of African-American studies, was invited to perform her avant-garde meditation, “Voodoo Doll, What if Haiti Were a Woman?” at two international conferences in 2013. Ulysse’s piece focuses on coercion and consent inspired by Gede, the Haitian Vodou spirit of life and death. She intersperses the story with Haiti’s geopolitical history, statistics, theory and Vodou chants.

On Jan. 12-19, Ulysse will attend the 8th Encuentro of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics at the Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil. There, she will join more than 400 artists, performers, scholars and activists who will examine the broad intersections between urban space, performance and political/artistic action in the Americas. The Encuentro is an interdisciplinary academic conference and performance festival that is focused on experimentation, dialogue and collaboration. Learn more at this link.

On May 16-19, Ulysse will participate in an international symposium of women writers from Africa and its diaspora titled “Yari Yari Ntoaso: Continuing the Dialogue.” The symposium will be held in Accra, Ghana, West Africa and include panels, readings, performances and film screenings. “Yari Yari Ntoaso” will be a gathering devoted to the study, criticism and celebration of the creativity and diversity of women writers of African descent. Learn more at this link.

Ulysse performed “Voodoo Doll” at Wesleyan on July 24. For more information see this Wesleyan Connection post.

Vodou Spirit, Haitian Culture in Ulysse’s Meditation Performance

Gina Ulysse, chair and associate professor of African American studies, associate professor anthropology, spoke to Wesleyan students, Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows, and area high school students on July 24 in the Center for the Arts. Ulysse, who also is a poet, performance and multi-media artist, performed her avant-garde meditation, “Voodoo Doll, What if Haiti Were a Woman: On ti Travay sou 21 Pwen or An Alter(ed)native in Something Other than Fiction.” The piece focused on coercion and consent inspired by Gede, the Haitian Vodou spirit of life and death. She interspersed Haiti’s geopolitical history, statistics, theory and Vodou chants.

Ulysse spoke with many students after her performance.

Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows Ernst Pierre and Henrico Joseph listen to Ulysse’s performance. Like Ulysse, Pierre was born in Haiti.

Book by Jackson ’90 Tells His Family’s Story after the Civil War

Lawrence P. Jackson '90

Lawrence P. Jackson ’90 is the author of My Father’s Name: A Black Virginia Family after the Civil War (University of Chicago Press). Part detective story and part wrenching family history, the book delves into the history of Jackson’s family in slavery and emancipation in Virginia’s Pittsylvania County.

Johnson’s publication was recently featured on NPR’s All Things Considered. This summer, n+ magazine,a publication of literature, culture and politics, will include a long essay with sections from the book.

Book by Lawrence P. Jackson '90

Jackson’s research led him to the house of distant relations. He then became absorbed by the search for his ancestors and aware of how few generations an African American needs to map back in order to arrive at slavery, “a door of no return.” Jackson delved into libraries, census records, and courthouse registries and traced his family to his grandfather’s grandfather, a man who was born or sold into slavery but who, when Federal troops abandoned the South in 1877, was able to buy 40 acres of land.

Jackson’s book vividly reconstructs moments in the lives of his father’s grandfather, Edward Jackson, and great-grandfather, Granville Hundley, and gives life to revealing narratives of Pittsylvania County, recalling both the horror of slavery and the later struggles of postbellum freedom. The story told is one of haunting familiarity to many Americans, who may question whether the promises of emancipation have ever truly been fulfilled.

Jackson is a professor of English and African-American studies at Emory University, where he specializes in African-American literature and literary history. His previous book, The Indignant Generation: A Narrative History of African American Writers and Critics, 1934–1960 (Princeton University Press), won the Modern Language Association’s William Sanders Scarborough Award for black literature in 2011. He is currently writing a full-length biography of the African-American writer Chester Himes.

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.”