News

Announcing our Fall 2018 Schedule

August 08, 2018

September 6: The Long Struggle against Medical Apartheid: Black Health and Community Activism

Featuring Dr. Julius Garvey, Gabriel Mendes, and Alondra Nelson

Medical Apartheid and racial exclusion from equal health care and affordable insurance has been a persistent and deadly crisis for Black America. Now, Trump’s White House and a reactionary Congress wants to eliminate Obamacare. What can be done? Dr. Julius Garvey, Gabriel Mendes, and Alondra Nelson will explain what Black and Latino communities have done to advance health against the tide of racism in the past, including community organizing efforts like Harlem’s Lafargue Clinic and the Black Panther Party health care initiatives.

October 4: Rethinking H. Rap Brown and Black Power

Featuring Arun Kundnani, Robyn Spencer, and Akinyele Umoja

H. Rap Brown (Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin) was one of the youngest national leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Black Panther Party. Although Rap Brown was among the most brilliant voices of the Black Power Generation, most history books criminalize him as a violent troublemaker. Come to hear how Uncle Sam framed Rap Brown for the 1967 Cambridge Riot in Maryland and how the Kerner Commission buried the evidence of his innocence. Next year will mark the 50th anniversary (1969-2019) of Rap Brown’s classic memoir, Die! Nigger! Die! This conversation is the first step toward next year’s national conference in Atlanta, Georgia to not only rethink Jamil Al-Amin’s role in Black Liberation but also to free Jamil Al-Amin and all Black Panther political prisoners. Arun Kundnani, who is writing a biography of Al-Amin, will join Akinyele Umoja and Robyn Spencer, two leading scholars of Black Power, for a conversation on Al-Amin's life and political legacy.

November 1: What’s at stake in the 2018 Elections? The Struggle for Voting Rights and the Poor People’s Campaign

Featuring Reverend William Barber, Gloria Browne-Marshall, and Reverend Liz Theoharis

Black America is singular as the oppressed group denied citizenship, economic justice, and voting rights in the USA. If there was a New Deal for White America, then there was a Raw Deal for Black America. As an alternative to the Raw Deal for the “Other America” and understanding that economic justice was linked to voting rights, Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King championed the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968. Rev. William Barber and Rev. Liz Theoharis are leading today’s new Poor People's Campaign, challenging racism, voter suppression, poverty, militarism, and environmental devastation. Professor Gloria Browne-Marshall is the author of The Voting Rights War: The NAACP and the Ongoing Struggle for Justice. Together they will discuss what is at stake in the 2018 elections.

December 6: A Divided America: Black Politics and the Struggle for Justice in Sports

Featuring Howard Bryant, Amira Rose Davis, and Randy Roberts

Black athletes raising their voices and taking a knee against injustice are under attack by Trump’s White House, commentators, coaches, and many fellow Americans. Three writers will examine the role Black male and female athletes have played in the long struggle against racism and injustice and the barriers and criticism they have faced for their politics. Professor Randy Roberts will discuss Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. Professor Amira Rose Davis will preview her forthcoming book, “Can’t Eat a Medal”: The Lives and Labors of Black Women Athletes in the Age of Jim Crow. And, ESPN’s Howard Bryant will discuss The Heritage: Black Athletes, A Divided America and the Politics of Patriotism.

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Abolitionism and Slave Resistance

April 29, 2018

In anticipation of our planned discussion on Abolitionism and Slave Resistance, scheduled for May 3rd, we interviewed two of our guests, Manisha Sinha and Sasha Turner. Our friends at the African American Intellectual History Society carried the interview on their blog, Black Perspectives. You can read the interview here.

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3 Questions for Our Authors

April 03, 2018

In anticipation of our April discussion, 50 Years After the Assassination of Martin Luther King, we asked guests Mary Frances Berry, Thomas Jackson, David Stein, and Jeanne Theoharis to talk with us about their books, their research on King, and what lessons we might take from this history.

Conversations in Black Freedom Studies: As we approach our discussion marking 50 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King, can you tell us more specifically what your book is about?

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Mary Frances Berry: I wrote this book, History Teaches Us to Resist: How Progressive Movements Have Succeeded in Challenging Times, because my editor, reinforced by friends and colleagues after Trump’s election, argued that the public needed reminding of how and why resistance has succeeded and or failed in the past. And I felt I could provide that based on my experience in several movements and through my historical research. Though history does not repeat itself exactly perhaps we can learn something from history or at least be encouraged.

The book uses examples and stories about specific social movements that teach us the importance of protest as an essential ingredient of politics. The March on Washington Movement (MOW) was the only march to which a federal policy change could be directly attributed. A. Philip Randolph and the other women and men who organized it took lessons they learned from other protests and applied them to the future. The anti-Vietnam War movement succeeded in influencing the end of the war although at the time we thought we failed because the war continued so long. In the Reagan era the Free South Africa Movement (FSAM) was a major cause in obtaining sanctions, helping to free political prisoners including Mandela, and in overthrowing the apartheid regime. Civil Rights laws overthrowing Reagan’s attempts to turn back the clock and fighting his refusal to address the AIDS crisis, opposing Clinton’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and globalization policies, and Bush’s Iraq War were all the subject of major protests. The lessons learned then are about persistence. The FSAM campaign took a year of arrests, guerilla theatre, and marches, before Reagan vetoed the sanctions, and then continuing pressure before the legislation was passed over his veto. 

The importance of doing something is central. I think of the disabled little girl who leaned out of her wheelchair and crawled up the stairs of the capital to push the Americans With Disabilities Act to final passage.

David Stein: My forthcoming book, Fearing Inflation, Inflating Fears: The Civil Rights Struggle for Full Employment and the Rise of the Carceral State, 1929-1986, describes fifty years of power struggles around unemployment. Many of the key questions that the book answers were forged in the years after the 2008 recession. As so many people were heaved into unemployment, relatively few people were demanding that the federal government step in and employ everyone who needed a job. That demand—which was at the heart of the Black freedom movement—was also relatively mainstream from the 1940s-1970s. So, I wanted to understand how and why those struggles were unsuccessful, what people and institutions stifled these efforts. I also saw how the fear of wagelessness was a core feature of the modern economy and impacted more people than those who were wageless themselves. This fear is one of the things that still keeps people from quitting jobs in the face of sexual or racial harassment, for example. To me, the economic profitability of this fear is a key reason why even movements as strong as the civil rights movement found their efforts at achieving guaranteed jobs or income to be such a difficult task.

Alleviating unemployment and wagelessness was a core feature of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and continued to be a significant part of the agenda for Dr. King in the years before his assassination. And after 1968, it became a central component of Coretta Scott King’s work, as she co-founded and led the National Committee for Full Employment and the Full Employment Action Council (NCFE/FEAC). 

Jeanne Theoharis: I wrote this book, A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History, because I was increasingly dismayed at seeing the ways a national fable of the civil rights movement had become central to how the United States defined itself in the present. The book begins by examining the fable’s contemporary national uses, in particular putting the problem of racism and the struggle for Black freedom in the past and making the story of the movement one of American exceptionalism and the power of American democracy (almost as it we were destined to have a great civil rights movement). Exposing this became even more urgent as this fable has been weaponized against contemporary protest movements like Black Lives Matter which has been accused of being extreme and reckless and not going about it the right way like the civil rights movement did (when many of the criticisms of BLM are ones that were launched on the civil rights movement itself). The heart of the book looks at nine gaps and omissions in the fable and what a fuller history shows us: the movement in the North as well as the South; the role of ‘polite’ racism in maintaining racial injustice; how unpopular the civil rights movement was; how expansive its goals were (criminal justice, global justice, economic justice); and the variety of its leaders, particularly the roles of high school students and women. 

Thomas Jackson: I wrote From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Struggle for Economic Justice, to rescue King from America’s political amnesia over his radical opposition to features of American political economy and culture that outlasted the civil rights era. “Militarism, racism, and materialism” was King’s shorthand for labor exploitation and the economic exploitation of segregated Black communities. By the time I published the book, King’s mid-1960s radicalization had been widely noted, at least among scholars and activists who remained committed to realizing his dreams of peace, equality, and an end to American apartheid. More than other writers, I argued that King was already radical by 1964, even as he tailored his messages to liberal or moderate audiences in the contexts of Cold War anti-communism and liberal reform. Just as King never initiated any of the local movements to which he lent his talents and resources, many of his ideas and policy demands came from the practical lessons emergent in local movements and from larger ongoing debates about racism and poverty in the national black freedom movement and the democratic left. In black churches, universities, seminaries, local voters’ leagues, NAACP chapters, and trade unions, a complex tradition of religiously inspired democratic socialism carried over from the 1930s and 1940s and survived the post-World War II Red Scare.

Further, King learned from a global network of “colored cosmopolitans” that African Americans’ freedom struggle was part of a worldwide human rights revolution. As early as the 1950s, he called for world disarmament and a global war on poverty. His opposition to the Vietnam War in 1965 emerged from this lifelong internationalism. In short, King must be restored to history as an American radical who was catapulted into leadership of a mass movement, not as a singular genius, nor as someone who rose up suddenly against poverty and war when cities burned and Vietnamese villagers fled American napalm in 1965. King did not discover democratic socialism by going to Norway and Sweden in 1964. But King repeatedly cited these egalitarian societies as yardsticks for what the United States might become if it could muster the will to wage a real war on poverty. Few in the media or government heeded this message, in part because many powerful cultural gatekeepers, then and now, sought to limit his leadership to that of a southern civil rights leader and simple champion of nonviolence. King never consented to being straightjacketed as a “consensus leader,” but the contest to define his core beliefs and his legacy continue.

CBFS: All of you write about organizing for change, be it political, social, or economic. You tell histories previously unwritten as well as history reconsidered. Can you share with us the story of a King-related campaign that our readers might not be familiar with? 

Mary Frances Berry: Much of the importance of Martin Luther King lies in the work done in his name, by Coretta, after his assassination. The King Holiday and the Humphrey-Hawkins Act are some often overlooked examples. When Clinton embraced “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” LBGT groups asked Coretta to publicly denounce the idea. She and I talked, as we did at such times, and asked each other the usual two questions: What would Martin do (because she didn’t want to besmirch his memory in any way), and what would Martin say to keep the protest tradition alive and moving forward? She understood as well as he did, and sometimes better, what was necessary for human rights. Though the “men who had been with Martin” (except Joseph Lowery) said she shouldn’t get involved because it wasn’t Martin’s issue, she knew better. I went to Atlanta to stand with her as she announced her opposition to “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and her support for gays in the military.

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David Stein: I’m thrilled that Professor Berry brought up Coretta’s role in the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act, which is a significant part of my book. In a sense the seeds of that struggle were planted the decade before with the March on Washington, and then the campaign for a Freedom Budget for All Americans, which was led by Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph, and Leon Keyserling. Dr. King was a strong supporter of the Freedom Budget, writing the foreword to the pamphlet edition of it. As he explained, “the long journey ahead requires that we emphasize the needs of all America’s poor…we shall eliminate unemployment for Negroes when we demand full and fair employment for all.” Dr. King was interested in ensuring that this went beyond organizing pamphlets and moral pronouncements from politicians. He wanted policy change. As he put it, “it is not enough to project the Freedom Budget. We must dedicate ourselves to the legislative task to see that it is immediately and fully achieved.” In large measure Coretta Scott King was the person responsible for carrying out such an effort over the next decade as she fought for what would become the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act.

In her activism to support what would become that law, among many other things, she helped bring together Full Employment Action Week in September 1977. Her coalition organized actions in 300 cities across the country in which 1.5 million people took part. In Erie, PA, 40,000 people came to the full employment parade, which included 130 floats. Think about that—130 floats at a full employment parade in Erie. Can we imagine such an effort today? 60,000 people came to a 24-hour vigil in Buffalo. This is just a smattering. Coretta was a visionary organizer in her own right. As she put it, “I am not a ceremonial symbol—I am an activist.”

Millions of people have jobs right this second that they likely would not have if it were not for Federal Reserve’s mandate to facilitate maximum employment. This is what Coretta Scott King fought for. During Full Employment Action Week, she asked: “What good is the legal right to sit in a restaurant if one cannot afford the price of food?” But she would also insist that we not just celebrate her achievements. The Humphrey-Hawkins law said that “every effort shall be made to reduce those differences between the rates of unemployment among youth, women, minorities, handicapped persons, veterans, middle-aged and older persons and other labor force groups.” When we look at the discrepancies between the general unemployment rate and that of Black workers, transgender workers, formerly imprisoned people, and those most discriminated against in the labor market, we see clearly that this key provision not been achieved.

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Jeanne Theoharis: How lucky I am to be part of the conversation because I too have been thinking about what it means to center Coretta Scott King in this 50th anniversary year of King’s assassination. Coretta Scott King was arguably more political than Martin when they met and influenced his politics over their marriage —particularly his decision to come out publicly against the Vietnam War in 1967. She had been publicly against it for years and, upon his receiving the Nobel Prize in 1964, believed he now had a different responsibility to the world, and begun urging him to come out against US involvement in the war. When she gave a speech against the war in late 1965, a reporter questioned her husband whether he educated her and King said very pointedly, “No, she educated me.” Coretta Scott King is typically remembered for the ways she maintained and guarded his legacy—but perhaps the most important way she did that was making it a living legacy—extending the work on economic justice and global justice. In fact the FBI extended its surveillance of her for years after his assassination, fearing the ways she was tying the civil rights movement to the antiwar movement. 

But perhaps one of her most courageous moments comes much earlier on. In January 1956, five weeks into the bus boycott, their house is bombed with Coretta and baby Yolanda in it. This was an attempt to destabilize King and the movement. And both Coretta’s dad and Martin’s dad come down to Montgomery to insist at the very least that she and the baby leave. She refuses and continues on. The trajectory of the bus boycott and the emerging civil rights movement might have been very different if Coretta Scott King had flinched in that moment. 

Thomas Jackson: I am guessing that many people are familiar with the economic aspirations within the Southern voting rights movement, with the broad program of the Chicago Freedom Movement of 1965-1967 (the period of King’s involvement), with King’s vocal opposition to how the Vietnam War diverted national attention and resources from the war on poverty, and with the fact that he was murdered supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis while organizing a Poor People’s March on Washington. King’s lifelong involvement with labor unions in pursuit of a civil rights labor coalition has been the subject of fine work by Michael Honey. The Poor People’s March, however, still suffers from the condescension of the media of the day, and many subsequent biographers and historians of the freedom movement. Although the male leadership was in almost constant conflict, and although Resurrection City became a logistical and public relations nightmare that arguably diverted energies away from the kind of civil disobedience King envisioned, women such as Coretta Scott King, Marian Wright Edelman, and leaders of the National Welfare Rights Organization offered clear and penetrating criticisms, not only of a high unemployment, low wage economy, but of an increasingly punitive welfare “reform” program. 

I think it is also important to appreciate Coretta Scott King’s congressional testimony in favor of the King Holiday in 1979. While many Holiday sponsors colluded in presenting King, in Vincent Harding’s phrasing, as “a harmless dreamer of black and white children on the hillside,” Coretta Scott King insisted that the nation finally had an opportunity to shed sustained light on the long shadow of slavery, and to honor a man “who gave his life in a labor struggle.”

CBFS: Given the continuing struggles for racial and economic justice today, how does this history help us understand or act in our current moment? 

Mary Frances Berry: The work of ending racial injustice remains complicated. There’s the unfinished legacy of the Poor People’s Campaign and the not yet successful efforts at ending police violence and reforming the criminal justice system and protecting the right to vote and ending unequal education. The history tells us that voting and running for office is good and necessary but having elected officials is not enough. The lessons we have learned include that we must organize around policy issues not just individuals. It is not about celebrity or fame. Social media doesn’t make it really any easier to win in the end. It’s easier to get in touch but it’s also easier to be under opposition and government surveillance and to spread misinformation. To make change we must keep it simple. Be persistent and willing to sacrifice and stand by principle. A movement must have moral authority. Now, as then, the media won’t cover you if you don’t do something. Also, marches by themselves are insufficient. The poor people’s campaign was not just a march but an encampment. The Free South Africa Movement and anti-war protests were marches and more. Someone must be willing to be confrontational, to go through the fire. Resistance works to raise consciousness about issues even when change does not immediately follow.

David Stein: These struggles are unfinished. When I look around today at organizations from the Black Youth Project 100 to Critical Resistance to Center for Popular Democracy, I see groups that are continuing to fight for the goals of the Black freedom movement. The March on Washington included demands for guaranteed jobs and an end to police brutality—two of the most urgent issues on our contemporary agenda. Understanding this history can both inspire us to achieve these unfulfilled goals and also provide a sense of what type of power will be necessary to do so. The latter point is daunting. But an appropriate power analysis is a necessary starting point for any struggle.

Jeanne Theoharis: The title of my book comes from James Baldwin: “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” This history is far more sobering than we knew but also more beautiful—giving us more for how we struggle today. When we move from iconizing movements like the Montgomery bus boycott to actually studying and learning about them, we can see the importance of anger and disruption, of building long-term grassroots networks, of multiple tactics encompassing legal strategies, economic strategies, and grassroots organization, and of the power of collectivities in action in terms of expanding what seems possible. And in seeing and learning all these things, we can see how to do it again. It shows us the way forward in important ways. 

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Thomas Jackson: I can’t improve much on Jeanne’s final chapter on the “lessons” of the full history of the movement, nor on Mary’s lucid treatment of resistance to misguided presidential policies, nor on David’s groundbreaking work on full employment. I do think King and his circle are worth remembering for the breadth and experimentation of their strategies. Oppressed people need hope, inspiring victories, and homegrown leaders skilled at mobilizing people for protest and for sustained organization around the power of the vote. Above all, King would insist, they need allies. King’s coalitions were never stable nor able to muster the concentrated power to end the war or escalate the war on poverty. But they won signal victories, and continued to, most notably perhaps in 1974, when Shirley Chisholm’s leadership made possible a broad coalition behind realizing a central demand of the 1963 March on Washington: Inclusion of domestic workers in minimum wage protections.

The debates and dilemmas of the 1960s are worth recalling if only to help us think through our own. How do we balance local organizing and national and state policy advocacy? How do we help empower poor people collectively and economically when (then and now) most social policy debate is devoted to stabilizing “middle class security?” Can coalitions among people of color address the economic needs and psychic defenses of socially isolated poor whites? Are there opportunities for reviving religious social action to counter the power of conservative evangelical churches, or are progressive energies best fostered among less religious millennials involved in BLM or LGBTQ organizing? 

King and his generation made use of historically unprecedented opportunities, and they could not have predicted how much issues of mass immigration, mass incarceration, or global warming would intersect with and complicate their agendas. One thing I most admire about King is that he repeatedly sought to open dialogue with his enemies, and never stopped listening to young people and the people who went to “No House” as well as Morehouse.

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Spring 2018 Schedule

December 16, 2017

We're excited to announce our spring 2018 schedule for Conversations in Black Freedom Studies. From Abolition to Black Lives Matter, our conversations will be take up the question of how we organize to get free.

February 1: Black Resistance to Trump Tyranny

Haki Madhubuti
Michael Simanga
Noliwe Rooks

March 1: Revisiting the Uprisings of the 1960s

Laura Hill
Peter Levy
Aliyah Dunn-Salahuddin
Rosie Uyola

April 5: 50 Years After the Assassination of Martin Luther King

Mary Frances Berry
Jeanne Theoharis
Thomas Jackson
David Stein

May 3: Abolitionism and Slave Resistance

Manisha Sinha
Sasha Turner
Sowande Mustakeem

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3 Questions for our Authors

December 05, 2017

We will welcome Keona Ervin, Nishani Frazier, and Patrick Jones to the Schomburg on Thursday December 7th for our 43rd installment of Conversations in Black Freedom Studies. In anticipation of our discussion of Jim Crow in the Midwest, we asked our guests to tell us some more about their books.

Conversations in Black Freedom Studies: As we approach our discussion about Jim Crow in the Midwest, can you tell us more specifically what your book is about?

Keona Ervin: My book is about black women’s working-class politics in St. Louis and their role in shaping the course and trajectory of black freedom struggle in the city. I discuss the attempts by domestics, food processors, garment and needle trades laborers, defense employees, clerks, and the unemployed to change the material conditions of their lives and how this work contributed to building social democratic movements for racial and economic justice. I show how black women workers made use of the organizations that stood at the forefront of the battle to defend the economic rights of the black working-class, namely radical labor parties, the NAACP, the Urban League, the March on Washington Movement, some industrial unions, and local groups, to build a powerful case for defining black struggle as class struggle and economic justice.

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Patrick Jones: My work seeks to push the boundaries of Movement historiography beyond the South and into the urban North and Midwest.  My book focuses on the black freedom movement in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, particularly, but not exclusively, the historic open housing campaign that took place from 1967 to 1968.  The open housing campaign, which stretched on for more than 200 consecutive nights of marches and demonstrations, was met with “massive resistance” by thousands of hostile local whites and, ultimately, played an influential role in helping gain passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act in Congress.  This is a history, like most northern Movement history, that has been largely forgotten, or overlooked, particularly in the popular narrative of the civil rights and black power era.  My work complicates our thinking about when and where the black freedom movement is located; about the tactics and strategies employed in post-war campaigns for racial justice; about the relationship between local and national struggles; about the meaning of Black Power… and much more!

Nishani Frazier: My book traces the rise of Black Power within the Congress of Racial Equality. It focuses particularly on the rise of the Cleveland Chapter. It questions the idea that CORE started out as a nonviolent direct action organization. It’s actually more complicated than that. As CORE develops toward Black Power in the later 1960s it takes a turn toward economic development as their approach to Black Power. This is unique. Other groups like the NAACP turn toward a legal approach, SCLC continues as a religious organization and focuses on protest, SNCC turned fully toward Black Power but began to decline. CORE moves from integration to this idea of community organization, uplift and economic development.

CBFS: Your books each deal with organizing for change, be it political, social, or economic. Can you introduce us to one of the figures or organizations featured in your book?

Nishani Frazier: I'd like to introduce our audience to Ruth Turner, an African American woman from Oberlin, Ohio who played a key role in Black Power's rise in CORE.  She was leader of the Cleveland, Chapter but eventually moved up the ranks landing a seat on the National Action Council (NAC was CORE's advisory/action board).  Her service on NAC facilitateed the election of Floyd McKissick to the NAC chairmanship, which ultimately sealed his future as National Director of CORE. Turner was selected as McKissick's secretary but this obscures the power she wielded within CORE.  For many, Turner represented a kind of black power boogeywoman.  However, for black power advocates she helped to lead CORE toward a programmatic Black Power that targeted individual cities for political and economic transformation.  Her essay on Black Power is an important document of this history. I interviewed Ruth Turner and you can hear more from her directly on my website and from the well-known book of the era, Who Speaks for the Negro.

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Patrick Jones: There are a variety of fascinating figures in this history, but perhaps the most intriguing, or confounding, is a white Catholic priest, Father James Groppi. Father Groppi, an Italian-American who grew up on the city’s white, ethnic working-class South Side, served as the adviser to the Milwaukee NAACP Youth Council and Commandos (a self-defense group formed in the mid-1960s to protect non-violent civil rights activists from hostile white residents and abusive police) and who became a central public leader during the tumultuous open housing campaign.  Groppi’s participation in militant campaigns for racial justice raised a variety of contested questions at the time, locally, but also nationally:  What did it mean that a white, Catholic priest led a local Black Power movement in Milwaukee?  What was the proper role for white people in the struggle for racial justice?  What did Black Power mean, if a white guy played such a public role?  What was the responsibility of white Christians to participate in racial transformation during the 1960s?  For some, Father Groppi was both a race traitor and a religious traitor.  For others, he was a heroic figure and, as activist and comedian Dick Gregory said at the time, proof that Black Power was “not a color, but an attitude.” In 1967, the national NAACP named Father Groppi “the most effective, outstanding advisor to any Youth Council in the country” and the Associated Press voted him the “Newsmaker of the Year” in religion.  

Keona Ervin: Ora Lee Malone, a leading St. Louis labor organizer in the late twentieth century, is the figure who inspired my research. Malone’s St. Louis story, which stretched from the time that she migrated to St. Louis in 1951 to the 1980s, was one of trade unionism, the struggle for decent, full, and fair employment, a defense of public institutions, and women’s political leadership and voice within grassroots, and ostensibly, progressive organizations. Born in 1918 in segregated Brooksville, Mississippi Malone later moved to Mobile, Alabama where she joined the campaign for voting rights during the 1940s. A supporter of A. Philip Randolph, she shared his commitment to define black freedom in terms of the interests of the black working class. After approximately five years of working as a piece time worker, Malone and her colleagues unionized with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union. Malone became a shop steward and business representative for the union, and in the early 1970s, she organized St. Louis’s first multiracial women’s labor conference in which about four hundred gathered to discuss ways to organize those left out of or marginalized within the house of labor. A founding member of local chapters of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, the Women’s Political Caucus, and the Coalition of Labor Union Women, and as the chair of the Coalition Against Apartheid, Malone gained widespread recognition and respect from her colleagues because she practiced unionism as a community-based, women-centered, and fundamentally antiracist and democratic project. Her story inspired me to look into the forms of activism that set the stage for her emergence.

CBFS:Given the continuing struggles for racial justice today, how does this history you’ve written help us understand or act in our current moment?

Patrick Jones: Certainly, how we understand and tell the stories of our collective past shapes how we make sense of our present predicament and how we might best proceed into the future; this is the power of history. My work on Milwaukee highlights the reality of white reaction and “massive resistance” outside of the Deep South. It suggests a distinctiveness in northern struggles for justice, but also some regional inter-connectivity with southern campaigns. It brings to the fore the critical role of the Catholic Church as a mediating institution for race relations in the urban North and Midwest. It makes clear that militant non-violent direction held potential in the urban North and that Black Power was contested and locally defined. Finally, the Milwaukee open housing campaign played an important catalytic role in helping spur passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, what I often refer to as the forgotten civil rights act of the 1960s-era.

The unheralded story of Milwaukee and other northern movement centers raises a broader question that I think gets to the heart of the meaning of this history for us today and that is, why don’t we tell these Northern stories? Why is it that the open housing campaign in Milwaukee, which was national news at the time—and which faced “massive resistance” on par with or greater than more well-known and historically established southern campaigns in Birmingham, or Selma—and which played a similar catalytic role in spurring important national legislation, has not been remembered, or taken its rightful place in the national narrative of the civil rights and black power era? I think the answer lies, at least in part, in the fact that we tell the story of the southern movement as a mythic, redemptive story of American democracy, which allows significant numbers of people, particularly white folks, to embrace that history as heroic, in rather uncomplicated and unchallenging ways. But northern movement stories like the one I write about in Milwaukee offers, in the end, a fairly bleak portrait of racial failure and on-going urban crisis. Stories of the Movement era in the urban North and Midwest highlight the roots of the contemporary urban crisis and compel us to confront the pervasive and ongoing racial, economic and urban crisis in America in ways that are extremely unsettling for large numbers of Americans. But as difficult as this history is to confront, that is precisely why I think it is so important, because it might help us think critically and more deeply about the continuing racial tragedy in America, how this mess was created and perpetuated over many decades, and, perhaps, thereby fathom more constructive and effective solutions moving forward.

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Keona Ervin: The narrative I tell grounds contemporary battles for racial justice in the larger history of the black freedom struggle in St. Louis and Missouri. The Ferguson Uprising of 2014, the black campus movement at the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2015, the struggle of workers for a $15/hr minimum wage, and the repeal of right-to-work, collectively reflect the history of struggles for racial and economic justice in the city. There are powerful connections and continuities between past and present. Then and now, in terms of black and working-class life and the constraints placed around it, organizers framed St. Louis as an “every-city” and Missouri, by extension, as an “every-state.” St. Louis was, and is, a microcosm of race in the United States. Serving as the basis for major Supreme Court cases of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the city and state have long been battlegrounds over housing, citizenship, segregation, employment, and education. Taking a long view shows us that earlier struggles, which similarly focused on working-class living concerns and mobilized around black women’s political leadership, set the stage for what is unfolding in our moment.

Nishani Frazier: I take up this question in a recent essay I wrote on black economic development and its currency for black mayors struggling now. In that essay I note that Detroit's Coleman Young II aimed to join a new pantheon of elected or soon-to-be elected Black mayors. This group's uniqueness lies not in their race per se, but in their willingness to defy the Obama-era neoliberal, post-racial orthodoxy about municipal economic development. These new Black mayors are a resurgence of the old mixed with the sophisticated new. They are Black Political Power, 2.0. 

The new Black mayors tread a path well-traveled. Though some economic development policies reflect the spirit of the 1970s, there are lost opportunities to institutionalize these ideas beyond the mayor's tenure and to ensure that uplift equals or outpaces development. From Durham to Detroit, gentrification is the outcome of development without poor and working-class people. This is not to say that the radical city is impossible. The radical city is absolutely crucial for ending urban decline and economic inequality. However, if Black mayors ignore history, they remove one of the most important tools for community transformation. And the city revitalizes while the people are once again left behind. 

I talk more about this is a recent podcast, Black Power Vs. Black Capitalism.

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Schedule for the Fall 2017 Season

August 10, 2017

Join us this fall for these exciting and urgent conversations! CBFS is held from 6-8 on the first Thursday of each month at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Check back later in the month for more updates.

September 7 - Fifty Years After the Newark and Detroit Uprisings

50 years after rebellion and repression in Newark and Detroit, the causes, meanings and legacies of the urban uprisings of the 1960s remain controversial. Were hundreds of Black Rebellions the “Harvest of Racism”?

Guest include Say Burgin, Mark Krasovic, and Junius Williams.

October 5 - The Fannie Lou Hamer Centennial and Black Women's Organizing Traditions

Out of the shadows of the John F. Kennedy centennial, join the Fannie Lou Hammer Centennial (1917-2017). Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer set the pace for the Mississippi Freedom Movement in the 1960s, knocking down Jim Crow barriers, protesting the Vietnam War, and fighting American poverty. In South Carolina, Septima Clark pioneered the Grassroots organizing tradition with the Citizenship Schools, while in the Jim Crow North the Black Women’s United Front established African Free Schools and insisted on women’s rights of self-defense against white terror.

Guests include Katherine Charron, Ashley Farmer, Charles Payne, and Gloria Richardson.

November 2 - The Black Freedom Struggle and the Strange Career of Jim Crow New York

The Black freedom struggle against Jim Crow New York is one of the most protracted yet criminally neglected movements for human rights in the USA.

Guests include Tahir Butt, Brian Purnell, and Christopher Tinson.

December 7 - The Black Freedom Struggle and the Strange Career of Jim Crow in the Midwest

The face of employment discrimination was unmasked by the March on Washington Movement in Detroit’s auto plants in the 1940s. The face of killer cops was revealed by Fred Hampton and the Black Panthers and by Cha Cha Jimenez and the Young Lords in Chicago. The face of religious discrimination was exposed by Rev. Albert Cleage and Black Christian Nationalism in Detroit. The face of cultural imperialism was exposed by the Black Arts Renaissance from Detroit to Chicago. And the faces of housing and employment discrimination were protested by the NAACP in Milwaukee.

Guests include Keona Ervin, Nishani Frazier, and Patrick Jones.

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Schedule for the Spring 2017 Season

November 04, 2016

This spring Conversations in Black Freedom Studies will bring together a host of experts to address several burning issues: Decades of movements to stop killer cops and police brutality; the legacy of Black Power and  especially women in the Black Panther Party 50 years later; and the historic contributions of the Black sports ethos of women and men to the freedom struggle. Check back soon for more details, additions, and updates.

February 2: Black Power at 50

With Jamala Rogers, Mark Speltz, Stephen Ward, and Komozi Woodard 

March 2: Intersectional Black Panther History Project

With Angela LeBlanc Ernest, Robyn Spencer, Mary Phillips, and Tracye Matthews 

April 6: Black Athletes and the Freedom Struggle 

With John Smith and Jennifer Lansbury 

May 4: The Long history of Police Brutality and the Fight Against It 

With Clarence Taylor, Cathy Schneider, and Michael Flamm

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Schedule for the Fall 2016 Season

June 17, 2016

This fall semester, the Conversations in Black Freedom Studies will feature experts to address four critical issues: 1) the menace of white terror and criminal injustice against the Black community in general and Black women in particular; 2) the gift of Black & Puerto Rican Renaissance and the Northern organizing tradition from New York to Chicago; 3) The road from the War on Poverty 50 Years Later to the criminalization of the poor under the mask of welfare reform; and 4) the new research honoring the militant role of Black Women Radicals in the freedom struggle, including Gloria Richardson and Mae Mallory.

Our events are held the first Thursday of the month from 6-8 pm. Be sure to stay in touch with us through this website and follow us on Facebook at @BlackFreedomStudies and on Twitter at @SchomburgCBFS. And you can RSVP through Eventbrite to reserve your seats.

September 1 – Black Women and the Criminal Justice System

with Keisha Blain, Sarah Haley, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

October 6 – Northern Organizing and Cultural Renaissance

with Deborah Cullen-Morales, Erik Gellman, Anne Knupfer, and Yasmin Ramirez

November 3 – The War on Poverty at 50

with Elizabeth Hinton, Alejandra Marchevsky, and Crystal Sanders

December 1– Honoring the Legacy of Black Women Radicals Gloria Richardson and Mae Mallory

with Ashley Farmer, Joseph Fitzgerald, and Gloria Richardson

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Schedule for the Spring 2016 Season

January 02, 2016

The Spring 2016 Season of Conversations in Black Freedom Studies will begin on February 4th! This is the next in our series at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Our events are held the first Thursday of the month from 6-8 pm. Be sure to stay in touch with us through this website and follow us on Twitter at @SchomburgCBFS. Remember to RSVP through Eventbrite to reserve your seats.

February 4 – Black Power and Political Repression

with Rhonda Williams, Kenneth Janken, Erik McDuffie

March 3 – Women in the Black Panther Party

with Robyn Spencer, Ericka Huggins, Mary Phillips

April 7 – The Church and the Struggle 

with Jennifer Scanlon, Genna Rae McNeil, Kevin McGruder

May 5 – Educational Injustice and Organizing

with Matt Delmont, Ansley Erickson, Carla Shedd 

June 2 – The Struggle against Racism and Repression

with Aram Goudsouzian, Aldon Morris and Caleb Smith

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Schedule for the Fall 2015 season

August 26, 2015

The Fall 2015 Season will begin on September 3rd! This is the next in our series of conversations at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Our events are held the first Thursday of the month from 6-8 pm. Be sure to stay in touch with us through this website and follow us on Twitter at @SchomburgCBFS.We have posted the full schedule.

Do RSVP through Eventbrite to reserve your seats.

September 3rd

Fallen Freedom Fighters: An Evening Commemorating the Lives of Maya Angelou, Chokwe Lumumba, General Baker, Thelma Dale and Amiri Baraka

with Farah Jasmine Griffin, Dayo Gore, Robyn Spencer, Akinyele Umoja and Komozi Woodard

October 1st

The Young Lords Party

with Johanna Fernandez, Jose Cha-Cha Jimenez, Felipe Luciano, Denise Oliver-Velez, and Wilson Valentin

November 5

Protest, Women, and Performance

with Ruth Feldstein, Tanisha Ford and Sherie Randolph

December 3

Problems with History of Racial Policing in NYC

with Mary Frances Berry, LaShawn Harris and Shannon King

And, be sure to check out all our past sessions, with video recordings.

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Schedule for the Spring 2015 season

December 11, 2014

  • Malcolm X
  • Daisy Bates

Our next season is shaping out to be another excellent series of conversations at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Our events are held the first Thursday of the month from 6-8 pm. Be sure to stay in touch with us through this website and follow us on Twitter at @SchomburgCBFS.

February 5 -- 50th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X: Malcolm X and Black Radical Women
with Rosemary Mealy, Komozi Woodard and Gloria Richardson

March 5 -- Race and the Criminal Justice System: Political Prisoners, Resistance, and Mass Incarceration Part I
with Bryan Stevenson, Dan Berger and Victoria Law

April 2 -- Race and the Criminal Justice System: Political Prisoners, Resistance, and Mass Incarceration Part II
with Laura Whitehorn, Ruth Gilmore, Arun Kundnani

May 7 -- Black and Brown Coalitions
with Sonia Lee, Alejandra Marchevsky and Johanna Fernandez

The Schomburg Center is located at 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, New York, NY 10037.

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Fall 2014 season starts September 4th

September 02, 2014

CBFS is set to kick off the Fall 2014 season this Thursday September 4th with a timely conversation on the urban crisis and the Black Revolt

The time is ripe to revisit the unfinished agenda of the Black Revolt against the urban crisis: What is to be done? The Stop Killer Cops Campaign has a rich yet neglected history from the shooting of black children in Brooklyn in the 1970s to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014. 
This roundtable of experts will unpack the congested issues of the urban crisis and suggest some current alternatives. Clarence Taylor is a pioneering expert on Civil Rights in the Jim Crow North, writing a book on the history of police brutality in NYC. Junius Williams is a veteran of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or SNCC and the Students for a Democratic Society or SDS, who pioneered advocacy planning and community development. Mr. Williams will discuss his memoir, Unfinished Agenda: Urban Politics in the Era of Black Power. And, Robert Curvin is a veteran of the Congress of Racial Equality or CORE in Essex County, New Jersey, former dean at the New School & past member of the New York Times editorial board, who has stayed on the cutting edge of alternative community development and economic empowerment from his work at the Ford Foundation to his teaching at Rutgers University. Mr. Curvin will discuss his new book, with an overview of those issues in Inside Newark: Decline, Rebellion, and the Search for Transformation. 

-- Komozi Woodard

Be sure to register for the event.

And remember to checkout  the schedule for the rest of the season!

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NEH Summer 2015 Seminar

August 25, 2014

Rethinking Black Freedom Studies in the Jim Crow North

Deadline: March 2, 2015
Dates: June 15-June 26 (2 weeks)
Project Directors: Komozi Woodard, Sarah Lawrence College, and Jeanne Theoharis, Brooklyn College, CUNY
Location: Bronxville, NY
For more information:  kwoodard@sarahlawrence.edu (914) 395-2427

Supported by a grant from the  National Endowment of the Humanities

Many faculty working in this area, particularly younger scholars, would like to deepen their knowledge of this burgeoning field of study as well as work on their own scholarship in the company of others versed in the subject. Thus, the time is ripe to reform the college curriculum on the Black Freedom Struggle and to convene a summer workshop specifically devoted to producing scholarship in this area.

For decades the academic disciplines focused exclusively on the history of the Civil Rights struggle in the Jim Crow South, neglecting the rich and critical legacy of the Black Freedom struggle from the Jim Crow North to the Jim Crow West. This seminar would introduce the emerging paradigm in Black Freedom Studies that is replacing the old master narrative in terms of leadership, geography, chronology, economy, and polity.

The old paradigm of Civil Rights as an exclusively Southern history and Black Power as a predominantly Northern phenomenon has been powerfully challenged by a new generation of scholarship that analyzes the Civil Rights & Black Power movements in several regions and numerous locations in the United States. The old North-South and Civil Rights-Black Power dichotomies blinded scholars to serious problems in the logic of geography, chronology, economy and policy, as well as stories of leadership and culture that blended approaches. In fact, similar to the lives of many of the activists who worked in both the South and North, the story is intertwined. For instance, the 1950s Montgomery Bus Boycott was preceded by the Harlem Bus Boycott of the 1940s. Angered by the bus boycott and Northern hypocrisy, the Montgomery Advertiser, the main Montgomery newspaper, took to running articles during the boycott year on Northern towns with attitudes and practices similar to Montgomery. Rosa Parks herself was forced to leave Montgomery and moved to Detroit—“the promised land that wasn’t” as she termed it—where she would spend the second half of her life challenging racial inequality in the city. Yet, in the old master narrative, that half of her life was historically invisible.

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