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.


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.


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.


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: (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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