Upcoming Roundtables and Forums

Online Roundtable on Judith Weisenfeld’s New World A-Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity during the Great Migration (New York University Press, 2017)
*In collaboration with the Journal of Africana Religions*
September 25-30, 2017

Participants: Rhon Manigault-Bryant (Williams College); Danielle Sigler (University of Texas at Austin); Emily Clark (Gonzaga University); Tisa Wenger (Yale University); Chernoh Sesay, Jr. (DePaul University)

About the book

When Joseph Nathaniel Beckles registered for the draft in the 1942,  he rejected the racial categories presented to him and persuaded the registrar to cross out the check mark she had placed next to Negro and substitute “Ethiopian Hebrew.”  “God did not make us Negroes,” declared religious leaders in black communities of the early twentieth-century urban North. They insisted that so-called Negroes are, in reality, Ethiopian Hebrews, Asiatic Muslims, or raceless children of God. Rejecting conventional American racial classification, many black southern migrants and immigrants from the Caribbean embraced these alternative visions of black history, racial identity, and collective future, thereby reshaping the black religious and racial landscape.

Focusing on the Moorish Science Temple, the Nation of Islam, Father Divine’s Peace Mission Movement, and a number of congregations of Ethiopian Hebrews, Judith Weisenfeld argues that the appeal of these groups lay not only in the new religious opportunities membership provided, but also in the novel ways they formulated a religio-racial identity. Arguing that members of these groups understood their religious and racial identities as divinely-ordained and inseparable, the book examines how this sense of self shaped their conceptions of their bodies, families, religious and social communities, space and place, and political sensibilities.

Weisenfeld draws on extensive archival research and incorporates a rich array of sources to highlight the experiences of average members. The book demonstrates that the efforts by members of these movements to contest conventional racial categorization contributed to broader discussions in black America about the nature of racial identity and the collective future of black people that still resonate today.

Online Forum–Black October: The Russian Revolution and the African Diaspora
October 30 – November 4, 2017

Moderators: Jennifer Wilson (University of Pennsylvania) and Jennifer Suchland (Ohio State University)

Participants: Hakim Adi (University of Chichester), Kate Ellen Cowcher (Stanford University)Rossen Djagalov (New York University)Raquel Greene (Grinnell College), Christina Kiaer (Northwestern University)Russell Rickford (Cornell University); Denise Lynn (University of Southern Indiana) 

Claude McKay (right) in Moscow

Marking the 100th anniversary of 1917, the online forum, “Black October: The Russian Revolution and the African Diaspora,” will explore the Russian Revolution and its consequences for the Black diaspora. Bolshevik Russia’s emergence as a worker’s state with global ambitions precipitated myriad aesthetic, cultural and political projects wherein black activists and intellectuals explored the potential for viable alternatives to capitalism. In kind, the Soviet Union sought to cultivate a global black proletariat by nurturing these projects using hard and soft power. Multi-directional in scope, “Black October” will highlight this back and forth, exploring both the impact of the Russian Revolution on the Black diaspora and the newly emerging discourses regarding black subjectivity produced by the Soviet experiment.

Online Roundtable on Devyn Spence Benson’s Antiracism in Cuba: The Unfinished Revolution (University of North Carolina Press,2016)
November 6-11, 2017

ParticipantsAisha Finch (UCLA); Nancy Raquel Mirabal (University of Maryland); Melina Pappademos (University of Connecticut Storrs); Yesenia Barragan (Dartmouth College); and Sandy Placido (Oberlin College)

About the book

Analyzing the ideology and rhetoric around race in Cuba and south Florida during the early years of the Cuban revolution, Devyn Spence Benson argues that ideas, stereotypes, and discriminatory practices relating to racial difference persisted despite major efforts by the Cuban state to generate social equality. Drawing on Cuban and U.S. archival materials and face-to-face interviews, Benson examines 1960s government programs and campaigns against discrimination, showing how such programs frequently negated their efforts by reproducing racist images and idioms in revolutionary propaganda, cartoons, and school materials.

Building on nineteenth-century discourses that imagined Cuba as a raceless space, revolutionary leaders embraced a narrow definition of blackness, often seeming to suggest that Afro-Cubans had to discard their blackness to join the revolution. This was and remains a false dichotomy for many Cubans of color, Benson demonstrates. While some Afro-Cubans agreed with the revolution’s sentiments about racial transcendence–“not blacks, not whites, only Cubans”–others found ways to use state rhetoric to demand additional reforms. Still others, finding a revolution that disavowed blackness unsettling and paternalistic, fought to insert black history and African culture into revolutionary nationalisms. Despite such efforts by Afro-Cubans and radical government-sponsored integration programs, racism has persisted throughout the revolution in subtle but lasting ways.

Online Roundtable on Keri Leigh Merritt’s Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South (Cambridge University Press, 2017)
Spring 2018 (Final Dates TBA)

Participants: Adrienne Petty (The City University of New York); Michael Landis (Tarleston State University); Jessica Parr (Simmons College); Chad Pearson (Collin College); Jeffrey P. Forrett (Lamar University); and Calvin Schermerhorn (Arizona State University)

About the Book

Analyzing land policy, labor, and legal history, Keri Leigh Merritt reveals what happens to excess workers when a capitalist system is predicated on slave labor. With the rising global demand for cotton – and thus, slaves – in the 1840s and 1850s, the need for white laborers in the American South was drastically reduced, creating a large underclass who were unemployed or underemployed. These poor whites could not compete – for jobs or living wages – with profitable slave labor. Though impoverished whites were never subjected to the daily violence and degrading humiliations of racial slavery, they did suffer tangible socio-economic consequences as a result of living in a slave society. Merritt examines how these ‘masterless’ men and women threatened the existing Southern hierarchy and ultimately helped push Southern slaveholders toward secession and civil war.

Online Roundtable on Ashley D. Farmer’s Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed An Era  (University of North Carolina Press, 2017)
*In collaboration with the Journal of Civil and Human Rights*
Spring 2018 (Final Dates TBA)

Participants: Akinyele Umoja (Georgia State University); Mary Phillips (Lehman College, CUNY); Joshua Clark Davis (University of Baltimore); Angela LeBlanc-Ernest (Independent Scholar); Jakobi Williams (Indiana University, Bloomington); Nishani Frazier (Miami University)

About the Book

In this comprehensive history, Ashley D. Farmer examines black women’s political, social, and cultural engagement with Black Power ideals and organizations. Complicating the assumption that race and gender constraints relegated black women to the margins of the movement, Farmer demonstrates how female activists fought for more inclusive understandings of Black Power and social justice by developing new ideas about black womanhood. This compelling book shows how the new tropes of womanhood that they created–the “Militant Black Domestic,” the “Revolutionary Black Woman,” and the “Third World Woman,” for instance–spurred debate among activists over the centrality of gender to Black Power ideologies, ultimately causing many of the era’s organizations and collectives to adopt a more radical critique of patriarchy.

Making use of a vast and untapped array of black women’s artwork, political cartoons, manifestos, and political essays that they produced as members of groups such as the Black Panther Party and the Congress of African People, Farmer reveals how black women activists reimagined black womanhood, challenged sexism, and redefined the meaning of race, gender, and identity in American life.

Online Roundtable on Ula Yvette Taylor’s The Promise of Patriarchy: Women and the Nation of Islam (University of North Carolina Press, 2017)
*In collaboration with the Journal of Civil and Human Rights*
Summer 2018 (Final Dates TBA)

Participants: Gerald Horne (University of Houston); Erik S. McDuffie (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign); Robyn Spencer (Lehman College, CUNY); Ashley Farmer (Boston University); and Asia Leeds (Spelman College)

About the Book

The patriarchal structure of the Nation of Islam (NOI) promised black women the prospect of finding a provider and a protector among the organization’s men, who were fiercely committed to these masculine roles. Black women’s experience in the NOI, however, has largely remained on the periphery of scholarship. Here, Ula Taylor documents their struggle to escape the devaluation of black womanhood while also clinging to the empowering promises of patriarchy. Taylor shows how, despite being relegated to a lifestyle that did not encourage working outside of the home, NOI women found freedom in being able to bypass the degrading experiences connected to labor performed largely by working-class black women and in raising and educating their children in racially affirming environments.

Telling the stories of women like Clara Poole (wife of Elijah Muhammad) and Burnsteen Sharrieff (secretary to W. D. Fard, founder of the Allah Temple of Islam), Taylor offers a compelling narrative that explains how their decision to join a homegrown, male-controlled Islamic movement was a complicated act of self-preservation and self-love in Jim Crow America.


Online Roundtable on Keisha N. Blain’s Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018)
*In collaboration with the Journal of Civil and Human Rights and the Labor & Working-Class History Association (LAWCHA)
Summer 2018 (Final Dates TBA)

ParticipantsRobert Trent Vinson (William and Mary)Carole Boyce Davies (Cornell University); Clarence Lang (University of Kansas)Kennetta Hammond Perry (East Carolina University)Brandon Byrd (Vanderbilt University)

About the book

Set the World on Fire is the first book of its kind to examine how black nationalist women engaged in national and global politics from the early twentieth century to the 1960s. In this new and original study, historian Keisha N. Blain charts the diverse ideas and activism of a group of unsung black nationalist women such as Mittie Maude Lena Gordon, Celia Jane Allen, Ethel Waddell, Amy Jacques Garvey, Amy Ashwood Garvey, and Maymie Leona Turpeau De Mena. In various locales in the United States, including Chicago, Harlem, and the Mississippi Delta, and in other parts of the globe, including Britain and Jamaica, these women emerged as key leaders in national and transnational political movements, agitating for the rights and liberation of black people.

While historians generally portray the period between the Garvey movement of the 1920s and Black Power as an era of declining black nationalist activism, this book reframes the Great Depression, Second World War and early Cold War as significant eras of black nationalist ferment. Drawing on a variety of previously untapped sources, including archival materials, historical newspapers, government records, songs and poetry, the book highlights the interplay between national and geopolitical issues and makes visible the diverse and creative ways black nationalist women built transnational networks with a diverse group of activists across the globe.