In 2021, Black Perspectives commissioned several roundtables and calls for papers. All of them either marked the occasion of an important book in the broad field of Black intellectual history or commemorated a historic event in African American history. In either case, we were fortunate to publish pieces by historians dedicated to the idea that Black intellectual history offers plenty of opportunities for conversation about not just the past, but where that past has led us to in the present.
Black Perspectives 2021 in roundtables began with one dedicated to the book We Are Not Slaves: State Violence, Coerced Labor, and Prisoners’ Rights in Postwar America by Robert T. Chase. Contributors to the roundtable included Amanda Hughett, Dan Berger, Timothy Stewart-Winter, Shannon King, Cheryl D. Hicks, and Charlene J. Fletcher. The contributors examined various facets of Chase’s book, which probes the history of how prisoners in Texas organized to fight the cruel conditions of their imprisonment. “We Are Not Slaves,” argued contributor Amanda Hughett, “offers readers a glimpse into the messy and circuitous ways in which imprisoned people’s legal claims shaped modern prison policy.” Modern debates about the carceral state and prison abolition have much to learn from this book—and the roundtable for it.
The second roundtable of 2021 was devoted to Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership. Julia Rabig, Kimberley S. Johnson, Paige Glotzer, and Jessica Ann Levy all penned thoughtful and thorough responses to Taylor’s critical work. For all of them, Race for Profit illustrated the need for more people to understand the relationship between race, class, and capital in modern American history. One of the strengths of all the roundtables was the ability of various scholars to tie the work to their own specialties—in the process, giving readers an even deeper understanding of the true value of each book. For example, Jessica Ann Levy’s work tied Taylor’s work on “predatory inclusion” to the problem of neo-colonialism in late 20th century Africa.
Pauulu’s Diaspora: Black Internationalism and Environmental Justice received a roundtable in June-July 2021. The winner of the 2021 Pauli Murray Book Prize for the African American Intellectual History Society, Quito Swan’s book prompted a timely and engaging discussion at the blog about Black internationalism, environmental justice, and the many ways the Black diaspora sought connections amongst itself in the twentieth century. Contributors Adam Ewing, Robbie Shilliam, Amanda Joyce Hall, and Nicole Bourbonnais all hailed the book as a welcome contribution to a growing literature on Black internationalism. For example, Adam Ewing put forth the idea in his essay that Swan “offers us a new map of Black Power, one that should invite scrutiny and exploration for years to come.”
Another summertime roundtable focused on the idea of “contested citizenship.” Dealing with the fallout of the Black Lives Matter movement and the 2020 election, “contested citizenship” brought together a number of scholars to consider critical questions about the relationship between Black intellectual history and the idea of citizenship in American history. Contributors Sandy Darity, Charles Ali Bey, Kerri Greenidge, Phillip V. McHarris, Louis Moore, Crystal Webster, and Martha Jones all traced a variety of links between slavery, segregation, modern debates about race, and the ever-perplexing question of who counts as an American citizen. As Lisa Monroe, organizer of the event, wrote in her introductory essay about the pieces, “they portray a story of the unrelenting challenge to Black people’s citizenship in America.”
A constant theme through the roundtables was how Black thought and action has never been confined to the borders of the United States. Our final roundtable for 2021, “Digitizing Black Atlantics,” not only pushed readers to think about the myriad ways how the Black Diaspora has affected history, but how the digital humanities can play a crucial role in chronicling this story. Organizer Rachel Anne Gillett, along with contributors Annette Joseph-Gabriel, Roopika Risam, Anna Stibbe, Maiah Akkerman Letsche, and Hanna de Korte, pushed forward how the digital humanities still have great utility as a tool for compiling information on the Black Atlantic of the past several hundred years. Utilizing the “Black Atlantic” approach pushed forward by Paul Gilroy, Gillett argued that the forum didn’t “simply honor his work but expands on it and shows how it continues to generate new insights and disruptions.”
In addition to those roundtables, several call for papers were circulated during 2021 to encourage readers of Black Perspectives to participate in the blog’s year-round celebration and discussion of Black history. Our two CFPs, centering on the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 and the Juneteenth celebration, welcomed plenty of new and familiar faces to the blog to talk about key milestones in Black history. While the two forums covered different events, there was a common theme of memory—in this case, how Black people in the United States have kept alive memories, good and bad, of the past that had been forgotten or purposefully ignored by the larger white community. “Remembrance” has been a hallmark of Black intellectual history. Both of these forums, and the numerous roundtables hosted in 2021, were a testament to this.
In 2022, be on the lookout for more roundtables and special CFPs as well. Black Perspectives continues to showcase the digital conversations among historians, scholars, and curious but interested laypeople, surrounding Black intellectual history.permission.