A Sampling of 2021 Black Perspectives Posts: January to June

Black Power Mural, Lexington Ave., Harlem, NY, 1970 (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The year in blogging for Black Perspectives in 2021 was one that was dedicated to both the usual cutting edge in Black intellectual history, and also often responding to the whirlwind of news and events in a tumultuous year. In the process, the year produced numerous posts that approached Black intellectual history from a variety of aspects. Several broad themes could be seen in the year in blogging: memory (or forgetting, in many cases); identity and self-identification for people of African descent; science and Black intellectual history; and Black internationalism. In this and tomorrow’s post, the editors of Black Perspectives reflect on the year in blogging by highlighting several posts that show the unique and creative aspects of Black intellectual history. 

In January, a 3-part interview jointly published with Science for the People showcased the life and times of Sam Anderson, writer of several books on the intersection of the histories of slavery and science, as well as the first department chair of Black Studies at Sarah Lawrence College in 1969-70. The interview was a critical example of how Black intellectual history’s contours stretch far beyond the usual suspects of a Du Bois, Garvey, or King, and that there is still much to be gleaned from looking at the dynamic interplay between Black thought and science. 

In February, Koritha Mitchell’s essay titled “The Resilience of Black Love in Black History” wrote a different history of Black America—one where love was the centerpiece. It gave readers the opportunity to think about the many well-known married couples in Black history in a historicized light. At the same time, Mitchell also pointed out how, throughout American history, the Black family—and Black love—have not been granted the proper respect, especially in popular culture. “Then and now,” she wrote, “American culture ensures that few would ever suspect Black people’s consistent, stable history with marriage.” 

Names have always been an integral part of Black American identity. E. James West’s piece from March 2021, “Naming and Self-Identification in the Black Community,” tied naming practices to the study of Black intellectual history. In this case, West discussed the use of “Negro” in the title Journal of Negro Education. While other journals, such as the Journal of African American History eschewed their former use of “Negro,” the Journal of Negro Education persists in doing so. A number of factors have contributed to the journal not changing its name, including practical concerns such as the cost of changing stationery and other products for the organization. But West also noted that “Perhaps the most compelling reason for why the journal’s name remains unchanged is continued affection for its original title.” Self-identification is a critical part of Black American history, and as West showed in his essay, it includes a variety of factors. 

Many of the bloggers for Black Perspectives took the opportunity to write in response to current events. Jessica Parr’s April essay on the fate of the remains of those killed in the MOVE bombing in 1985 is one such example. “To a Black community angry and grieving over the bombing,” wrote Parr, “the fact that the Philadelphia Medical Examiner turned the remains of Black children over to an institution with a troubling history involving Black remains will not be a satisfactory answer.” The tragedy of the MOVE bombing in 1985 has since been compounded by the painful history of the fate of the remains from that fateful day. Further, it is a reminder of a longer history of people of color in American history being treated with disdain and inhumanity, from their birth to beyond even their deaths. 

What is forgotten—often intentionally—by most Americans is usually kept alive in the memory of Black America. Such is the case with the Augusta Riot of 1970, which claimed the lives of 6 people and served as a critical flashpoint during the tumultuous 1970s. John Hayes and Nefertiti Robinson wrote about their effort to push the city of Augusta to actually commemorate what happened that day. Hayes and Robinson wrote, “Not just for Augusta, but for the nation, the real story of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s riots needs to be recovered, past the layers of white backlash, past the injustice, past disparate class trajectories.” Remembering the Augusta riot, the Jackson State Massacre of that same year, or the Orangeburg Massacre of 1968—just to cite several examples—means a proper reckoning with the recent past of violence and racial discrimination in American life. 

Hip Hop stands out in the early 21st century as a genre of music that can explain much about Black intellectual thought. The interaction between intellectuals and the creative arts is well-documented, but Mickell Carter’s essay on hip hop artist Rod Wave and his latest album, Soul Fly, put into intellectual context a recent album of rap music. Carter situated Wave’s work in the broader context of a culture of resistance among African Americans showcased in music. At the same time, Carter also argued Soul Fly celebrated a different kind of masculinity within Black music. “Thus, Soul Fly recuperates Black masculinity,” wrote Carter, “as it provides listeners with a glimpse into a Black man’s desires of love, struggle for survival, and quest for mental tranquility.” 

These were just a sampling of the many posts we had in the first six months of 2021. Tomorrow, a review of posts from July through December demonstrates that many of the themes of early 2021—which sought to rethink how we considered Black intellectual history—continue the themes of an expansive definition of this history.

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Robert Greene II

Robert Greene II is an assistant professor of history at Claflin University and Senior Editor of Black Perspectives. He studies American history after 1945 with a focus on the American South, political history, and memory. Follow him on Twitter @robgreeneII.