Online Forum–Black Intellectuals and the Crisis of Democracy

MLK Jr., Angela Davis, Malcolm X, and Amiri Baraka. 2021 mural by Ernest Shaw, Baltimore (LOC).

January 16, 2023 to January 23, 2023

Black Perspectivesthe award-winning blog of the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS), is hosting an online forum on the theme of Black Intellectuals and the Crisis of Democracy. Organized by Robert Green II, the online forum brings together scholars to discuss how Black intellectuals have challenged the limits of American democracy. The online forum begins on Monday, January 16, and concludes on Monday, January 23rd. The forum will feature contributions from M. Keith Claybrook, Amy Kittelstrom, Clay Matlin, Tom Cryer, R. Drew Smith, and Brandon Render.

During the online forum, Black Perspectives will publish new blog posts every day at 6:00AM EST. Please follow Black Perspectives (@BlkPerspectives) and AAIHS (@AAIHS) on Twitter, like AAIHS on Facebook, or subscribe to our blog for updates. By subscribing to Black Perspectives, each new post will automatically be delivered to your inbox during the week of the roundtable.

About the Organizer

Robert Greene II is an Assistant Professor of History in the Department of Humanities at Claflin University. Dr. Greene serves as book reviews editor and blogger for the Society of U.S. Intellectual Historians. He also serves as Chief Instructor for the South Carolina Progressive Network’s Modjeska Simkins School of Human Rights. Along with Tyler D. Parry, Dr. Greene is the co-editor of Invisible No More: The African American Experience at the University of South Carolina(University of South Carolina Press, 2021). He is also working on his first solo-authored book, examining the role of Southern African Americans in the Democratic Party from 1964 through the 1990s. Finally, Dr. Greene has published several articles and book chapter on the intersection of memory, politics, and African American history, and has written for numerous popular publications, including The Nation, Oxford American, Dissent, Scalawag, Jacobin, In These Times, Politico, and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @robgreeneII.

About the Participants

Keith Claybrook, Jr., Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Africana Studies at CSU, Long Beach where he teaches classes on history and the social sciences. Claybrook serves on CSU, Long Beach’s Presidents Commission on Equity and Change Commission, and served two terms as VP of the Black Faculty and Staff Association and. He regularly attends conferences such as the National Conference of Black Studies National conference, the African Heritage Studies Association, Sixth Region Diaspora Caucus conference, and other conferences where he has presented on a diversity of topics including Black student activism, the Black Students Movement, Black Los Angeles, educational history, African Deep Thought and critical thinking, identity and consciousness, reparations, Hip Hop, and pedagogy. He has also published book reviews, journal articles, encyclopedia entries, and book chapters. His publications include, Building the Basics: A Handbook for Pursuing Academic Excellence in Africana Studies, “Putting Some Soul into Critical Thinking: Toward an African Centered Approach to Critical Thinking,” “Africana Studies, 21st Century Black Student Activism, and High Impact Educational Practices: A Biographical Sketch of David C. Turner, III,” “David L. Horne: A Living Example of a Pan African Leader Scholar- Activist,” and “Black Power, and Black Students, and the Institutionalizing of Change: Loyola Marymount University, 1968- 1978.” Claybrook has lent his expertise on “Today in L.A.” on NBC4, KJLH’s “Front Page with Dominque DePrima,” KPCC- NPR on “AirTalk with Larry Mantle,” and several other television, print, and internet media outlets.

Amy Kittelstrom (PhD Boston University 2004) is a Professor of History at Sonoma State University who specializes in modern thought and culture. She is the author of The Religion of Democracy: Seven Liberals and the American Moral Tradition (Penguin, 2015) and has published essays and reviews in Modern Intellectual History, the Journal of American History, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Washington Post, and elsewhere. Kittelsrom has held fellowships from the Center for Religion and American Life at Yale University, the Charles Warren Center at Harvard University, and the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University. Her manuscript-in-progress is This Division in Our House: James Baldwin and the Myth of America.

Clay Matlin has a PhD in American history from the University of Rochester, where he wrote his dissertation on the re-emergence of sublime experience among Jewish-American intellectuals and artists in the wake of the Second World War. Currently he is an adjunct in the Honors and Visual and Critical Studies departments at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan where he teaches classes in modern history, the history of philosophy, and the history of aesthetics. For his scholarly work he is engaged with two book projects, one is a reconsideration of the influence of the painter Barnett Newman and the other is an intellectual history of postwar Black abstract painters from 1945-1965. His work has appeared in Black Perspectives, The Brooklyn Rail, and CUNY Advocate.


Thomas Cryer (@ThomasOCryer) is a London Arts and Humanities Partnership-funded PhD student at University College London’s Institute of the Americas. His thesis explores racialisation, memory, and nationhood in the twentieth-century United States through the lens of the life, scholarship, and advocacy of the historian John Hope Franklin. His intellectual biography uses Franklin’s example to highlight history’s function as a vehicle of racial knowledge and underlines forms of anti-Black disciplinary violence and racialisation that disbarred, deradicalized, and contoured the thought of mid-twentieth-century Black historians. It also critically examines Franklin’s formulation of Southernism; investigates the reception, contestation, and re-invention of From Slavery to Freedom; and traces the rise and denouement of post-WWII racial liberalism through Franklin’s critical contributions to Brown v Board, the Kerner Report, the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot, and President Clinton’s Commission on Race.

He is an Events Editor for U.S. Studies Online, an Essays & Opinions editor for Stillpoint London, and a Research Affiliate with GIRES’s Greenwood Center for African American Studies. He will spend the summer of 2023 as a Kluge Fellow at the Library of Congress and will serve as a Graduate Representative for the Southern Historical Association from Fall 2023. Currently, he is undertaking research at the John Hope Franklin Papers at Duke University funded by the Rubenstein Library’s John Hope Franklin Travel Award, an EAAS Transatlantic Study Grant, and an Institute of the Americas Postgraduate Travel Grant. Prior to his PhD, he studied for a BA(Hons) and an MPhil in American History at the University of Cambridge, working under Professors Andrew Preston and Gary Gerstle. He has served on roundtables discussing history and policy for the Ditchley Foundation and the Salzburg Global Seminar and has written for the Australian Journal of American Studies, Reviews in History, U.S. Studies Online, the LSE Review of Books and LSE’s American Politics and Policy Blog.

R. Drew Smith is a political scientist and ordained clergyman and is the Henry L. Hillman Professor of Urban Ministry at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and former director of its Metro-Urban Institute. He is founding co-convener of the Transatlantic Roundtable on Religion and Race and also holds an appointment as research professor at the Institute of Gender Studies at the University of South Africa. Dr. Smith previously held faculty appointments at Indiana University and Butler University and residential faculty fellowships at Emory University, University of Virginia, and Case Western University. He also served as director of the Center for Church and the Black Experience at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and as scholar-in-residence at the Leadership Center at Morehouse College. He has lectured in many international venues, including as part of the U.S. State Department’s Speakers Bureau, and was selected in 2005 to serve as a Fulbright professor at the University of Pretoria and in 2009 as a Fulbright senior specialist at Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Cameroon. Dr. Smith has published widely on religion and public life, including editing ten books and authoring more than 80 articles, chapters, and essays. He has recently completed a monograph on Black religion and public life and is currently working on a monograph on urban dislocations and sacredness of place. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University, and Master of Divinity, Master of Arts, and Ph.D. from Yale University.

Brandon James Render is an assistant professor of history at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. His current book project, Colorblind University: A History of Racial Inequity in Higher Education, explores the intellectual genealogy of racial colorblindness throughout the twentieth century. It argues that the civil rights and Black Power era not only functioned as social movements, but resulted in intellectual shifts that fundamentally re-shaped Americans’ collective interpretations of race. His research has received support from the Gilder Lehrman Institute, the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke University, and the Texas State Historical Association. Aside from research, his teaching interests include twentieth century U.S. history, Post-1945 social and intellectual movements, and race and public policy. For the 2021-22 academic year, he served as the Mitchem Dissertation Fellow at Marquette University and completed his PhD at the University of Texas at Austin in May 2022. He’s been a member of the AAIHS since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter @brandonjrender.

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