Transnational Black Political Thought and Praxis since 1930

AHA Session 299
Sunday, January 8, 2017: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
Room 403 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Russell Rickford, Cornell University
Erik S. McDuffie, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Session Abstract

The literature on 20th century black transnational politics has burgeoned in the past three decades. Scholars have expanded our general knowledge of how intellectuals and activists throughout the African diaspora contributed to a modern imaginary of global blackness and devised a range of strategies to challenge global white supremacy. Further bringing the topic into focus, several historians are preparing microhistories of those African Americans who linked modern struggles for desegregation and decolonization, and who saw racial oppression and liberation as worldwide concerns. This panel highlights some of the newest work in this growing subfield, offering reappraisals of the intellectual labor of African-American thinkers during black internationalist revivals before and after World War Two. Keisha N. Blain, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Iowa, offers a closer look at African-American women intellectuals who laid the groundwork for diasporic politics. Through an analysis of global black newspapers of the 1930s and 40s, Blain explores black nationalist women’s engagement in anticolonial and Pan-Africanist politics and shows how a diverse group of activists used the black press to endorse anticolonialism and counter stereotypical images of African culture. Focusing on the 1960s and 70s, Christopher Tinson, Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History at Hampshire College, examines public historian and activist Lerone Bennett, Jr.’s years as editor of Ebony. Tinson argues that Bennett used the lifestyle magazine not only to champion the popular recovery and celebration of African-American history, but also to highlight and strengthen black America’s linkages to African independence and Afro-diasporic culture. Finally, Russell Rickford, Assistant Professor of History at Cornell University, unearths the stories of the African-American activists, artists, and exiles who in the 1970s viewed the Caribbean nation of Guyana as a Pan-Africanist and socialist mecca and as a sanctuary from racial repression in the U.S. Rickford argues that the black American expats who attempted to resettle in Guyana during this period were engaged in a quest for political identity and self-government that they saw as unachievable within the U.S. Collectively, these papers provide a critical reexamination of how 20th century African Americans imagined and pursued freedom beyond national boundaries and resisted empire even when they failed to fully escape its logic and reach.
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