From a Union Organizer to a Transnational Educator: Vicki Garvin in China and the United States, 1964–79

Friday, January 3, 2020: 1:30 PM
New York Ballroom West (Sheraton New York)
Hongshan Li, Kent State University
Defying the travel ban imposed by Washington, many African American Activists went to Communist China in the 1950s and 1960s, contributing to the construction of a new transnational relationship between the two nations. Although some leading African American intellectuals or militant activists such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Shirley Graham Du Bois, and Robert F. Williams have attracted increasing attention in recent years, many less politically prominent but equally important black visitors still remain in obscurity. Victoria (Vicki) Garvin is one of them.

Born in Virginia in 1915 and growing up in a working class family in Harlem, Vicki Garvin rose as a union organizer and leader in the 1940s and 1950s. Determined to find a more effective way to end poverty and racial as well as gender discrimination in the United States, she went to China in 1964 and worked as an instructor at the Shanghai Foreign Languages Institute until 1970. In addition to English language, she offered lectures and even public speeches on American history, the civil rights movement, and women’s fight for equality. After her return to the United States, Garvin became a highly sought after public speaker, sharing her experience in and views on China with college students, union members, and the general public in the 1970s. Based mostly on her archived lectures, speeches, teaching reviews, travel notes, and letters, this paper examines Garvin’s role as an educator played both in China and the United States. It reveals that while her lectures in Shanghai largely were shaped by her previous life experiences, her presentations on China reflected her limited exposure in that country.

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