Questions about the relationship between Senator Bernie Sanders and African American voters have dogged the senator from Vermont almost from the start of his presidential campaign. Last year it was based around his views on the Black Lives Matter campaign. In the last week, however, the question has been raised once again, this time by Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic. The rejection of reparations as a feasible, or even desirable, political goal by Senator Sanders was the occasion for Coates’ critique of Sanders and his particular brand of social democratic ideology. I believe, however, Coates’ arguments—and the pushback by some on the Left online—is a reason to revisit the long and complicated history of the relationship between Black Americans and the American Left.
I do not think there is much more I can say to add to the cacophony of voices that have spoken out since the horrific terror attack in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday night. A massacre that harkened back as much to the racial strife of Reconstruction-era violence as it did to anything in recent memory, the attack on Mother Emanuel AME Church has reminded Americans of the continued presence of anti-black, right-wing extremism that exists on our shores. Historians have performed a great public service in recent days in contextualizing the attack within the history of Charleston, of South Carolina, and of Confederate imagery. But I want to remind readers that we also need to contextualize this attack within the history of recent, extreme right-wing terrorism within the United States.
Today is Martin Luther King Day, a time for many of us to enjoy a day off from work or school, for some of us to reflect on the legacy of Dr. King, and for still others of us to tendentiously claim that Dr. King would support our pet political causes, however far they may have been from his actual beliefs. As the old conservative habit of attacking King as a Communist or worse begins to fade, the misappropriations of his legacy become more common. As Scott Lemieux notes over on Lawyers, Guns, and Money, most of these take the form of ripping a single line from the “I Have a Dream” speech out of context and using it to suggest that King was dedicated to the proposition that any discussion of race constitutes racism. But some of the appropriations of King are more creative than that. Occasionally they are even from the “left,” like Jeh Johnstone, now Secretary of Homeland Security, then General Counsel to the Department of Defense, arguing in 2011 that Dr. King would have supported America’s current wars.
It is to these more interesting misuses of King that I like to grant the Ward Connerly Award for Martin Luther King, Jr., Revisionism, named after the former University of California regent who has dedicated most of his public life to destroying civil rights in the name of civil rights. Continue reading
In lieu of an extended post, I’d like to call your attention to a few essays and articles touching upon themes and topics that may be of interest to our readers, from Ferguson, Missouri to the mechanisms if not the mindset(s) of the ruling class to the vintage pages of The New Republic. Continue reading
I’m happy to add to LD Burnett’s wonderful post from yesterday detailing her experience with Ebony magazine—and Vince Harding’s exhorting scholars to pay attention to it—as part of her overall research. Today I wish to add to that, demonstrating how Ebony has also played a role in my understanding of several strands of intellectual history running through the early 1970s. Considering Ebony as a place of considerable debate over African American politics, culture, and history is, as the Harding article indicated, important for anyone attempting to understand elements of the Black experience.
Readers of this blog – and members of the Society for U.S. Intellectual History – will be excited by the arrival of a sibling society and blog: the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS). The AAIHS was founded in February 2014 in order to “foster dialogue about researching, writing, and teaching black thought and culture.” In July, their blog went online and it has already become an active and interesting place. Among the regular contributors are two scholars who should be familiar to our readership: Chris Cameron, who has been a frequent guest blogger at USIH, and Lauren Kientz Anderson, who was a regular blogger for us.
I look forward to continuing to follow the AAIHS blog and hope that our blogs – and societies – can work together in the future!
August 27 was the 51st anniversary of the passing of one of the greatest intellectuals the United States has ever produced. Reflecting on the life, death, and legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois allows us a chance to consider the enormous corpus of scholarship he left behind. However, more than that I’d like to consider a question of immense importance to historians and other scholars of American intellectual history: just what else is there to say about W.E.B. Du Bois? After several generations spent writing, debating, and researching Du Bois’ life and career, what stone or stones are left unturned in regards to scholarship on the man?
[The following is a guest post from our frequent guest blogger, Chris Cameron — BA]
Last week on the blog I discussed Phillis Wheatley and the origins of the black prophetic tradition. I would like to continue that discussion this week by exploring the ideas of another prominent black female thinker in early America, Maria Stewart. Unlike Wheatley, Stewart has received little attention from either literary scholars or historians, although her work continues the same prophetic tradition that Wheatley initiated and adds a sharp critique of the intersection of racism and sexism so prevalent in antebellum America. Continue reading
[Note: the following is a guest post by Christopher Cameron.]
Phillis Wheatley and the Black Prophetic Tradition
Phillis Wheatley’s reputation as an important prophetic voice for Africans and African Americans in the colonial and revolutionary eras has undergone a drastic transformation in the past two decades. Some of the first critics of Phillis Wheatley’s poetry claimed that she was irrelevant in the fight against slavery and racial oppression. Vernon Loggins, for instance, argued that her work “dwelt at length on the common notions of her day regarding liberty, but she neglected almost entirely her own state of slavery and the miserable oppression of thousands of her race.” Similarly, Rosey E. Poole claimed that if Wheatley “had had the strength to give all that was really hers, and not that which others had given her, she might have become a really important figure.” Poole argued that Wheatley was content to assimilate into white society rather than attempt to advance the cause of blacks. Continue reading
Recent weeks have seen the release of numerous new works on the South, Southern Studies, and how regionalism still matters. The rise in writings about the American South isn’t just limited to the academy, although that will be the crux of my piece today. For instance, James Fallows has been writing a fascinating series on Mississippi in recent weeks, seeking to write about the state, and the South in general, in a respectful manner. Fallows noted in his most recent post that “there’s an all-but-irresistible freak-show undertone to a lot of reports from Mississippi. These Southerners! Can you believe them?” The South, of course, features in the background of the recent piece on reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates, but it’s worth noting that the essay itself also focuses heavily on Chicago. Mr. Coates’ goal, in that regard, was to talk about more recent problems facing African Americans after slavery, offering a national narrative for a national problem. (By the way, there’s a fascinating piece by Randall Kennedy in the most recent issue of Harper’s magazine, which I think is a nice corollary to the Coates reparations article. It’s behind a paywall, but I’d highly recommend getting a copy to read this essay.)