The Black Radical Imagination



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The Black Radical Imagination

Sunflower County Freedom Project

Sunflower, MS

Summer 2016




Pamela Walker

PhD Candidate

Rutgers University, History Department

Course Overview:

This course will explore radical black imaginings of freedom from the early American period to the present. To track the progression and evolution of radical visions of freedom, the course is broken down thematically and temporally into five sections: Broken Promises and Chattel Slavery, Freedom Dreams, The Black Freedom Struggle, Race and Memory, Future Dreams (Where do we go from here?). The central themes of this course are freedom, unfreedom, expressions of citizenship in the United States, and how black Americans have conceptualized freedom that “recognizes the deep interconnectedness of struggles of race, gender, sexuality, culture, class, and spirituality” (Kelley 154). We will consider how even radical black imaginings of freedom expanded or contracted depending upon historical moment and how evolving conceptions of class, gender, racial identity, and sexuality have impacted freedom into the present moment. This course will also consider how freedom can be experienced through embodiment and education. The course will also explore the spatial constraints to experiencing radical liberation. The students will engage critically​ with both secondary and primary texts focused on freedom, liberation, and progress as fundamental elements of African American History, and thus American History more broadly.

A few questions we will consider: How has been citizenship been defined and changed over time? In what ways can freedom be experienced though the body? What are the competing historical debates in regarding pathways to African American freedom? How have blacks in America defined and tried to enact plans for liberation? What does liberation look and “feel” like across the black experience in America? How have blacks in America balanced the need to survive with the drive to resist and demand freedom? What are the differences between freedom, liberation, and progress and how have these meanings changed over time? Under what circumstances should anyone be excluded from freedom, liberty, and citizenship? In what ways have black radical thinkers subverted notions of American Freedom?

How will this course transform students’ understanding, experience, or lives:

I would like my students to think historically about current social justice issues. In many ways I’ve constructed this course as a historical toolkit in an effort to encourage students to critically interrogate the past and learn from the past in order to better their future. The historical texts used for this course engage a series of questions and themes related to change and continuity that I believe will sound familiar to students, even though the texts themselves may be new. I’d like the students to consider how the unfolding story of an America filled with race and gender oppression, economic inequality, resistance, and protest has gotten us to this moment. I’d like my students construct their own radical imaginings of freedom, inspired by but not limited to the readings and discussions. By tethering contemporary social justice issues to past moments, my hope is that the students will be able to confidently challenge long legacies of injustice occurring nationally and in their own communities and that they will be compelled to act in such a way the gets them one step closer to their radical freedom dream.



How will students demonstrate learning? Describe the qualitative outcomes of this course (i.e. project, essay, report, presentation, etc.). How does this end-of-course product relate to the course’s transformative goals?

Each day, we will engage with critical debates on the meanings of freedom and citizenship. Students will often be broken down into groups to engage in the historical debates while also tethering the discussion to contemporary events. There will be small written projects (opinion pieces, journal entries), staged debates, and “fact” exercises throughout the course that will lead students in the direction of their final projects. Their final project will consist of constructing their own 5– point plan on what they envision to be the most radical version of freedom for all. While students must ground their liberation/freedom dream historically, students are encouraged to think beyond in­class texts and discussions from class. Students will also construct a visual and or auditory representation of their radical conceptualization of freedom (poster or digital presentation) to present to the class. This assignment allows students to consider what it means to be active agents of change in their community and to imaginatively put their dreams of freedom into practice.



Course Readings:

Introduction: Robin D.G. Kelley – Preface, Freedom Dreams: The Radical Black Imagination (2002)


A. Broken Promises and Chattel Slavery


Immanuel Kant – excerpts from Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime ( Call and Response , 11) Phillis Wheatley – “Letter to the Reverend Samson Occum,” 1774 ( Call and Response , 13)


William Wells Brown – “Slavery as it is,” (1847) ( Let Nobody Turn Us Round , 64)


Ex­Slave interviews: Mary Wyatt, Nancy Williams, Ms. Bird Walton ( Weevils in the Wheat: Interviews with Virginia Ex­Slaves , 1991)

Intro: Dred Scott Decision ( Let Nobody Turn Us Round, 91) 


Martin Delany v. Frederick Douglass On Harriet Beecher Stowe and White Allies (Call and Response, 95 – 102) 



B. Freedom Dreams

Robin D.G. Kelley – “Dreams of a New Land,” ( Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination , 2002) 


Booker T. Washington – “The Atlanta Exposition Address” (1895)


Ida B. Wells – From Southern Horrors Lynch Laws in all its Phases (1892)


W.E.B. Dubois – “Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others” (1903) ( Call and Response, 203, 206, 210)


Langston Hughes – “Negro Artists and the Racial Mountain,” (1926) ( Call and Response , 365) 



C. The Black Freedom Struggle


Martin Luther King Jr. – “I Have a Dream” (August 1963) 


“Eulogy for Martyred Children” (September 1963) ( A Testament of Hope , 217­223)

Stokely Carmichael – “What We Want,” 1966 ( Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader , 283)

Huey P. Newton – “The Founding of the Black Panther Party” ( Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader , 345)

Frances M. Beal – “Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female” (1970)


Combahee River Collective – “A Black Feminist Statement” (1977) (Both in Call and Response , 801 ­ 1813)

Audre Lorde – “I am Your Sister: Organizing Across Sexualities” (1985) ( Call and Response , 537)


D. Race and Memory

W.E.B. Dubois – “Of the Coming of John,” (1903) ( Souls of Black Folks )


Clint Smith – “Teach Black Children they can Change Communities – They Don’t have to Escape” ( The Guardian , July 2015)


Bob Moses – “Mississippi: 1961­1961” ( Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader , 170)

“Interim Report on CR, April 16, 1963”( Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader , 179)

Sally Belfrage – “Freedom Summer” ( Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader , 180)

Malcolm X – “To Mississippi Youth” ( Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader , 200) 


Fannie Lou Hamer – “To Praise our Bridges” ( Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader , 176)


Carmichael and Hamilton ­ “Black Belt Election: New Day A’ Coming” (Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader, 262)


Robin D.G. Kelley – “‘Day of Reckoning’: Dreams of Reparations,” ( Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination , 2002)

Ta­Nihisi Coates – “The Case for Reparations,” Excerpts ( The Atlantic, 2014 ) 


E. Future Dreams (Where do we go from here?)


Michelle Alexander – Introduction, The New Jim Crow (2010) 


Robin DG Kelley – “Slanging Rocks... Palestinian Style”

Dispatches from Occupied North America (2000) 


Randall Kennedy­ “Lifting as We Climb: In Defense of the Politics of Respectability” (2015)(Harper’s)


David Graham­ “What Randall Kennedy Misses about the Politics of Respectability and BLM” (2015)(The Atlantic) Farah Stockman­ “The new Face of Civil Rights” (2015) ( Boston Globe )


A Black Nationalist Manifesto (1852)


Black Panther Party 10 Point Program (1966)

Combahee River Collective Statement (1977)


Black Lives Matter Movement Guiding Principles (2013) 


“Hope” – clip from Black­ish (February, 2016) 



Day 1


Syllabus + Course Intro


Text(s):
Robin D.G. Kelley – Preface, Freedom Dreams (2002)

Breifly introduce these Freedom Statements: A Black Nationalist Manifesto (1852) + Black Panther Party 10 Point Program (1966) + Combahee River Collective Statement (1977) + Black Lives Matter Movement Guiding Principles (2013)

Daily Learning Goal: Discussion: Who is included in American citizenship? Is there a difference between progress, liberation, and freedom? What is the truest narrative of American history – freedom, unfreedom, or protest?


Day 2


Warm­Up:


ACT English Practice


Text(s):
Immanuel Kant – excerpts from Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime ( Call and Response , 11)

Phillis Wheatley – “Letter to the Reverend Samson Occum,” 1774 ( Call and Response , 13)

William Wells Brown – “Slavery as it is,” (1847) ( Let Nobody Turn Us Round , 64)
Daily Learning Goal: What are the limits of humanity and freedom in this period? How do constructions of humanity define citizenship?


Day 3

Warm­Up:


ACT English Practice


Text(s):
Slave Narratives from Weevils in the Wheat:

Mary Wyatt 


Nancy Williams 


Ms. Bird Walton


Daily Learning Goal: How can those without freedom or with limited freedom experience alternative imaginings of freedom? How was freedom embodied under slavery and second­class citizenship? 



Day 4

Warm­Up:


ACT English Practice


Text(s):
Intro: Dred Scott Decision ( Let Nobody Turn Us Round, 91)

Martin Delany v. Frederick Douglass On Harriet Beecher Stowe and White Allies (Call and Response, 95 – 102)

Daily Learning Goal: What are some of the contradictions of humanity discussed in the Scott Case? How are black people determining their allies? How do Delany and Douglass differ in argument


Day 5

Warm­Up:


ACT English Practice


Text(s):
Robin D.G. Kelley – “Dreams of a New Land,” (Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, 2002)

Listen to:



  1. ●  X­Clan – “Xodus” 
(1992) 


  2. ●  Arrested Development 
– “Tennessee” (1992) 
Daily Learning Goal:
How did Black Americans conceptualize home or homeland in the late 19t h – early 20t h century? How did they redefine home? What role does Africa play in the conception of home in the past and present? 





Project/Extension/ Activity:

Inscribing humanity: Investigation of LA fugitive slave advertisements. Using primary sources, write a new narrative.



Project/Extension/ Activity:

Present your Narrative to the Class. Discuss the importance finding the humanity in historical subjects and everyday folks.




Project/Extension/ Activity:

Debate : How Allies Imagined in the Black Freedom Struggle? Are black justified in a separatist movement?




Project/Extension/ Activity:

Opinion: African Americans: A nation without a nation or a nation within a nation? How have Black people imagined a homeland? Is Africa homeland for black American (diaspora)?







Day 6

Warm­Up:


ACT English Practice


Text(s):
Booker T. Washington – “The Atlanta Exposition Address” (1895)

Ida B. Wells – From Southern Horrors Lynch Laws in all its Phases (1892)

W.E.B. Dubois – “Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others” (1903) ( Call and Response, 203, 206, 210)
Daily Learning Goal: Investigate three strategies for change, racial justice, and equality during Reconstruction and the Nadir using the above readings.


Day 7

Warm­Up:


ACT English Practice


Text(s):
Langston Hughes – “Negro Artists and the Racial Mountain,” (1926) ( Call and Response , 365)
Daily Learning Goal: What statement is Hughes making about black American identity? How can liberty be experienced though art?

How can art do political work?

Explore themes of black protest music from the past and present. (Gil Scott Heron, Nina Simone, Lauryn Hill, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Talib Kweli [and now... Beyoncé?])


Day 8

Warm­Up:


ACT English Practice


Text(s):
Martin Luther King Jr. – “I Have a Dream” (August 1963)

“Eulogy for Martyred Children” (September 1963) ( A Testament of Hope , 217­223)


Daily Learning Goal: What does activism look like during this period? What is at stake in the fiight for progress and freedom? What does progress look like? What are the constraints of activist participation for students, women, the poor, etc.?


Day 9

Warm­Up:


ACT English Practice


Text(s):
Stokely Carmichael – “What We Want,” 1966 ( Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader , 283)

Huey P. Newton – “The Founding of the Black Panther Party” and “Patrolling” ( Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader , 345)


Daily Learning Goal: Consider the arguments for/ against black nationalism and separatism. Investigate civil rights era strategies for change: Nonviolence armed self­defense, etc.


Day 10

Warm­Up:


ACT English Practice


Text(s):
Frances M. Beal – “Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female” (1970)

Combahee River Collective – “A Black Feminist Statement” (1977) (Both in Call and Response , 801 ­ 1813)

Audre Lorde – “I am Your Sister: Organizing Across Sexualities” (1985) ( Call and Response , 537)
Daily Learning Goal: What role does gender, race, and class play in the struggle for racial equality? Are there degrees to marginalization that encourage a more expansive vision of freedom?


Project/Extension/ Activity:

Debate these three perspectives.



Project/Extension/ Activity:

What parallels can you draw between this issue and how art is used in the contemporary struggle for racial equality?



Project/Extension/ Activity:

Investigate the shift in tone in King’s two speeches.



Project/Extension/ Activity:

Discussion Groups : Weigh the arguments discussed over the past two days regarding separatism/inclusion and violent/nonviolent activism. Extract ideas that you find most useful for todays struggle for equality.



Project/Extension/ Activity:

Opinion: Which view discussed thus far in the class presents the more/most inclusive vision of freedom?





Day 11

Warm­Up:


ACT English Practice


Text(s):
W.E.B. Dubois – “Of the Coming of John,” (1903) ( Souls of Black Folks )

Clint Smith – “Teach Black Children they can Change Communities – They Don’t have to Escape” ( The Guardian , July 2015)


Daily Learning Goal: Can education or new knowledge feel like a burden? How can new knowledge lead to activism or change?

Parallel between the Du Bois piece and the Smith article?




Day 12

Warm­Up:


ACT English Practice


Text(s):
Memory, Mississippi and the CRM ( Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader )

Bob Moses – “Mississippi: 1961­1961” (170)

“Interim Report on CR, April 16, 1963”(179)

Sally Belfrage – “Freedom Summer” (180)

Malcolm X – “To Mississippi Youth” (200)

Letters from Mississippi

Freedom Ride Clip from Soundtrack to a Revolution
Daily Learning Goal: Why does Mississippi figure so prominently in the national Narrative of the Civil Rights Movement?


Day 13

Warm­Up:


ACT English Practice


Text(s):
Fannie Lou Hamer – “To Praise our Bridges” ( Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader , 176)

Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton ­ “Black Belt Election: New Day A’ Coming” ( Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader , 262)

Watch: 6 minute Documentary – “New Fight for Voting Rights”
Daily Learning Goal: Complicate the traditional CR narrative. Are political rights the paramount expression of freedom? What are the limitations? Are political rights enough?


Day 14

Warm­Up:


ACT English Practice


Text(s):
Robin D.G. Kelley – “‘Day of Reckoning’: Dreams of Reparations,” ( Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination , 2002)

Ta­Nihisi Coates – “The Case for Reparations,” Excerpts ( The Atlantic, 2014)


Daily Learning Goal: What are reparations? What’s owed, if anything, to descendants of slaves and those who experience 2nd class citizenship in the United States?


Day 15

Warm­Up:


ACT English Practice


Text(s):
Michelle Alexander – Introduction, The New Jim Crow (2010)

Robin DG Kelley – “Slanging Rocks... Palestinian Style” Dispatches from Occupied North America (2000)


Daily Learning Goal: Do we see historical change or continuation in this today’s readings? What is the role of public discourse in the struggle for social justice and change?

Police Brutality? Mass incarceration? Is this the new Jim Crow? What has been the response? What are the proposed solutions?




Project/Extension/ Activity:

Journal : Reflections on what you have learned so far. What’s your response to new knowledge?



Project/Extension/ Activity:

Analysis: When does the modern Civil Rights Era Begin and when does it end? Construct your own timeline. : Was the Modern CR Movement success? Argue why or why not.



Project/Extension/ Activity:

Analysis: When does the modern Civil Rights Era Begin and when does it end? Construct your own timeline. : Was the Modern CR Movement success? Argue why or why not.



Project/Extension/ Activity:

Opinion: What’s your case for or against reparations?



Project/Extension/ Activity:

Journal : Is the past relevant for tackling today’s issues? How can understanding the past encourage future visions of freedom?





Day 16

Warm­Up:


ACT English Practice


Text(s):
Randal Kennedy­ “Lifting as We Climb: In Defense of the Politics of Respectability” (2015)(Harper’s)

David Graham­ “What Randall Kennedy Misses about the Politics of Respectability and BLM” (2015)(The Atlantic)

Farah Stockman­ “The new Face of Civil Rights” (2015) ( Boston Globe )
Daily Learning Goal: What are the Politics of respectability? What role if any should it have in social movement?


Day 17

Warm­Up:


ACT English Practice


Text(s):
A Black Nationalist Manifesto (1852)

Black Panther Party 10 Point Program (1966)

Combahee River Collective Statement (1977)

Black Lives Matter Movement Guiding Principles (2013)

“Hope” – clip Black­ish (February, 2016)
Daily Learning Goal: Consider each plan for liberation. Which view presents the more inclusive vision of freedom?


Day 18

Warm­Up:


ACT English Practice


Text(s):
Work on Final Projects
Daily Learning Goal: How can we arrive at a comprehensive vision of freedom in America? Is it possible?


Day 19
Post­test:

English Section (45 mins.) + Reading Section (35 mins.)




Day 20
Presentations

Project/Extension/ Activity:

Debate: Respectability Politics or Revolution?



Project/Extension/ Activity:

Introduce and begin final project.



Project/Extension/ Activity:

Complete Final Projects



Project/Extension/ Activity:

Finish Projects. Practice Final Presentations. Begin Presentations






Final Project
Continuing with the theme of thinking historically about current events and social justices issues in their communities and abroad, students will construction their own freedom dream or liberation plan. Drawing from the scholarly work read in class, but certainly not limited to it, students will create what they believe on path to full freedom. Freedom plans should center on five key principals of the student’s choice and students will argue why those five points are essential to comprehensive freedom for all. Imagination and creativity are essential, but I would also like the projects to be thoughtful, rigorous, and carefully worked out. Student journals, opinion pieces, and analytical responses will help guide students in this process.

While specifics of this project (including a rubric) are still being worked out in my own head, there are a few components of the final project and presentation that I would absolutely like to see in the final product:



  1. An explanation on the most influential text from the semester that most inspired the creation freedom dream. 


  2. 5 Key Points or initiatives for your freedom dream as well as an argument for why you feel those issues are most important and the most 
legitimate strategies for change. 


A. Student will convey points I and II in a 2­3 page essay.

  1. Visual component: Poster presentation or digital presentation of freedom dream/liberation plan (presi, powerpoint, ect.)


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