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From well-known intellectuals such as Frederick Douglass and Nella Larsen to often-obscured thinkers such as Amina Baraka and Bernardo Ruiz Suárez, black theorists across the globe have engaged in sustained efforts to create insurgent and resilient forms of thought. New Perspectives on the Black Intellectual Tradition is a collection of twelve essays that explores these and other theorists and their contributions to diverse strains of political, social, and cultural thought. 

The book examines four central themes within the black intellectual tradition: black internationalism, religion and spirituality, racial politics and struggles for social justice, and black radicalism. The essays identify the emergence of black thought within multiple communities internationally, analyze how black thinkers shaped and were shaped by the historical moment in which they lived, interrogate the ways in which activists and intellectuals connected their theoretical frameworks across time and space, and assess how these strains of thought bolstered black consciousness and resistance worldwide. 

Defying traditional temporal and geographical boundaries, New Perspectives on the Black Intellectual Tradition illuminates the origins of and conduits for black ideas, redefines the relationship between black thought and social action, and challenges long-held assumptions about black perspectives on religion, race, and radicalism. The intellectuals profiled in the volume reshape and redefine the contours and boundaries of black thought, further illuminating the depth and diversity of the black intellectual tradition.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780810138124
Publisher: Northwestern University Press
Publication date: 11/15/2018
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 1,214,872
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

KEISHA N. BLAIN teaches history at the University of Pittsburgh. She is author of Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom and coeditor of Charleston Syllabus: Readings on Race, Racism, and Racial Violence.

CHRISTOPHER CAMERON is an associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is author of To Plead Our Own Cause: African Americans in Massachusetts and the Making of the Antislavery Movement.

ASHLEY D. FARMER is an assistant professor of history and African and African diaspora studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She is author of Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era, the first comprehensive study of black women’s intellectual production and activism in the Black Power era.

Read an Excerpt


Black Internationalism


Michael O. West

In his own lifetime Booker T. Washington earned the ire of many African American intellectuals, as much for his perceived anti-intellectualism as for his accommodationist politics in the face of US apartheid, or Jim Crow. After discursively casting down his bucket at the Atlanta Exposition of 1895, the event that brought him fame, Washington went on to cast a long shadow over the discourse on black liberation in the United States. Directly and indirectly, and to varying degrees, his legacy helps to frame the three essays in this section of the book, all of which are set in the decades immediately following his death in 1915.

Celeste Day Moore's essay on "pedagogies of black internationalism" begins with one of Washington's more famous reproaches to what he regarded as black misguided priorities, which necessarily doubled as a dig at liberal arts education. A convinced germophobe as well as a champion of industrial training and wealth accumulation, Washington laid into the apocryphal black young man, "sitting down in a one-room cabin, with grease on his clothing, filth all around him, and weeds in the yard and garden, engaged in studying a French grammar." How absurd indeed!

Moore's task, and it is a formidable one, is to transform Washingtonian absurdity into black internationalism. Hers is a deft undertaking, accomplished by focusing on French language instruction at historically African American institutions of higher learning, notably Howard and Atlanta universities, in the interwar years. Amid the political, intellectual, and spiritual incarceration that was Jim Crow, Moore shows how black teachers and students gained entry into a wider world by studying French, which they directly linked to the larger struggle for black liberation.

A key figure in Moore's narrative is Mercer Cook, who taught French at both Howard and Atlanta. Cook had previously pursued graduate studies in Paris, where his larger education included attending the salon of the Martinique-born sisters Jane Nardal and Paulette Nardal, seminal if largely unsung figures in the making of négritude, the key expression in Francophone black internationalism in the interwar years. Cook's informal studies under the auspices of the Nardal sisters put him in good stead for teaching in the United States, where the great majority of his students, including at the graduate level, were African American women. These women, and others who similarly populated French-language classes at black universities and colleges, offered a sharp contrast, and rebuke, to Washington's caricature of a male autodidact, oblivious to the mess around him as he consumed his French grammar book. Furthermore, Moore argues, the labor of the female students, including their unpublished master's theses, formed an indispensable scaffolding for the publications that cemented the reputations of Cook and other African American male French scholars.

Literature in French about Haiti, some of it written by Haitian writers, was standard fare for Mercer Cook and his African American fellow French-language instructors. Haiti, with its glorious revolution and storied place in the global antislavery struggles of the nineteenth century, dramatically returned to Pan-African consciousness in the early decades of the twentieth century. The reason was not far to seek: the United States invaded Haiti in 1915 and occupied the country for a generation, until 1934. In what one biographer calls "one of the frankest articles he ever wrote," Washington, in failing health and with only a few months left to live, offered a qualified endorsement of the invasion and — this is the frank part — admonished the US government against turning Haiti into a "white man's country."

A good many black people in the United States, Brandon R. Byrd shows in his essay, labored to end the occupation and ensure that Haiti would not become a white man's country. Among those protesting the occupation was Washington's widow, Margaret Murray Washington. Indeed members of her race, gender, and class, meaning middle-class African American women, are the main subjects of Byrd's essay.

Much has been written on the Pan-African reaction to the occupation of Haiti, most of it privileging male voices and activities. In locating a specifically "female domain" of opposition, Byrd has earned himself a place in the vanguard of scholars who are "gendering the occupation." His larger argument is that the interwar period was a transformative moment in the evolution of black internationalism — witnessing as it did a shift from an elite-led, sacred-based, racial uplift tradition to a more proletarian-driven, secular-grounded emphasis on opposition to imperialism and capitalism — and that the Haitian antioccupation movement was a crucial factor in that transformation. As with the interlocution between the study of the French language and black internationalism charted by Moore, so too with the opposition to occupied Haiti discussed by Byrd: history, notably the history of the Haitian Revolution, was summoned to bear witness to the crime and to speak truth to the Yankee occupiers.

The women whose antioccupation activities he chronicles, Byrd informs us, inhabited a "liminal" space between the old and new forms of black internationalism. Except they seem more committed to the former than to the latter, their Protestant missionizing zeal in respect of Vodou-Catholic Haiti distinctly reminiscent of such figures as James Theodore Holly, the staunchly anti-Catholic Episcopalian minister who promoted African American emigration to Haiti in the nineteenth century. Echoes of Washington are also evident in the work of women like Nannie Helen Burroughs and Harriett Gibbs Marshall, who combined opposition to the occupation with promoting industrial education for the Haitian masses (as Washington had done in his endorsement of the invasion) and in championing "Bible, bath, and broom" in occupied Haiti. Marshall would go on to cofound the antioccupation Save Haiti League, which Byrd has very usefully rescued from obscurity. The League's activities included a drive to petition the US president to end the occupation — an appeal that may well have been modeled on the successful campaign to pardon the imprisoned Marcus Garvey, whose movement was centrally involved in the struggles around occupied Haiti.

There is (in the current state of research) not much to indicate that Bernardo Ruiz Suárez had any real interest in the Haiti question, even though he resided in Harlem, perhaps the center of the antioccupation movement in the United States. An Afro-Cuban, Ruiz Suárez was every bit the New Negro, just like the subjects of the essays by Moore and Byrd. Ruiz Suárez's unjustly obscure book, The Color Question in the Two Americas, translated from the Spanish and published in 1922, is the focus of Reena N. Goldthree's essay. Like Moore and Byrd, Goldthree is engaged in an exercise in translation — linguistic, cultural, political.

The "two Americas" in the title of Ruiz Suárez's book are Cuba and the United States, the main subject being the quest for black liberation in both societies. With the crucial exception of Haiti, where the revolution dispatched slavery, colonialism, and white supremacy (even if it did not settle the color question), black citizenship was a vexing issue in all postemancipation societies of the Americas. In the United States a brief experiment in nonracial democracy — launched by constitutional amendments granting color-blind birthright citizenship and universal male franchise — notoriously ended in the blood-soaked, white supremacist counterrevolution that gave birth to Jim Crow. By contrast, Cuba, like most of the Latin American nations, officially and formally rejected apartheid even as it actually and systematically excluded people of African descent from the upper reaches of state and society alike. Behind this façade of supposed racial democracy, with its occasional nod to the token black exception that proved the rule, lurked a racist Leviathan of a state, policing black consciousness and ready, ever ready, to drown black mobilization in a bloodbath, as evidenced by the massacres in Ruiz Suárez's Cuba in 1912.

A fundamental argument of Ruiz Suárez, Goldthree calls it his "provocative thesis," is that these ostensibly divergent racial regimes produced similar outcomes: actual segregation and putative assimilation, respectively, left African Americans and Afro-Cubans without a "racial personality." This argument is provocative because it goes against received wisdom, which holds that the totalitarian nature of US apartheid endowed African Americans with a collective consciousness, in effect a "racial personality," that was either nonexistent or comparatively undeveloped among black people in Latin America. Yet, as Gold-three notes, Ruiz Suárez's argument is far from consistent, and elsewhere his book, using muscular and masculinist language, bestows on African Americans an apparently unique sense of group combination that seems to qualify as "racial personality."

The racial personality projected by the Garvey movement was, however, too much for Ruiz Suárez. Although a black internationalist, or more properly a black pan-Americanist, he was no Pan-Africanist, rejecting as he did the view that transnational black combination required a continental African homeland. This was, practically, a call for erasure — a motion to delete the diaspora concept from black struggles outside of Africa, specifically in the Americas. To the famous poetic query of fellow Harlemite and New Negro bard Countee Cullen — "What is Africa to me?" — Ruiz Suárez seemed content to answer nothing, or very little. It followed that he rejected the emigrationist or "Back to Africa" plank in Garveyism, which he derisively labeled the "Go to Africa" movement. That rousing cry of Garveyism — "Africa for the Africans, at home and abroad" — apparently rang hallow to Ruiz Suárez.

In 1922, the same year his book came out, Goldthree notes, Ruiz Suárez became a Spanish-language columnist for the New York Age, a Harlem-based, anti-Garvey newspaper. The Age, which carried his death-bed endorsement turned admonition of the invasion of Haiti, previously served as a mouthpiece for Washington in his ideological struggles against his African American detractors. A black internationalist in his own accommodationist way, Washington also took a keen interest in Cuba, recruiting numbers of Afro-Cubans to his Tuskegee Institute. In the post–World War I era, colonialists and other traducers of black folk worldwide picked up the mantle of the now deceased Washington, seeking to advance an industrial-training, apartheid-deferring counterpoint to more radical brands of black and other forms of internationalisms, most notably Garveyism and communism. Yet even Garveyism, with which communists worldwide famously feuded, owed a debt to Washington (who, like Ruiz Suárez, was no friend of emigrationism), as seen in Garvey's reverence for the "Great Sage of Tuskegee."

The essays in this section focus on three key centers of black life and thought in the modern world — the United States, Haiti, and Cuba — and the ties that bound them at an especially crucial moment, the two decades between the two world wars of the twentieth century. The struggles and movements charted by Moore, Byrd, and Goldthree during the interwar years, an era of colonialism and neocolonialism, of apartheid and neo-apartheid, precariously stood athwart the past and the future. Individually and collectively these three essays contain vital lessons about the black intellectual tradition and its corollary, the struggle for black liberation everywhere, then and now.

"Every Wide-Awake Negro Teacher of French Should Know": The Pedagogies of Black Internationalism in the Early Twentieth Century

Celeste Day Moore

In his 1901 autobiography, Up from Slavery, Booker T. Washington offered an iconic, if infamous, representation of intellectual ambition. In the course of his travels, he wrote, "one of the saddest things" he had seen was a young man, "sitting down in a one-room cabin, with grease on his clothing, filth all around him, and weeds in the yard and garden, engaged in studying a French grammar." In Washington's eyes, the young man's devotion to French studies had rendered him incapable of addressing — or even seeing — the "poverty, the untidiness, the want of system and thrift" that surrounded him, and thus exemplified the necessity of Washington's own program of industrial education. Two years later it was this same scene that fueled W. E. B. Du Bois's critique of Washington's educational vision. While Washington had rendered the "picture of a lone black boy poring over a French grammar amid the weeds and dirt of a neglected home" into "the acme of absurdities," Du Bois embraced the power of language — and the French language in particular — to elevate and ennoble black life. He sketched a very different scene: "I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls." For Du Bois the sight of a young man consumed by the study of French did not evince failure but instead heralded progress. Lost in the intricacies of a new tongue, this young man might begin to "soar in the dim blue air above the smoke," where he could rediscover what is lost "on earth by being black."

Returning to this foundational debate in African American intellectual history, I am struck by the curious place of the French language within it. Why was it the French grammar in particular that signified at once the apparent absurdity of black ambition and the dream of elevated intellectual intercourse? Moreover, why has the French language, and France itself, continued to exert such representational power in African American history? In recent years this question has been taken up by a range of scholars who have tracked the movement of African American writers, musicians, artists, students, and scholars to France, where they sought new opportunities to create, write, and perform. While these expatriates envisioned, and in some cases found, a life freed from the yoke of American racism, they nevertheless found themselves ensnared by racial (and racist) ideologies that simultaneously elevated African Americans and denigrated France's own colonial populations. By investigating the lived experiences of these contradictions, scholars have illuminated key dimensions of African American and French colonial histories and mapped the history of twentieth-century black internationalism. For even as they struggled to negotiate this racial terrain, African Americans nevertheless found within it new means of building diasporic connections, political movements, and camaraderie among African-descended people. Through their work the language of colonialism was transformed into a critical tool with which allegiances were built, for even linguistic failures and mistranslations offered a heuristic for understanding the possibilities and limitations in claiming racial identities.

While the problem of language remains at the center of my inquiry, this essay turns from the foreign to the domestic sphere to locate the history of black internationalism in the instruction of French at historically black colleges and universities in the 1930s. Spatially and materially bounded by Jim Crow, educators at these institutions still found in French a powerful means to connect African American students to the changing world around them. After first outlining the pedagogical priorities for African American educators in this period, I focus on the departments of romance languages at Howard and Atlanta Universities, where French instruction depended on the gendered division of labor among African American men and women. While the initial interest in French was fueled in part by a desire to lay claim to its civilizational associations, its instruction would institutionalize African American intellectual production and also the networks of black internationalism, which was now reshaped by black-authored textbooks, distinct pedagogical strategies, and new approaches to support graduate training. By changing the mode of language instruction, this cohort of teachers and students in turn changed the political, cultural, and linguistic terms with which African Americans negotiated their relationships to the world.


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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Contours of Black Intellectual History Keisha N. Blain Christopher Cameron Ashley D. Farmer 3

Part I Black Internationalism

Introduction Michael O. West 19

"Every Wide-Awake Negro Teacher of French Should Know": The Pedagogies of Black Internationalism in the Early Twentieth Century Celeste Day Moore 25

Afro-Cuban Intellectuals and the New Negro Renaissance: Bernardo Ruiz Suárez's The Color Question in the Two Americas Reena N. Goldthree 41

"To Start Something to Help These People": African American Women and the Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934 Brandon R. Byrd 59

Part II Religion and Spirituality

Introduction Judith Weisenfeld 79

Isolated Believer: Alain Locke, Baha'i Secularist David Weinfeld 83

The New Negro Renaissance and African American Secularism Christopher Cameron 99

"I Had a Praying Grandmother": Religion, Prophetic Witness, and Black Women's Herstories LeRhonda S. Manigault-Bryant 115

Part III Racial Politics and Struggles for Social Justice

Introduction Pero Gaglo Dagbovie 133

Historical Ventriloquy: Black Thought and Sexual Politics in the Interracial Marriage of Frederick Douglass Guy Emerson Mount 139

Reigning Assimilationists and Defiant Black Power: The Struggle to Define and Regulate Racist Ideas Ibram X. Kendi 157

Becoming African Women: Women's Cultural Nationalist Theorizing in the US Organization and the Committee for Unified Newark Ashley D. Farmer 175

Part IV Black Radicalism

Introduction Robin D. G. Kelley 195

Runaways, Rescuers, and the Politics of Breaking the Law Christopher Bonner 201

Conspiracies, Seditions, Rebellions: Concepts and Categories in the Study of Slave Resistance Gregory Childs 217

African American Expats, Guyana, and the Pan-African Ideal in the 1970s Russell Rickford 233

Contributors 253

Index 257

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