This short essay offers one frame in which to think about the idea of a black radical tradition, a term whose elements are all essentially unstable and contested. What is at stake is a historically minded inquiry into “uses” rather than “meanings”—that is, the historical conjunctures in which the idea of a black radical tradition has been employed. The essay suggests that “Africa” and “slavery” are recurrent tropes of this tradition and gives the example of Edward Kamau Brathwaite's discussion of Walter Rodney'sHow Europe Underdeveloped Africa.
David Scott teaches at Columbia University, where he is professor of anthropology. His new book, Omens of Adversity: Tragedy, Time, Memory, Justice, will be published by Duke University Press in 2013.
This essay reflects on Haitian radicalism by looking at the life and the works of novelist Marie Vieux Chauvet (1916–73). Though increasingly a subject of interest for scholars of Haitian women's literature and of Haitian feminism, Chauvet's work is only rarely considered alongside that of more politically visible figures such as Jacques Roumain, Jacques-Stephen Alexis, and René Depestre. Chauvet's exceptionalized status has much to do with her nonparticipation in the gender-bound political culture of her time. This essay seeks to tease out how this pointedly nonaligned woman writer fits into the picture and historiography of Haitian radicalism.
Kaiama L. Glover is associate professor in the Department of French and the Africana Studies Program at Barnard College, Columbia University. Her articles have appeared in journals such as the French Review, Small Axe, Research in African Literatures, Journal of Postcolonial Writings, and the Journal of Haitian Studies. Her book Haiti Unbound: A Spiralist Challenge to the Postcolonial Canon was published in 2010. Her current project considers the ethics of narcissism and configurations of the feminine in twentieth- and twenty-first-century Caribbean fiction.
Drawing on recordings by Chic and Funkadelic, and more generally on the affective dimensions of black popular culture, this essay considers the relationship between teleological and reflexive conceptions of black politics and black political thought. Teleological approaches to black politics—even in their more radical versions—tend, in this reading, to reproduce modern narratives about the meaning and substance of emancipation, the role of the nation-state, the political implications of visibility traditionally understood, and, more broadly, the proper ends of black politics. Templates of black politics cast in more reflexive modes, in contrast, insist on and assist in the disclosure—that is, the opening up—of black and modern texts, including the emptier freedom narratives. Through various forms of labor and play, they seek to disrupt the teleological within not just black politics but also the touchlines of the modern political field. This essay engages questions related to the function of geography in black political thought, to diaspora, to the significance of space, and to the possible readings of the postcolonial moment, as well as the political salience of sound, texture, rhythm, and the visual register in order to draw distinctions between teleological and reflexive conceptions of black politics and black political thought.
Richard Iton teaches in the Department of African American Studies at Northwestern University. He is the author of Solidarity Blues: Race, Culture, and the American Left (2000), In Search of the Black Fantastic: Politics and Popular Culture in the Post-Civil Rights Era (2008), and Rhizome A (forthcoming).
This essay explores the extent to which the concept of “a black radical tradition” illuminates or limits understandings of the art and activism of dancer, choreographer, and activist Pearl Primus. Focusing on Primus's emergence as a public figure and artist during the 1940s, the essay examines her involvement in leftist politics. During this period, Primus sought to navigate her leftist commitments with her own seemingly nationalist impulses. This is most evident in her support of the “Double V” campaign and her involvement with Popular Front cultural communities and venues. The essay examines Primus's performances, writing, and travels in the US South, as well as her extensive FBI file. What emerges is the portrait of a young woman carving out her own aesthetic and political sensibilities, some of which adhere to our understandings of the black radical tradition and others of which reveal the limitations of such a framing in illuminating the complexity of her political and artistic vision.
Farah Jasmine Griffin is William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies at Columbia University. She is the author of "Who Set You Flowin'?": The African-American Migration Narrative (1995) and If You Can't Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday (2001), and coauthor, with Salim Washington, of Clawing at the Limits of Cool: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and the Greatest Jazz Collaboration Ever (2008).
This essay argues that before Garveyism became an ideology in its own right in 1920, and before it began its political ascent in the United States in 1919, Marcus Garvey was exposed during his sojourn in Britain, in 1913–14, to one of the most important social movements of the Edwardian era: the Brotherhood movement. From his exposure to the movement's ideology and his participation in its organizational successes, Garvey obtained the template of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, which he created on his return to Jamaica from England in mid-1914. The first attempt to tell the story of Garvey's involvement and association with the Brotherhood movement, this essay also suggests that Garvey's patrons in the movement financed his return to Jamaica but that the outbreak of World War I interrupted their support and thus the implementation of his plan for a Jamaican brotherhood movement.
Robert A. Hill is professor emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he became a professor of history in 1977, and is currently John S. Hinkley Visiting Professor in the Department of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. He is editor-in-chief of The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers (1983-), eleven volumes to date. He is also the editor of numerous historical editions, among them Marcus Garvey's Black Man, Cyril Briggs's Crusader, The FBI's RACON, and George S. Schuyler's Black Empire and Ethiopian Stories. In addition, he is the literary executor of the C. L. R. James Estate. In October 1992 he was awarded the Gold Musgrave Medal of the Institute of Jamaica for his distinguished contribution to history.
This essay argues that the death of a fictional photographer in the 1907 novel Rupert Gray: A Tale in Black and White allays anxieties posed by photographic surveillance and “feminization.” Even if the novel's faith in the British Empire disqualifies it from being radical, its portrayal of the political fortunes of black male leadership in the Caribbean as potentially thwarted by female authority, ancestral shame, and the objectification of tourist photography offers a useful way of conceptualizing the black radical tradition in terms of vulnerability as a condition to be avoided. Moreover, Rupert Gray illuminates concerns about sovereignty and surveillance in our present.
Faith Smith is associate professor at Brandeis University, where she currently chairs the Department of African and Afro-American Studies. She edited Sex and the Citizen: Interrogating the Caribbean (2011) and is currently working on a book project titled "Whose Modern? Caribbean Cultural and Intellectual Formation, 1885-1915."
Marking the close of the conference “The Idea of a Black Radical Tradition,” this roundtable served as a workshop for participants to explore, extend, and trouble the cultural and political discourse of black radicalism.
Nijah Cunningham is a doctoral candidate in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and the editorial assistant for Small Axe. He is currently working on a dissertation that focuses on literature, performance, and the question of a black aesthetic that emerges from the 1960s moment across three African and African diasporic nodes—Senegal, Jamaica, and the United States.
In a long interview, Scott and Orlando Patterson discuss the sociologist and novelist's childhood, education, public service, and books.
David Scott teaches in the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University, and is at present a visiting professor at the University of Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne. His latest book, Omens of Adversity: Tragedy, Time, Memory, Justice, is to be published by Duke University Press in 2013.
Though these images appear linear, they are in fact a circle, beginning with the stained Atlantic Ocean. Thereafter enters the African spirit, marked with the patterns of their heritage before The Dark absorbs them. Phibbah is hung—a metaphor for the atrocities. Her genitals are exposed, calling attention to the damage done to women. The phallic bones in Bone Yard wag, flaunting their masculine power, but death, burial, and the end/beginning are part of the journey. From the ashes of the Phoenix, we leap into life and go home.
Laura Facey is a Jamaican sculptor whose work spans forty years. She was trained at the Jamaica School of Art. Her controversial Redemption Song is a monument to slave emancipation, commissioned by the government of Jamaica in 2002. Also significant among her works is Their Spirits Gone before Them (2006), an installation of a sixteen-foot cottonwood canoe housing hundreds of the miniature resin figures of the Redemption Song monument.
What is the relationship between photography and diaspora? How did this relationship stave off the catastrophe of black life? This essay uses the nineteenth-century photographic form of the stereograph as a hermeneutic. Through an examination of two iconic photographs of Pan-African leader Marcus Garvey, the essay shows the role that Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) gave photography to both document and confer consistency and legitimacy to the leader and his movement in the midst of organizational tumult. The organization broadly, and Garvey especially, used photography to mobilize racial feeling and to assert a vision of black modernity. The essay then considers the collaboration between Harlem studio photographer James VanDerZee and Garvey, who, through the UNIA, hired VanDerZee to document the organization's activities in the summer of 1924. More capaciously, these pairings encourage us to think about the relationship between photography and diaspora.
Leigh Raiford is associate professor of African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where her teaching and research interests focus on photography, film, and art of the African diaspora. She is the author of Imprisoned in a Luminous Glare: Photography and the African American Freedom Struggle (2011) and coeditor, with Renee Romano, of The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory (2006).