Fall 2018 Readings and Sounds

Introduction to Africana Studies II

  • CRAWLEY, ASHON. Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016.
  • ROBINSON, CEDRIC. Black Movements in America. New York: Routledge, 1997.
  • SHARPE, CHRISTINA. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016.
  • FERGUSON, RODERICK. The Reorder of Things: The University and its Pedagogies of Minority Difference. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.
  • HARNEY, STEFANO AND FRED MOTEN. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study. New York: Minor Compositions, 2013.

Music: #HUAFRO06 – Of Otherwise Possibilities

Black Thought in the Diaspora

  • HORNE, GERALD. Paul Robeson: The Artist as Revolutionary. London: Pluto Press, 2016.
  • MAKALANI, MINKAH. In the Cause of Freedom: Radical Black Internationalism, from Harlem to London, 1917-1939. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011.
  • ROBINSON, CEDRIC J. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.
  • WALTERS, RONALD. Pan Africanism in the African Diaspora: An Analysis of Modern Afrocentric Political Movements. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993.
  • ADI, HAKIM. Pan-Africanism and Communism: The Communist International, Africa and the Diaspora, 1919-1939. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2013.
  • ITON, RICHARD. In Search of the Black Fantastic: Politics and Popular Culture in the Post-Civil Rights Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • SINGH, NIKHIL PAL. Black is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.

Music: #HUAFRO197- Black Thought in the Diaspora

Nineteenth Century Black Social and Political Thought

  • COOPER, ANNA JULIA. A Voice from the South. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
  • DELANY, MARTIN. Blake; or the Huts of America. Boston: Beacon Press, 1970.
  • DU BOIS, W.E.B. Black Reconstruction in America. New York: Free Press, 2000.
  • GARNET, HENRY HIGHLAND AND DAVID WALKER. Walker’s Appeal, with a Brief Sketch of His Life, and Also Garnet’s Address to the Slaves of the United States of America. Gloucester, UK: Dodo Press, 2007.
  • HARDING, VINCENT. There is a River: The Struggle for Black Freedom in America. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981.
  • HARPER, FRANCES ELLEN WATKINS. Iola Leroy; or Shadows Uplifted. New York: Penguin, 2010.
  • BROTZ, HOWARD, ed. African American Social and Political Thought, 1850-1920. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2008.
  • STUCKEY, STERLING. Slave Culture: Nationalist Theory and the Foundations of Black America, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Music: #HUAFRO133 -19th Century Black Social and Political Thought



Still Lives


“I feel very good. I really do see music as art, and I want to take pieces from different places in my life and present them to the world. And the only insurance we really have is a process that transforms us in the making of the thing.” – Lizz Wright[1]

She forces us to be still. And in our stillness we briefly remember what it feels like to be free. She has the ability to stop time, how we experience the here and now, which is only a reminder that we are not. She vocalizes what we can only (hope to) experience.

A melodic patience. A harmonic reckoning. A rhythmic insistence. It is the sound of liberation.

But a liberation that is resonant with what it must have been like before. Before we were interrupted, cast adrift, moved to an away place, away from a place that beckons us to return. Maybe physically. Definitely spiritually. A sound that reminds us of a way, the way. It is a sound of a knowing that some have never known, but must come to know if we are to know how we knew. She is Lizz Wright. And she stops time.

She comes to us from the past. The infusion of African culture in stolen lands, the deep African soul of her “Georgia soil.”

Georgia on my mind.

Ebo’s Landing on our mind.

She comes to us from the present. Black church folk, making sense out of unreality. Leaning on everlasting arms, holding to unchanging hands. Yet we will remember her for capturing something else, something familiar, but something else. She ushers us to a break. The world as we know it, as we experience it, is confronted and transcended. And we need sound to understand that. We need to be touched by tone, by timbre, by the calm cadence of belief. She gives us that feeling.

She remembers, she believes.

In our stillness, we remember, we believe.

Still lives.

She arrived on the scene a little over a decade ago with her debut album, Salt. A work that stopped us, provoked an arresting of our consciousness, and forced us to take note of her arrival. It was a work of presence, a reaching back to an earlier time, but nevertheless a work of presence. She had announced her genealogy, but she had laid claim to her own contribution to it.

Afro Blue.

Blue Rose.

Maybe we are all just morning glories “lost in a tangle of vine.”

Or of time.

With Dreaming Wide Awake, she transported us out of time. Allowing us to think ourselves timeless. Letting love become an embrace of separation, a dance of distance, a movement away from the things that make loving our Black selves difficult. Love in her evocation of its beauty only becomes possible with stillness, with patience, with deep commitments to ourselves and an inward gaze, a satisfaction that we can be.

Know thyself. Love thyself.

“Take a look at my life, I’m a lot like you were.”

The Orchard reconnects us to earth. A bond broken by movement, migration, by the ugliness of the urban. A concern present in all of her work, yet one which here is connected to our understanding of what it means to love. It is the natural world that reflects our best senses of what love can be.

The sun.

Drops of rain.



Fellowship is a celebration of who we were, who we will be. It is our collective song. We are reminded of our amazing grace, our rhythms, our creations, our God. But it is not a singular conversation, beholden to one tradition. To fellowship with our deepest selves, we must also retrace notions of life that some may have lost or have folded into other traditions.

So she calls Oya.

We listen.

We remember, we believe.

Fellowship is a belief in the beauty of suffering and sacrifice. And a belief that it ain’t gon’ last always.


If Black lives matter, then Black life has to matter. What was life, what is life to those made Black? Herein lies the uncharted terrain for those energized simply by movement, a movement that in some ways disdains stillness. There is value in resisting by moving, by rejecting the accepted and acceptable stations of Blacked life. But there is a need to think about direction, orientation. To think about where we move to. For the Black radical tradition has not simply fought against conditions, it is inherently a fight for life. For the ability to define life. For the ability to live a life, to live lives, “lit by some large vision”[2] of what it means to be fully human. To be in possession of the full range of our possible selves. To think about how we would develop a world that renders the statement “Black lives matter” unnecessary, even absurd, for this world would implicitly affirm that fact. To live on one’s own terms. To be unencumbered by a social structure that negated those terms to meet its own political interests. To think beyond, against, and through the logic of a liberal tradition that presents itself as the only option. To imagine a freedom beyond John Locke and Thomas Jefferson—and Barack Obama. And then to possess it.

These were the terms under which that “collective intelligence” which defined the Black radical tradition struggled for.[3] The stakes could not be higher. Black struggle meant possibilities the modern world never thought possible. The Black radical tradition sought not to learn how to phrase its language and idiom within the bounds of normative discourse, it sought a “new note.” And it is through the language of sound, that these possibilities can be read anew, and applied today. For sound is what they could never take from us. And it was sound that guided how we imagined a future. A work song. A field holler. A way out of no way.


Her latest gift came after a seven-year silence. The way she explains its evolution is poignant. Hurt, but not broken. Searching, but not totally lost. She explains the need to return to a place, where she could be grounded. Spiritually, emotionally, and in touch with the physical evidence of the Creator—nature. She had to in effect, escape time and come to experience eternity. To be still; peace, be still. Of her creative process, she penned: “I remembered the feeling of being found. One of the most moving songs from its inception was, “Somewhere Down the Mystic.” Playing on the simple wonders of my rustic Appalachian life, we imagined a love lost to death and the feeling of its lasting warmth, a nod to love’s reach across life’s threshold.” The result was Freedom and Surrender. A deep meditation of life began anew. A reminder that we can all begin again. We are the authors of the world. Our God directs our path. No one can take our freedom and thrive forever. We can only be confident that things will not simply change, but that they will never go back to this. The way over “that with tears that have been watered” is not a two-way street.


When we hear the call, will we answer?

Yes, yes, we will.

We find solace in her words: “In surrender I experience freedom. The gift of an end is a beginning.” [4] We surrender all. For in our stillness, in those moments when time stops, we hear the voices of freedom that our ancestors evoked and we know that the Black radical tradition still lives.

[1] Nate Chinen, “The Lizz Wright Interview,” Jazz Times, December 16, 2015, http://jazztimes.com/articles/171164-the-lizz-wright-interview

[2] Ossie Davis, Life Lit by Some Large Vision: Selected Essays and Speeches (New York: Atria Books, 2006).

[3] See Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).

[4]These quotes appear in “Statement from Lizz Wright,” http://www.citywinery.com/chicago/catalog/product/view/_ignore_category/1/id/1077925/.

On Origami Harvest

The risk of writing a review is that we do not have language (at least not in English) that can reveal what music does. Much of what passes as cultural criticism is a meaningless ambling on about something music was never meant to be. So this is not a review,  this is not criticism, only a brief reflection, an unburdening of the weight that the hearing forced upon us; a passing on.

Ambrose Akinmusire’s Origami Harvest featured a string quartet, a poet/rapper, and a trio of drum, trumpet, and piano/keys/bass station. The compositions that Akinmusire wrote juxtaposed each of the components, while searching for a thread that unites every move. The poet was also speaking to juxtaposition, in life, in politics, in art. As each took their turn, in and out, I think what Akinmusire wrote for the string quartet stood out the most, compositionally. I’m always suspicious of performances where I see music stands. It feels too perfunctory, it speaks to another tradition. We are improvisatory. But in Akinmusire’s case, the sheet music was the improvisation. I remember him making such a statement about his aspiration to write in this way in 2014: “I want to be able to write a song and not have it need improvisation.” And I think it has come to fruition in this project as well as in his latest album,  A Rift in Decorum. I would love to see how it looked on the sheet. That’s how brilliant it was. The sheet music must be visually stunning.

And it came through in the strings. Their work was a microcosm of the whole idea. Some people use string quartets for fluff, Akinmusire did the exact opposite. And they opened space for the trio and poet to rethink and augment and of course, to improvise. The crowd was shook. Almost in a kind of mesmerized denial, waiting for a thing to come that never came, until you realized the thing you expected was underneath it the whole time. And if you didn’t catch it with the strings, the other components brought you there. Composition as juxtaposition. Sound as radical expectation, unfulfilled but realized in other ways.

Origami Harvest, 8/5/2018, Newport RI
Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet)
Sam Harris (keys)
Marcus Gilmore (drums)
Kool AD (words)
Mivos String Quartet

Lecture Notes: Of the Fantastic

The prevailing idea underscoring Richard Iton’s thesis in In Search of the Black Fantastic is that there is something of “value” in popular culture. That this something of “value” is necessary to understanding how Black people make sense of “the political;” or that range of practices that structure how the modern world operates. That this something is woefully under-analyzed within the disciplines that center the study of politics, wherein we conceive of how to be free.[1] And also, that this something of “value” is not merely an aesthetic valuation, that it is beyond the logic of the aesthetic or even a counter-aesthetic.[2]

It is somewhat ironic that the freest expressions and articulations of Black thought—those that exist within the cultural realm—are also seen by political thinkers as less serious domains of political engagement.[3] And that those areas which have been complicit in our domination—formal politics— are thought to be changeable, negotiable. Formal politics requires concessions, whereby our cultural traditions embody freedom. The rational liberal subject is no match for the blues. After all, as Randy Weston once queried my brother Henry Williams, “Who is more freer than Louis Armstrong?”

The Black fantastic then is that underside, or other side. That way of being that resists the idea that we must be transformed from a “thing” into something that is recognizable as citizen, as subject, as respectable, as normative. And a knowing that even if this was possible, it would require what E. Franklin Frazier calls a sort of self-effacement. Thankfully, the Black fantastic exists outside of Frazier’s world of “make-believe” and it provides a source for thinking and creating that is only beholden to those who live “in the wake” of modernity.

Yet there are still challenges. Commodication. Technology. The imposition of industry in art. The requirements of the aesthetic that make creating a counter-aesthetic seem plausible. The attempt to graft flawed understandings and meanings of normal politics within the domains of the fantastic, a practice Iton links to the development of a superpublic; a kind of neo-minstrelsy.[4] The imprecise ways we frame diaspora and the larger implications of Black thought beyond the nation.[5] These are its limits. But such limits are more about the external modes that structure its appearance, rather than the internal logics that make the Black fantastic. And so what we need more than anything is art that continuously subverts those externalities and when that subversion is incorporated, art that subverts that incorporation. It is a cycle.

And like Iton, we need to search for that subversion while holding steady a critical eye toward the external forces that limit us. They in fact, exist in a tension between modes of belonging and visions of freedom. Those freest visions interrupt normal politics by offering a vantage point and sensibility that stands apart rather than within. And they are always with us—playing out, under, and against.[6] Through thick and thin.[7] Ultimately, recognition is not a practice of being seen as much as it is about changing what it is to be seen and what seeing is. The political is an inferior space for such an awareness. The fantastic points us to another view from the bridge

[1] See Iton, In Search, Chapter One.

[2] Iton is one of few scholars that directly respond to the challenge of Clyde Taylor’s The Mask of Art (Indiana UP, 1998).

[3] Iton directly singles out the scholar, Adolph Reed, Jr. See his Stirrings in the Jug (UMN Press, 1999); Class Notes (New Press, 2000); and The Jesse Jackson Phenomenon (Yale, 1986), among others.

[4] See Iton, In Search, Chapters Four and Five.

[5] See Iton, In Seach, Chapters Six and Seven.

[6] See pages 210-18.

[7] See pages 148-57.

Spring 2018 Readings and Sounds

This semester’s books (and music):

Honors Social Science Seminar

  • W.E.B. DU BOIS, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880 (New York: Free Press, 2000)
  • W.E.B. DU BOIS, The World and Africa: An Inquiry Into the Part Which Africa has Played in World History (New York: International Publishers, [1946], 1965)
  • W.E.B. DU BOIS, Writings, ed. Nathaniel Huggins (New York: Library of America, 1986)
  • W.E.B. DU BOIS, The Problem of the Color Line at the Turn of the Century, ed. Nahum Dimitri Chandler (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015)
  • ERIC J. SUNDQUIST, ed. The Oxford W.E.B. Du Bois Reader (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996)
  • DAVID LEVERING LEWIS, W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2009)

Music:  https://open.spotify.com/user/1245819475/playlist/2byfXuNqOcZFFVmQDx2MKE

Twentieth Century Black Social and Political Thought

  • W.E.B. DU BOIS, The Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois: A Soliloquy on Viewing my Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century (New York: International Publishers, 1968)
  • CEDRIC JOHNSON, Revolutionaries to Race Leaders: Black Power and the Making of African American Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007)
  • ROBIN D.G. KELLEY, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002)
  • TONI MORRISON, Paradise (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997)
  • TONI MORRISON, Song of Solomon (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977)
  • NIKHIL PAL SINGH, Black is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004)
  • ROBIN D.G. KELLEY AND EARL LEWIS, eds. To Make Our World Anew: Volume Two: A History of African Americans since 1880 (London and New York: Routledge, 1997)
  • MANNING MARABLE AND LEITH MULLINGS, Let Nobody Turn Us Around: An African American Anthology, 2nd Edition (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009)
  • CEDRIC J. ROBINSON, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press, 2000)

Music: https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/1245819475/playlist/456usGTbnUFOz0CqWIoQkJ

Introduction to Africana Studies I

  • ITON, RICHARD. In Search of the Black Fantastic: Politics and Popular Culture in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009)
  • STUCKEY, STERLING. Slave Culture: Nationalist Theory and the Foundations of Black America (New York: Oxford University Press, [1987], 2013)
  • GOMEZ, MICHAEL A. Exchanging Our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities in the Colonial and Antebellum South (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1998)
  • HOLLOWAY, JOSEPH E., ed. Africanisms in American Culture (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1993)
  • WELSH-ASANTE, KARIAMU, ed. The African Aesthetic: Keeper of the Traditions (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1993)

Music: https://open.spotify.com/user/1245819475/playlist/2rYpz8RGlvqR4tb7beyWSM


when they come

when they come there is no refuge no hiding place only confrontation inevitable facing them maybe embracing them but never escaping them they are here to stay to push to prod to force


to force us together thinking loving being for they are a reminder that all that is and can be is already

is already

so face the inevitable with the confidence of memory with the confidence of knowledge that there is order in the world this is no accident there is always a reason.