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black studies as text

Black Studies is (and has been) a social movement, an academic profession, and a knowledge network.

  1. As a social movement Black Studies was founded as a project of the Black Power Movement, turning higher education into a front for the overall Black Liberation Movement.

  1. As an academic profession Back Studies has been vanguard transformative agency towards multi-cultural diversity in community, multi-trans-inter-disciplinarily in scholarship, and scholar-activism for social justice.
  2. As a knowledge network Black Studies has become eBlack Studies utilizing  digital tools: websites, listservs, email, digital archives, and networking environments.


This material is a new digital anthology.  A digital anthology is an aggregation of digital texts and a webliography around a theme, with an introduction and organizational structure that has a clear focus. This digital anthology is composed of scholarship produced by a scholar activist collective network called Peoples College.  The main leadership in the several stages of this network has been Abdul Alkalimat (Gerald McWorter) covering 40 years.  At this time of generational transition it is important that we reflect on the last 40 years of collective work in the trenches of our peoples struggle.

on texts

The sword hanging over the head of all leadership � in social movements and in higher education � is to publish or perish.  We�ve all got to put it on paper, or create a text in whatever format, but create, produce, and distribute our ideas is a necessity.

However, all texts don�t have equal weight in that they serve varying aspects of the organized power and status structure, some with more and some with less.  This is a hierarchical structure and on that basis inequality results in conflict.  So for every text in Black Studies one needs to examine author, publisher, and audience as a way of defining social context and purpose.  Further, the three historical stages of Black Studies must be examined in the same way.  It is the collective intelligence of the aggregated literature that defines what is actually being thought.  It is time to look at all of it and not to privilege a few voices with the backing of power.  The critical question is �what do we think?�  This is especially important when connected to the question �what will we do?�   Then the I has a context, and a challenge.

The real imperative for Black Studies is to understand what is actually being thought.  We need to summarize, critique, and guide what actually exists.  What we really think is often hidden in plain view unless we collect, codify, and theorize our collective intellectual production.  Indeed, respect for self and community is also part of this.

So, texts are critical.  We have understood this and have maintained a focus on the texts of Black Studies.   We have been active in all three stages of Black Studies, and have maintained a consistent focus on the texts.  They have always been hidden in plain view, and we have made fighting that silence to be part of our liberation struggle.

social movement   

The first dynamic was moving from the perspective of civil rights through Black Power to social revolution.  As a militant Black Chicago activist in SNCC, Civil Rights was about major school boycotts and challenging the power of the Daley regime.  As part of my PhD in Sociology at the University of Chicago I designed and prepared for a special field exam in Political Sociology under Peter Rossi and Morris Janowitz.  As part of that process I paid particular attention to scholarship about Black agency in the political process.  The Political Sociology of the Negro was my first professional publication in 1967.

I left Chicago (for Fisk University as others had done before me, eg Charles Johnson and E Franklin Frazier) as past Chair of Chicago SNCC, the Chair of OBAC just after we created the Wall of Respect, and as the Co-chair of the professional workshop of the first Black Power Conference  in Newark (with Hoyt Fuller).   After King was killed, I left Fisk and joined the Atlanta network of Vincent Harding, Stephen Henderson, A.B. Spellman, and Larry Rushing to create the Institute of the Black World.  This was a moment of ideological transformation.  Kofi Wangara guided me in my naming rebirth as a master of Ki Swahili and Arabic.  We also joined forces in a course to specifically clarify for our students and ourselves an ideology of liberation based on scholarship and advocacy.  This 1969 course syllabus is a major collection of texts: Two Continents of African Revolution.

One of the high points of the connection between Black Studies and the Black Liberation Movement is based on the African Liberation movements.  Black scholars withdrew from the African Studies Association because of their connection to the CIA and their refusal to promote Black leadership.  The armed struggle was heating up in Southern African and Guinea-Bissau.  African American militants took up the task of building an annual African Liberation Day demonstration.  The academics formed AHSA (African Heritage Studies Association) and the activists formed ALSC (African Liberation Support Committee).  We brought these two forces together.  We published a study program on �Imperialism and Black Liberation� in The Black Scholar.  And, we organized a conference of leading scholars and activists who adopted a manifesto that called for a �Year to Pull the Covers Off Imperialism." (Both of these documents on imperialism ere published in The Black Scholar - see the documents for citation reference to original publication.) 

This work continues, but in this context our case is made with these two examples from the founding social movement stage of Black Studies.  The rupture between the Black liberation movement and Black Studies has been a set back and needs to be repaired.  Our last great opportunity that we missed was the Black Radical Congress (1998).  Young scholars of Black Studies as social movement must accept the challenge to consolidate their generation�s work, and to network with activists that will critique, internalize and implement all meaningful lessons of the past contained in that scholarship.  And it must always be emphasized that action without thought is blind, therefore all community activists should be serious students as well.

academic profession   

As an academic profession, Black Studies needs to produce texts as the hallmark of scholarship in research and on which to build a curriculum.  In this context we focused on publishing in three ways: a core literature, the publishers, and the annual literary production.  We needed a foundation of method, theory, and empirical research.  We needed  to know the publishers and how to get published.  And, we needed a way to monitor the annual publication record of the field.

Our work includes two key contributions in defining a core literature.

  1. 1975 After a period of experimentation we sought a core foundational literature in Black intellectual history.  Guided by the grand historical narrative we focused on three paradigmatic issues: slavery v. emancipation, rural and urban. And middle class and working class.  We chose seven volumes based on five criteria for a classic in Black intellectual history.
  1. 1984 After more than a decade of experimentation we created the first textbook with a comprehensive theoretical framework for the discipline.  The bibliography for this work was our example of an inclusive core literature.

Given the mandate to publish or perish the publishers are key power brokers.  The intellectual record of scholarship is mainly in academic journals.  We published reports that documented and analyzed the publishers of books and journals in Black Studies.

  1. 1981 Guide to Scholarly Journals in Black Studies
  1. 1993 Guide to Scholarly Publishing in Black Studies (with Ron Bailey)
  1. 2008 The Academic Journals of Black Studies

We used this research to propose a model to measure professional achievement in Black Studies (1981).

For a decade (1983-1992) we closely monitored the hard copy publications in Black Studies (as well as studies on Black people).  During this time we published 16 issues of our AFRO-Scholar Newsletter, at varying times at the University of Illinois, Northeastern, SUNY Stony Brook, and the Chicago South Side.  We gathered the tables of contents of all key Black Studies journals.  We used key word searches in all of the current publications lists in all fields, including the Citation Index, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Books in Print. 

knowledge network

By the mid 1990�s digital technology took off and direct discourse via listservs became the main way that references were being shared in a network of scholars.  This general approach was taken up by all fields, and leading the effort was H-Net.  Abdul Alkalimat was the founding editor of H-Afro-Am in 1998 and has served in this role for over 11 years.  Three thousand people share daily posts, questions and answers rooted in the scholarly literature.  The entire archive of all the messages is searchable.

In the context of the information revolution the search for a core literature migrated to cyberspace, from hard copy sources to digital ones.  Our contribution to this process has been a book length map of resources in cyberspace.  The conceptual categories were the same as the text book process started in 1984, hence there is some degree of continuity.

As in all of these published efforts the heroes and sheroes of Black Studies are the scholars and activists who have collectively produced this literature.  Clearly this literature is as important as the mainstream journals of power.  We have to face the imperative of respecting the views of the oppressed at least as much as those allowed to serve in the ruling centers of power.

on the use of this material

The texture of a historical process is manifest in material trends, the threads that make the cloth.  We have created a digital record of the intellectual production of Black Studies.  In part its power is that it is a record of the actual historical process of the field, an intellectual map of our journey from 1975 to 2009, thirty five years of intellectual production covering the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century.

  1. These are digital texts that can be searched for names and key concepts.  It is possible to chart earlier research and have a rich review of the literature on your research topic that is rooted in the professional literature of Black Studies.
  1. These are guides for Black Studies authors who want inter-textuality with the Black Studies research tradition.
  1. These are guides to the research that needs to be replicated and improved upon by young scholars in the decades to come.

It is important to give special focus to H-Afro-Am, the main listserv in Black Studies that on most days provides an exchange of messages in a world wide network of 3,000 scholars and students.  Every student, activist, researcher, and faculty can gain from this list.  It is the only daily discourse dedicated to �academic excellence and social responsibility.�   This list is larger than all national conferences and as a daily service it impacts more scholars and students than any other publication.  It is the nerve center of Black Studies that provides an information flow.

These materials are a clear manifestation of literature in all dimensions of Black Studies:

  1. Black Studies as social movement
  1. Black Studies as academic profession
  1. Black Studies as knowledge network.