Our March seminar focused on Wilson Moses’ Creative Conflict in African American Thought, an in-depth examination of several key figures which challenges a simplistic reading of these individuals as either heroes or villains. We discussed the prologue which builds on the idea of “reconciling conflicts between proponents of opposing ideas and internal conflicts in individual speakers.” Given that all of us have these internal conflicts, it’s no surprise to see them in our heroes, but it can be disconcerting.

We discussed problems with the author’s tone, which at times reads as dismissive and suggested ways of approaching the text with students (or those in the Summer seminar) to frame the reading. We agreed that reading the introduction prior to diving into an individual chapter is essential with this work. We may want to assign just the introduction to our students in the fall. Another way to approach the text would be to teach students how to work with scholarly tone. Perhaps we could provide excerpts from two different works on one of these figures: one written in a glowing, biographical style, and another perhaps more critical reading from one of Moses’ chapters. This would allow students to think about the work in terms of audience. We also discussed alerting students to the visceral reaction they may have to the text, and discussed possible pre-lessons on the figures to provide students with some context.

Sharon presented an overview on chapters 2 & 3 about Frederick Douglass. Discussion centered on the contradictions present in several versions of his autobiographies (we see something similar in Holtzclaw’s work – discussed audience). Sharon noted that the text discusses his physical courage & psychological advantages, with an emphasis on building himself up (“huge ego bordering on obnoxious”). We also discussed his connections with the suffrage and protest movements and how failings such as that of The Freedman’s Bank are rarely mentioned in discussions of Douglass’ work. Dan presented chapter 8 and the connections between Booker T. Washington and the rise of progressivism related to both social Darwinism and the industrial revolution. Page 151 related to the Tuskegee Machine was discussed, along with a conversation about BTW preferring to align himself with the progressivism of Andrew Carnegie rather than that of Roosevelt due to the needs to keep his school open. Conflicts with Du Bois and Crummell were also discussed. Apryl focused her presentation of chapter 9 on BTW’s connection with Benjamin Franklin. Discussing the idea that “there’s nothing new under the sun,” Apryl discussed the materialism of BTW’s day and his response, as seen on page 172. Jean brought us a discussion of chapters 13 & 14 on Marcus Garvey focused on a challenging reinterpretation of Garvey. We discussed the caste of color as an unspoken caste that continues today within the Black community (the film Dark Girls was mentioned as a resource: from the website, “Dark Girls pulls back our country’s curtain to reveal that the deep seated biases and hatreds of racism – within and outside of the Black American culture – remain bitterly entrenched”). Garvey’s contradictions were discussed, including his work with the UNIA which was more closely aligned with racial protest than the NAACP. We also discussed his troubled relationship with BTW and the Tuskegee Machine, along with the motivations behind his Black Star line and eventual conviction for mail fraud (280-1).

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