Keisha N. Blain is an American historian and writer. She is an Associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh and President of the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS). She is “one of the most innovative and influential young historians of her generation.”
Blain is one of the nation’s leading scholars of African American history, African Diaspora Studies, and Women’s and Gender History.
Upon completing her postdoctoral research in 2015, Blain accepted a faculty position at the University of Iowa for two years. While there, she received an American Postdoctoral Research Leave Fellowship from the American Association of University Women (AAUW). She also received a two year Summer Institute on Tenure and Professional Advancement Fellowship at Duke University during the summer. In 2017, Blain accepted a faculty position at the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of history. She co-edited Charleston Syllabus: Readings on Race, Racism, and Racial Violence with Chad Williams and Kidada Williams in 2016. She became senior editor of Black Perspectives, the blog of the African American Intellectual History Society in 2016. In 2017, Blain was awarded the Roy Rosenzweig Prize for Innovation in Digital History from the American Historical Association (AHA).
- Keisha BlainAssociate Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh and President of the African American Intellectual History Society
- Peniel JosephFounding Director of the LBJ School’s Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the University of Texas at Austin
[0:00:07 Peniel] welcome to race and democracy. Ah, podcast on the intersection between race, democracy, public policy, social justice and citizenship. Today’s guest is Dr Kesha and Blaine, who is an award winning historian who teaches at the University of Pittsburgh and is president of the African American Intellectual History Society. She is currently the 2020 2021 fellow at the Car Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University, and she’s the author of numerous books, including Set the World on Fire, Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom. Dr Kesha and Blame Kesha. Welcome to Race and Democracy.
[0:00:50 Keisha] Thanks so Much for Having Me,
[0:00:52 Peniel] you know, I’m really excited to have this conversation with you because I taught Set the world on Fire, uh, in my African American Intellectual History seminar this semester, and we did it over two weeks. And I think this book is so timely for this year of racial and political reckoning where so many black women who have always been leaders but have come to the fore in a big ways in a big way with the BLM movement. So I want Thio talk about these black nationalist women who you call proto feminist. You know, you look at Amy Ashwood, Um, you look at, uh, Laura Dorky. You look at all these different nationalist and pan Africanist black women Onda what they had to face in this sort of patriarchal, sexist, racist America and international political arena. But how they helped to shape that political arena defying all kinds of odd. So I want to talk about some of the black women here. And what first of all, got you interested in these women?
[0:01:56 Keisha] Well, first, thanks for assigning the book. That’s always exciting to hear. I actually came to this topic as an undergrad, you know, as undergrad student. I attended Binghamton University and I was taking a class at the time on global Black social Movements with Michael West, who I think many of the listeners would recognize because he has edited amazing collection on black internationalism from Tucson to Tupac on. And I was taking this course with Professor West and so captivated by the story so captivated by the histories that we were centering in the class. But it became very clear to me that women women certainly showed up in the readings, and we certainly spoke about certain women, but it wasn’t clear to me how women were actually shaping, uh, internationalist politics. It was unclear to me, beyond just their roles the way that many of the authors would write about these women. It would be all about, you know, framing them as partners, you know, maybe someone involved in the movement, but not necessarily centering them as leaders, auras theorists. And I think it was for me, ah, glaring oversight in scholarship in general. And it led me to Thio. Ask a series of questions about black women’s roles within black international movements, particularly the 20th century and West encouraged me to write a paper, you know, to write a term paper on on black women in the Garvey movement of the 19 twenties. And that’s what I did. I wrote this paper on that paper, blossomed into an honors thesis. I ended up then going to grad school and writing a dissertation, initially not planning to work on Black Nationals women. But I was so captivated by the topic that I found myself coming back to the topic and writing the dissertation on which set the world on fire is based so it all started in a class on global black social movements.
[0:03:56 Peniel] Now I really enjoy your discussion. I want to start with the Garvey movement and looking at both Amy Ashwood and Amy Jacques Garvey, the first two wives of Marcus Garvey. But you really look at them as political activists, really throughout the book, in their own right. Tell us about Amy Ashwood and Amy Jacques Garvey and what they what they mean when we look at Garvey is, um, and when When we look at the early 20th century Pan African, this movements in these black movements for political self determination. When we look at black women as leaders and from their point of view during this period,
[0:04:32 Keisha] well, I’ll start with Amy Ashwood because I think it’s so important to recognize her as a co founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association on This is something that I discussed in the early on the first chapter of the book I and tried to spend a bit of time with that because it’s one thing to say that she contributed to the movement. And it’s one thing to even acknowledge the fact that she was, you know, President the very beginning, but I think it’s important to to recognize that she truly was a co founder. And it’s And it’s not exaggeration when you think about how, UM, Marcus Garvey relied upon just even the financial support off Ashley’s parents. For example, How Ash Woods, um, you know, the home of Ash Woods parents ultimately became a space for the U. N. A. To to have meetings on. Also, when you look at the Constitution, you look at these early founding documents of the U. N. A. And it’s evident how Amy Ashwood certainly helped to shape the organization from its beginning aunt, how she tried to find ways to include women, even though, as I argue in the book, it’s still, you know, a patriarchal organization. But it provides a critical space for black women to engage in political activity, particularly at a moment where, as we know, a black women and black people in general were shut out of the formal political process via the vote on DSO. Amy Ashwood is is really important in thinking about the Garvey movement from its beginning and then to talk about Amy Jack Garvey. This is important, too, because here, you know, So one woman we could describe as co founder and and the other as co creator off Garvey is, um And here I’m thinking about just a critical role that Amy Garvey played in helping Marcus Garvey. You know, even simple task is helping him write his speeches. But even far more than that, she was someone who took a hold of his legacy and worked to make sure that people would understand Garvey’s ideas that people would would ultimately never forget. Um, these important ideas and she helped to sustain. Um, you know, Garvey is, um, long after Garvey had passed away. So these two women were were fundamental to the Garvey movement and two black national politics in general.
[0:07:14 Peniel] Tell us about Mitty, Maude, Lena Gordon and the peace movement of Ethiopia and why that was so, so important. And I thought it was very interesting, uh, to look at the PM me in this idea of Ethiopia on immigration, and you also look at the Moorish Science Temple in the connections there. I thought it was really, really fascinating throughout because it’s such a side of the story. Um, that usually is not told and you tell it from a different angle than scholars like Eric McDuffie and other people who have looked at black women who are part of the left. The broader left a Communist Party in that in that way. So tell us about many more. Lena Gordon, obviously, Celia Jane Allen, these thes black women who did these extraordinary things. And you make a great case that they’re part of the organizing tradition that Charles Pain and other people have talked about which, you know, I I love Thio read about and I thought was so after.
[0:08:14 Keisha] Absolutely, in fact, many modeling of Gordon, I think, is you know, the person I would credit as ultimately setting me on this path to to write this book because I was not aware, um, of her. Initially, I certainly had not even heard of her. I had not encountered the peace movement of Ethiopia at all in the scholarship on day, there were references in various books and articles, which I then found after the fact. But I had not encountered any of these names while I was studying black nationalism and certainly the Garvey movement. But finding Midi modeling a Gordon was transformative because I had, like so many other scholars, had been making a case that ultimately the Garvey movement. You know, I I certainly used to say that Oh, the Garvey Garvey movement died somewhere around, you know, 1927 with Garvey’s legal troubles and and with with his arrest and imprisonment and then ultimately, with his deportation. Then the Garvey movement died. Uh, and if you think about it through the lens of black nationalism, broadly, I was certainly one of those people who would have made the case that, you know, black nationalism had it sort of golden age in the earlier period and then dies off in the thirties forties on, then has experiences some sort of resurgence, you know, in the 19 fifties and sixties onward. But finding many modeling of Gordon in the archives was an important moment, because here was an example off a woman who was involved in the Garvey movement in the 19 twenties, who decided to establish her own black national organization, which he did in December 1932 and the Peace Movement of Ethiopia. Eyes truly a fascinating organization to study because it is both nationalists in its framing, emphasizing political self determination, emphasizing, You know, African heritage and, um, you know, self sufficiency all of these core ideas that we ascribe to black nationalism. But it was also a black internationalists organization in that they were also they were thinking about how to make connections to other people. You know, other groups of color, particularly connections to Japanese people that I talk about in the book Onda, of course, connections to activists on, you know, on the African continent. So the peace with the movement of Ethiopia attracted thousands thousands of black people, certainly in Chicago, of course, but across the Midwest and across the country, as I explained in the book, the organization had more than a dozen chapters. And Celia Jane Allen is one of the women who whose life was transformed by having an encounter with Gordon and joining the peace wound of Ethiopia. And she becomes unorganized er who travels Thio Mississippi on and throughout various parts of the South to help to build organization Andi. Just those two quick examples underscore the critical role that women played in sustaining black national politics. On keeping black nationalist ideas alive in public discourse. making it possible right toe Have, uh, really a robust, you know, black power movement, as you so eloquently write about in your own work. And so I think this this was a missing chapter, to be sure. And it was the kind of narrative that that I needed to tell to help people see how clearly black women have shaped both nationalist and internationalist movements on discourses in the 20th century.
[0:12:11 Peniel] Now I was really struck in the chapter, dreaming of Liberia about thes black women and at times negotiating and trying to get support from Theodore Bilbo, the segregationist senator. I think you do that really well to show us how, what their motivations were, that we could be critical of it. But what their motivations were. And certainly there’s this longer history of black activists, at times trying to negotiate with white supremacists, whether it’s Garvey or Malcolm X in the nation. But I had never seen until reading this, you know, black women, front and center. Can you tell us about that? The negotiations for Liberian immigration and what are your thoughts about it in terms of you do a good job of not trying to just judge them. But we also know what you know. The morality of of doing that sort of one rule of thumb probably should be never negotiate with you. Yeah, because you’re not gonna really win. Eso tell us about that. I thought that was very, very just just very interesting.
[0:13:19 Keisha] Well, I’ll admit that that chapter was the most difficult chapter. I think, um, to write. And I struggled with this partly because I was just frustrated with with the story and frustrated with the history. I did not expect to find this much collaboration, as you know, that it’s not new. I was aware, you know, certainly started studying. Garvey is, um, about the kinds of collaborations with Marcus Garvey and several white supremacists, and and we see all of the’s examples throughout history. But it was something to see black women pursuing these collaborations and also to grapple with, you know, the racial, but also that the gender dynamics of these relationships, too. Um, I ultimately came to the, you know, I ultimately came to the place where I said, Okay, I may not like this history or this aspect of the history, but it is there and I and I wanted to present, you know, a thorough and honest assessment of the movement as much as possible. So I decided, you know, I have to take this on completely. I have to grapple with it. Readers would expect me to to do so and and and part of, uh, talking about these collaborations was figure out. Two things. One, you know, Did these women actually think that the strategy made sense, you know, Did they actually think it could work? Did they see it has an effective strategy on and to to like to what extent? What? You know we’re there. Collaborations, performative. You know, to what extent? Where these women putting on a show. You know, I had to figure out these kinds of nuances, and it’s And it was difficult to come to those, um um, answers, but thankfully, I was able to come to those answers, finding several clues in the archives and one clue in particular, which I think was probably the most revealing aspect of doing this research on this particular you know, um, story was finding many modeling of Gordon’s exchange with one of the activists and the movement in which hey was writing to her and criticizing her, saying, You know, why in the world are you collaborating with white supremacists? This is just doesn’t make sense. This goes against everything that we stand for. And she says to him, Listen, this is this is ultimately strategy on DSHEA says We need to be willing to try anything to try any and everything that will help us accomplish our goals. And here is where I I I I decided, you know, to focus specifically on this idea of of pragmatism, right? And that enough itself means various things. But but fundamentally, for these women, it was about being willing to forge collaborations, um, with people who you don’t necessarily agree with or even people who you agree with on certain issues. But they have a different, you know, perspective, as is the case with immigration. So black Nationals, women wanted, you know, to leave the United States and white supremacists wanted them to leave the United States, even though they both had different, you know, motivations for wanting immigration on dso. Many modern of Gordon’s explanation, you know, to this activist was a useful one because it helped me see that truly, these women were thinking it through carefully. Um, and and part of what I wanted to do in this book was not only capture their story as activists, I think you know that’s important. And we always do this, but really to capture their stories, as as intellectuals, you know, as theories, as people who are strategist to who are not only just doing things because, you know, a part of movements, but but really trying to figure out how to navigate a very difficult period. And of course, you know, I don’t agree with those collaborations, and I still find those collaborations frustrating. And I’m not even sure I fully, um, except to the, you know, the answer. But at least I knew that there was an answer, and I was able to present it in the book.
[0:17:35 Peniel] Now, when we get to the 19 fifties and sixties, you follow Amy Ashwood. You follow Amy’s Jack Garvey, you follow them. And what sort of happens, including Midi Lena Mod Garden? What happens to them? So one. When you think about these black women in the context of the black power movement and the anti colonial struggles of the 19 fifties and sixties. You show how, as they continue Thio evolve. Uh, even though they’ve been proto feminist and resisting patriarchy, uh, they still downplay their own achievements and they still think. And I thought this was remarkable because I remember the controversy over the Million Man March and we still have some of these controversies today which we’re going to talk about. But this idea of defining black liberation within the context of still some kind of patriarchal struggle, right? Uh, some kind of patriarchal assertion or reassertion that parallels white or Eurocentric patriarchy. So can we discuss that in the sense of how some of these women I thought, they’re so smart? They’re intellectuals. You absolutely prove definitively there, theorist. And why do you think they, some of them still were downplaying? Uh, just their innovation and their creation, their own genius on, still, sort of, sort of beholden to this idea off. You know, things kind of patriarchy well,
[0:19:06 Keisha] one of things that I find, which is true off this period, but even much earlier, and I think one could argue that it’s probably attention that simply runs throughout all of black history and when we think about black women on the way that they are struggling to. On the one hand, support black men help advance the race broadly and oftentimes, the way that they conceptualized advancing the race is very much, you know, the notion of helping black men and at the same time trying to make sure that they are not pushed to the wayside. You know that that that they’re not excluded from these movements, it’s a delicate balance, Uh, and it’s sometimes, you know, it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Which is to say that you know many of these women in the movement, including many modern Agordon, including Celia Jane Allen. They were committed to leading, but at the same time never wanted their leadership to get in the way of black men’s leadership. And it often felt like a tug of war. I think, ideologically, and this is partly why I talk about these women as proto feminist because it’s not the kind of feminist politics that you see if you’re studying, you know, black women on the Communist left. You know those women, I think, um, are clearly a lot more progressive in their thinking. If you compare to someone like Claudia Don’t, for example. But the women who I write about are constantly fighting internally on, and you see that in the archives to So Even so, even though many modern Agordon, for example, establishes the organization, she’s the one who has the idea. She’s the one who calls the meeting. She’s the one who brings people together. She’s the one who drafts Thedc onto to Shin and all of these things. And yet, in her own writing, she says, The only reason why I did all of these things is because I couldn’t find a strong man to do it. And of course, that makes absolutely no sense, because in that initial meeting it’s mostly men present, including her husband, who’s involved in the movement. So it’s obvious that it’s not a matter of, you know, not having a strong man available. But it’s almost as if she needed to say, say that to explain, to justify somehow why in the world she’s, you know, taking on this this leadership role and similarly cilia. Jane Allen does the same thing in the South. She’s the one leading the movement she’s coming up with with all these ideas. She’s creating all of these chapters. Yet she’s often doing this work through, you know, going through and connecting Thio black ministers and trying to push them to the front. And, you know, you go forward and do the work while she’s behind telling them what to do. And so I just think it has a lot to do with attention. Um, you know, among many of these activists who don’t want to do anything that would harm, you know, that would make it difficult for black men to to advance in society because they understand how the larger, you know, mainstream white society, how how their mistreating black men and black men are not receiving their fair doing. Black men are not being treated with respect or even viewed as men. Um, in the 20th century, you know, sort of framework. And and so I think part of the tension has a lot to do with these women trying to negotiate what is clearly a very difficult kind of, you know, space to navigate.
[0:22:36 Peniel] Now that’s a great transition for the contemporary, and I want to talk to you about ah, black lives matter. Black women’s leadership. Black feminism, black queer feminism. You have a new book coming out on Fannie Lou Hamer next year that really delves into her voting rights, her intellectual and theoretical contributions. You know, Fannie Lou Hamer’s Message to America. Message to the world. Um, when you think about this BLM moment this year of protests and pandemic and plague, I think it’s been very striking how black women have been at the forefront of this, and certainly it’s a long time coming. And we know those of us who’ve been in the space of studying black feminism and black women’s history. There’s a long, long history that goes back to the 18th and 19th century on in the 20th century. Um, you know, people like Fannie Lou Hammers and Lorraine Hansberry and so many others who you talk about, and Deo Gore and Eric McDuffie And you know Barbara Ran’s be on Ella Baker. Talk about, um, one I wanted. I want you to situate what is so special about this historic period when we when we think about how just symbolically we’re seeing the Tameka Mallory’s, We’re seeing the Patrice Colors, Alicia Garza’s we’re really seeing It’s not CIS gender. Black men right out front when you think about Time Magazine, when you think about British Vogue. Vanity Fair has Briana Taylor on the cover, but also so many black women thinkers, theorists, activists, professors like yourself are receiving so much attention. I want you Thio. What do you What do you What do you think this means for that project of black feminism? For intersectionality, for black liberation? What does that mean?
[0:24:36 Keisha] Well, I think it’s certainly a neck citing moment, you know, especially as you brought up the uprisings earlier this this year, this summer, the spring. And I remember seeing the video with, you know, Tamika Mallory, just addressing a crowd of protesters and thinking immediately of committee modeling Agordon and and the scene that I described inside the world on Fire, in which she is standing in addressing a group of, um, reporters, too, as she’s standing on the Capitol building. Ah, lot has changed right since of the 19 thirties, and one of the things that I think is great to see eyes the way that that black women are certainly being recognized on, and I would hope respected in these movements, and you know. Certainly the fact that we even had uprisings this past a few months is only possible because of the remarkable work off, you know, the BLM organizers and founders in particular. And these women, I think, are certainly standing on the shoulders off all of these women who we’ve been talking about in the segment, especially someone like like Fannie Lou Hamer, who was also out there, You know, talking about police violence and brutality, addressing inequality, anti black racism but not always fully accepted and not always even acknowledged in the movement, sometimes dismissed by other leaders. You know, one of things that I will say is that I I There’s a difference between sort of the the outward facing aspect of these movements and the internal dynamics of these movements. There is still, I think, evidence off patriarchy. I think there’s still evidence internally, um, off people potentially, you know, sidelining women are trying to, but But what is clear today is that it’s not as easy to do that today, you know, as it might have been in the 19 sixties. You know, the way that women of the march on Washington, for example, were were sidelined, even though they were doing all the work and the way that they were not given the mic and not given a central of Central. You know, Central Space today. It’s very different today. I think black women aren’t even waiting for anyone. Thio give them the mic. You know, they’re they’re taking the mic and demanding that their voices are heard on just operating on their own terms. And I think that is powerful and clearly that is also within the context of thinking about, um, women’s liberation. You know, the women’s liberation movement thinking about of feminist politics Broadly, uh, you know, the 19 thirties, the women of the 19 thirties I talk about is proto feminist because they had not fully, I don’t think fully embraced. You know what? We understand this feminist politics today, but you know, the activists of this current moment truly not all but many openly embrace feminism, and they’re just not interested in this idea off being sidelined, you know, on account of their gender, you know, our sexuality or class. I just think one of the most powerful things about the BLM movement is how it truly, I think, represents you know that group centered, um, leadership model that Ella Baker, um emphasized in founding in helping Thio found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee a swell as you know, someone like Family Hammer who I think also embrace that vision as well.
[0:28:29 Peniel] Now, when you think about the black lives matter, movement and its ability to talk about intersectional justice and lead us towards things, pay this post patriarchal conception of black liberation. What do you think about the role of black men especially, um, cis gender, black men in the context of what we’ve seen with the controversy over Ice Cube and the Contract for Black America and sort of negotiations in this sense with white supremacist in with the Trump administration? But also we’ve seen that the data is telling us anywhere from 12 14 to 18% of black men are showing support for the for the president. President Trump. Um, that is obviously a plurality of so most black men are not interested in a president who is anti black women and anti black people. But that’s still a distressing. It’s a disappointing number when, when you think about, uh, conversely, black women show very, very small single digit support for for Trump. I want us to talk about that because I think feminism, black feminism, uh, in the context of the 21st century is both flowering on being amplified and very, very important word ways. But at the same time, there’s all these contradictions in terms of some black men feeling left behind because they don’t have a conception of masculinity and identity where they can follow us well as lead. But then there’s also some black women who will say they don’t identify as feminist, right who say, I and I remember this controversy during the Million Man March 2, who was saying Angela Davis and others criticized the million man marriages patriarchal. But there were many black women who are in the in the beauty shops. You know what Melissa Harris Perry has written about others? The beauty shops, just like there’s the barbershops who are the quotidian, the everyday black women. Every day, Patricia Hill Collins talks about our everyday standpoint off black women as well, who are kind of more convergent with the black women you talk about and set the world on fire where they want liberation. But they still think of it within these frameworks that are patriarchal, even as they don’t wanna be somehow traumatized, emotionally or physically and relationships or dealings with black men. But they still think about this idea off of these patriarchal structure. So I wanted to talk about that and sort of this kind of debate that’s kind of happening internally within the within our community.
[0:31:06 Keisha] Well, you know, one of the things that I always emphasize, um, is the fact that we have to acknowledge that we live in a patriarchal society. And I say that because this is this is key. And it actually explains a lot of the way that people even, you know, approach, uh, well, politics, even when it comes to voting into to your earlier question about why there’s even any kind of what seems to be growing support for Trump among a segment off black men. One of the reasons why it’s so hard to dismantle, you know, systems of oppression broadly, eyes, because there are people who certainly actively oppress others. And then there are individuals who don’t necessarily do anything, but they benefit from the oppression of others and because they benefit, Uh, they just let it, you know, they let it slide. Onda and there are individuals who are actually invested right in upholding patriarchy because it works for them. You know, if if you believe that a particular system eyes oppressive to others, but in the end it benefits you. It allows you to have a range of opportunities that allows you to have access in certain spaces. You know, it takes a lot to fight that system. So you may. You may in fact, just fall into it. And so when you talk about someone like Ice Cube or even, I think about 50 cents, you know, and and all of this talk about supporting Trump, well, let’s get to the heart of the matter. Many of these individuals are willing to support, you know, an individual who they feel will ultimately push policies that will keep money in their pockets. Right? So it’s a selfish kind of response, but it’s a similar concept to, you know, it’s a similar response when we talk about patriarchy is that there are people who are invested, and I say people because it’s not just men, right? Eso there certainly be men who will not have a problem with patriarchy, He clearly But there will be others too, who are okay with with with this, you know, system in place because you know, there are other benefits and quote unquote protection for them as well. And I think about the work of Ula Taylor. You know, in terms off looking at women in the Nation of Islam and that becomes just one example off. How people how certain groups, you know, including women, can buy into patriarchal ideas on accept them because it works for them and it doesn’t, You know why challenge something if if you feel like it, it actually ultimately helps You, you know, helps put food on the table literally. Maybe that’s maybe that’s your thinking on bond. Why then stand in the way of that. So So it is ah, complex discussion and has a lot to do. I think with with with various factors, which is why I ultimately intersectionality is is so powerful. Because as much as we can talk about racism like we have to also talk about sexism and then classism, you know, and just a range of different ways that that individual lives are shaped Onda. How these very identities ultimately inform how people live out their lives, but but also how they how they navigate, how they think through these kinds of decisions. And I think all of that comes to the surface in this discussion about the current elections.
[0:34:54 Peniel] You know, because Kesha, you have so much exciting work that you’ve done on black women and the power of the vote. And you have, ah, Blockbuster book coming out in 2021 on Fannie Lou Hamer. I want to talk about the Ayanna Presley’s and the Cory Bushes and the black women who who are up next, uh, some who might even become president. Kamala Harris, vice president, vice presidential nominee. What’s going on when I think about these black women who are not on Lee organizing the vote but stepping up to be elected officials at every single level? Stacey Abrams um um, tell let’s talk about their connection to the Fanny Lou Hamer’s. But what do you think? How does that connect with the politics of just ordinary black working class women, too, who, like you said earlier in previous generations, were fined with sort of being beyond behind the scenes. But now we have black women who are very out front and center, being the architect of a new, radical democracy in ways that, yes, we’ve had Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer. But, like you said, they weren’t necessarily projected to the center. You know, inevitably, some straight black man bum rushed the mic. It’s right there for the photo op, But now, like I said, I on a Presley who I know Cori, Bush and Missouri. There’s just so many women of color. But I want to talk about black women who are really doing remarkable, remarkable things right now.
[0:36:30 Keisha] Yes, so many. And you know, I was thinking, um, about Stacey Abrams recently to because in so many other you know, there’s so many other ways she could have responded, you know, to her own experiences, you know, just experiencing a devastating loss and knowing that your loss is very much tied, um, to a practice of voter suppression, Um, there are people, I think who could have been devastated by the experience and just quietly, you know, gone away and said nothing. But what she did was something that, um, really reminds me of Fannie Lou Hamer and and other courageous black women to take a painful experience on board to ultimately move and move forward and to push forward to to turn it around, you know, and for Abrams to just have a new organization that now plays a central role in educating voters about the tactics of voter suppression in this country and encouraging people to participate in elections. I think this is just one of the many ways that we see black women, Uh, in this particular moment deciding that one. And I alluded to this before I said, You know, not waiting for someone to hand you the mic but grabbing the mic and um and it’s an analogy, but it’s but it’s a powerful one. It’s to say, you know, we’re not waiting, we’re not waiting for for some man. We’re not waiting for any anyone to come and say, Okay, fine. We’ll open the door for you. We’re going to break down those doors because it’s time for black women. You know, Thio have a say and and And so even someone like Latasha Brown and the remarkable work that she’s been doing with, you know, black voters matter fund all within the spirit. I think of Fannie Lou Hamer of recognizing what the problems are clearly, you know, not oblivious to the challenges that we’re facing but coming up with a practical, you know, solution in a practical way to help the community as a whole, specifically, when it comes to to voting rights. And and so these women, I think, give us so much hope for for the future. And it’s actually one of the reasons why I wanted to write this book on Fannie Lou Hamer because, you know, I just saw Fanny Bahamas legacy in all of these experiences, all of the’s women’s political activism and and I just think it’s so important for Americans, really, for for everyone committed to social justice to to really take a hold of Fannie Lou Hamer’s vision, Um, and to see, like how, um, how powerful her ideas were and continue to be.
[0:39:29 Peniel] Now your own work. Eyes been widely widely published. Your You edit the Made by History section of The Washington Post, um, and just been published in publishing very, very prolifically for younger scholars and even students and young people who are activists young black women and and men, boys and girls. What’s your advice to them? In terms of you, you have Ah, you’re a scholar. But you have so much of, ah, public facing perspective on history and the way in which history impacts people’s lives. Policy, feminism, history, voting rights. What is your advice to them in terms of? Certainly you’ve been saying, you know, don’t wait for anyone, just grab the mic. But what can they do? Because I think there’s a lot of young people are looking at somebody like you. Your example. You’ve accomplished so much as a young at a young at a relatively young age and who are really inspired by that. What, what can you but who aren’t necessarily? You’ve got a stellar career. Not everybody gets a chance to go to Princeton. I, a State University and Temple University graduate. Probably not. Everybody’s going to get those opportunities, but what can they do if they wanna be a Kesha, blame and and have that kind of voice and that profile in that impact?
[0:40:49 Keisha] You know, you really do have to follow your passions, and I say that over and over again. You know, When I was writing my dissertation, I had so many people just say to me directly, Some spoke to me directly. Others spoke behind my back, but ultimately made it, you know, made its way to me who didn’t see much value in the project. There are several different initiatives that I’ve been involved in, where I’ve had people, even including people who I adore and respect. Say to me, You know, this is not gonna help your career. No, it’s not a good idea to block. You know, it’s not a good idea to do the Charleston syllabus. Uh, no, it’s not a good idea to edit some volume on, and I tried to take advice. I’m certainly not the person you know who pushes away advice. I actually asked for advice a lot, but but one of things that I did was say, You know, if I feel that I am compelled to do something and and I must do it, then I will do it. And that’s how I felt about the Charleston Silva’s when a lot of people said, This is not a good idea, you know you’re young, your career, you don’t have tenure. You really don’t need to be focusing on collaborative projects. But I felt like it was important to lend my expertise at that moment, and and I didn’t even worry or care about whether it would help me get tenure or not. Um, ultimately, I did it because it was important to do it. And similarly, with a lot of decisions that I’ve made on, I’ve made, you know, some some decisions that I think Ah, lot of people saw as risky. And I still make a risky decisions. Um, I I think I’m certainly wiser now, you know? Then I then I used to be so I’m growing and learning. But But ultimately, I just think it’s it’s important to follow your passions because the same dissertation project that that many people looked at me and said, Yeah, I don’t even see the significance of that. In fact, I had editors say that to me, had editor after sending my manuscript. Hey said this is all very intriguing, but I just don’t see the point. I don’t see the significance of this project. You know he well, he ate his words, or I mean, you know, years later, but that was That was painful to hear. And it was it was a blow. But I just had to say, OK, next editor, You know, keep it, keep it moving on. Yeah. So I hope that people are encouraged by that story.
[0:43:05 Peniel] Okay, That’s great. I can relate to that as a young scholar trying to talk about the black power before this moment and talk about black power studies and these things, You know, I want to for you to talk briefly about 400 souls. A community history of African America 16. 19 to 2019 that you’ve edited with our mutual friend Abram. Abram Candy. You know what was the impetus behind that? You know, I’m part of that. Thankfully, you know, spoiler alert. Part of it. Um, but that’s gonna be a big, big book. And you know what’s the impetus behind that?
[0:43:45 Keisha] Yeah. So I think, um, it’s interesting because a lot of people have acts to me, you know, off the record, they’ve said, Oh, you know, did you know about the 16 19 projects? You know, when you were working on this and the answer is no. In fact, uh, even and I started working on this project several months, actually, several months before the 16 19 project came out. So we were just quietly behind the scenes. You know, planning and trying to to come up with a way to recognize, uh, this important anniversary right of 2019, being, you know, 400 years. Uh, you know, since the white lion, you know, arrived, um, in Virginia with, you know, 20 or so, um, you know, Africans. And ultimately I think we we we identify, you know, that moment as the symbolic birthdate of black America. And of course, we know that there were black people, um, in, uh, certainly, um, certainly on. Well, I was about to say the United States, but what becomes the United States? We know that in 15 twenties, for example, there were a group of Africans, um, in South Carolina and and ultimately had escaped. But all of that is to say, we wanted to commemorate the 4/100 anniversary and looking at 16, 19 to 2019 on just be ableto to put together a rich collection of all black writers who reflect on this this history and it has just been, quite simply a wonderful project. I am looking forward to its release in Black History Month next year, and I think people will just be moved by the pieces to see how we brought together people from a range of background. So historians and philosophers and, um, journalists, just all and poets, just all of the’s remarkable and talented writers to come together each grapple with, ah, five year period off the history. So I wanna reiterate my thanks to you for your contribution in writing. Ah, brilliant essay for us on black power.
[0:46:01 Peniel] And you know, my final question. Kesha is really how are you feeling at this moment in terms of the election is, um Aziz. We are speaking very, very close. It’s going to be in less than two weeks. How are you feeling at this moment about where we’re at in our history? Onda also black women as shapers and architects of that history, because your work joins just a long line of sort of brilliant work that we’re seeing. We’ve got Martha Jones Vanguard. We have all of your books and co edited books that I’ll list off later. But how How are you feeling in that way? because I think in a lot of ways, seeing the BLM movement and seeing us focus on centering the least of these in our community is such sort of the best part of feminism. That idea of collective collaborative where we all win, you know? Eso what? How are you feeling?
[0:47:02 Keisha] Well, I’m certainly encouraged, you know, I think, um To be honest, I still see the many ways that you know that black women are not fully embraced or accepted or respected. I think in my day to day life, I am certainly encountering those experiences where it Zaveri clear to me. You know how I’m treated and how the treatment that I face it is different, um, than than you know, other people. And and I understand and and see, on a day to day basis the difficulties of navigating ah, life with having to shoulder, you know, racism and sexism and just a long list off ways that that people discriminate against others. But I am hopeful, and I’m encouraged. And I think one of the most exciting aspects of being alive in this moment on being you know, writer on an educator in this moment is to be part of a large community off just remarkable scholars, you know, like yourself just doing important work that, you know, I think that’s that’s the great part that I’m not doing it alone. I mean that we’re all sort of part of a community coming together and trying to use our, you know, our skills and our talents to really make the world a better place. So I’m I’m encouraged. You know, I’m encouraged by everything that’s happening, even though if there are days where it’s where it’s a challenge. But I just keep pushing forward because I know that, um, the work is making a difference. And I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that the results of the upcoming election, what will be for the better off? You know, I just hope yet, but whatever happens in two weeks that we can hopefully, um, move, move out off this current administration and I’m hoping that the future will look a lot better than the present.
[0:49:09 Peniel] Alright, we’re gonna end our conversation on that hopeful note we’ve been talking with Dr Kesha and blame about black women, politics, race, democracy, black women’s nationalism, their political radicalism, feminism, both historically and in our contemporary world. Uh, Keisha Blain is the author of Set the World on Fire. Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom, which is out in paperback. And everyone should get that I’ve Got My Heart Back and the co editor of four different books, The Charleston Syllabus, Readings on Race, Racism and Racial Violence, New Perspectives on the Black Intellectual Tradition to Turn the whole World over, Black Women and Internationalism and forthcoming next year is both the co edited Anthology 400 Souls. A Community History of African America, 16 19 to 2019 and Until I Am Free, Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America, which will be published by Beacon Press in 2021. Can’t wait to read That and toe to write about it. Talk to you about it as well. So Keisha Blain thank you for for joining us here.
[0:50:25 Keisha] Thanks for having me.
[0:50:26 Peniel] Thank you. Thanks for listening to this episode and you can check out related content on Twitter at Peniel Joseph. That’s P-e-n-i-e-l J-o-s-e-p-h and our Web site, CSRD.LBJ.utexas.edu and the Center for Study of Race and Democracy is on Facebook as well. This podcast was recorded at the Liberal Arts Development Studio at the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Austin. Thank you.