Course Topics

African Americans and the Legal System

With the colonial period as its point of departure this seminar focuses on the legal and social configurations white settler society designed to circumscribe the political status of African-Americans throughout United States history. 

Seminar Goals

● Learn key terminology, concepts, moments, movements, and individuals who shaped the Black American relationship to legal, political, and economic dynamics in the U.S.

● Discuss the nature of silences around African American attempts to redirect the linearity of race codification.

● Apply historical knowledge to contemporary conceptions of antiblackness in institutional practices.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this seminar, each participant will be able to:

[All reading material is provided with registration.]

Critical Introduction to African American History

This PBSS seminar is taught as a course and is designed to build the capacity of participants to engage with complex topics in Black American history. Centered in Black agency, actions, and achievements, this seminar will introduce participants to key influencers, prominent organizations, critical movements, and radical ideas which have not only shaped the Black experience in the U.S. but fundamentally defined the legal, political, and cultural contours of American society. 

[All reading material is provided with registration.]

Providence Black History Walking tour

Convening at the site of the historic Olney Street Baptist Church this celebrated tour begins with Black institution-building as a configuration of resistance. Continuing through the gentrified crossroads of Providence's East Side/College Hill area the tour will explore the ways in which systemic legal, economic, and social power sought to circumscribe the lives of Black Rhode Islanders. A central theme of the tour is a discussion around formations of organized challenges to white settler supremacy in Rhode Island's history.

Rhode Island, Racial Slavery, and Reparations

During the 1700s the colony of Rhode Island, one founded on a notion of religious liberty, became the power center of the North American trade in enslaved Africans. This dynamic class considers the crucial role Rhode Island played as North America’s central slave trading colony and state, and what that meant for the historical formation of the Americas, as well as the modern world. We will learn critical aspects of this history, understand why it matters today, and examine contemporary conversations around raparations and racial justice.

Introduction to the Modern Civil Rights Movement

This engaging workshop guides participants through an intensive exploration into the political technologies of two foundational moments in the southern Black freedom struggle, or what we now call the modern Civil Rights Movement: the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Dr. King’s Letter From Birmingham Jail. Here participants will use a collection of primary source documentation to help them examine resistance theory, organizing praxis, and cooperative economic thought. The class considers key players, strategies, and outcomes which gave political form and function to contemporary African American life and helped define the boundaries of freedom for all Americans.

Slave Patrols
Black Codes

This syllabus topic provides an investigation of slave codes, black codes and the construction of the US slave patrol system as a prototype for Jim Crow segregation and modern-day antiblack racial profiling theory.

We Want Freedom: Black Technologies of Resistance 

This workshop intensive contemplates some of the essential technologies of Black resistance theory and/as praxis of radical organizing (cooperative economic thought and practice, blues theory, self-preservation defense). Beginning with the memory of Fannie Lou Hamer, and centered in the south, this syllabus topic examines key players, strategies, and outcomes which gave political form and function to Black life. From education policy to police reforms, from voting rights to environmental justice, governmental policies were either shaped in, or significantly informed by Black radical movements. Using archival media and historic documentation we will look anew on the southern Black Freedom Struggle.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Focusing on Dr. King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail this workshop intensive considers the power of nonviolent direct action as an instrument to abolish unjust laws. This workshop invites students to reflect on the concept of nonviolence as an instrument of social change. Students will be provided the opportunity to analyze primary source documents and discuss principles of social justice transformation in the past and present.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Built It

This workshop moves past the deceptive narrative of Rosa Parks as a tired seamstress to critically engage students with the key players of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the sophisticated and daring organizing necessary for victory.

#AssataTaughtMe: An Essential Study

This reading group engages an intensive examination of Assata Shakur’s intellectual life and the ideological framework informing her political thought. Particularly, our focus is centered in the development of Shakur’s philosophy on liberation for Black people and what she sees as the conditions necessary to achieve it.

[Required Text: Assata: An Autobiography]

Kikuyu Women and the Mau Mau Rebellion

This robust syllabus topic examines the central role played by women from Kenya's largest ethnic group, Kikuyu, in one of the most influential decolonial struggles of the 20th century -- the Mau Mau Rebellion.

Blackface Minstrelsy and Image Consciousness

This workshop explores the historical origins of blackface minstrelsy in the 1830s and contextualizes the racist ideologies that emanated from that period. We will provide participants with an introduction to the first truly American art form and help them understand how white civil society used minstrelsy to satirized and denigrate Black Americans for comedic relief and camaraderie.

(This lesson was visioned, designed, and curated by student-scholar, Zeinab Kante, as a component of her independent study at Brown University for which I was honored to serve as advisor.)

The 1619 Project

In 2019 the New York Times launched the powerful 1619 Project, a first for the historic paper. It aimed to "reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative." This workshop series will use primary components of the project to critique our understanding of the dimensions of race in American political, cultural, and social thought.

Lynching: America's Longest Racial Terror Campaign

"After [chattel] slavery was formally abolished," states the Equal Justice Initiative, "lynching emerged as a vicious tool of racial control to reestablish white supremacy and suppress black civil rights. More than 4,000 African Americans were lynched across twenty states between 1877 and 1950." Using key findings from the EJI report along with a wealth of educator research materials this seminar provides a critical engagement with the history of the nation's most gratuitously violent phenomena.