A Matter of Black and White: 20th Century Perspectives on Race


Inspired by W.E.B. DuBois’s famous thesis that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line”, this course will try to understand a variety of 20th-century perspectives on race through a sympathetic examination of a selection of classic works of fiction, nonfiction, and cinema by authors and directors Black and White, including: DuBois himself, Rudyard Kipling, Frantz Fanon, Thomas Dixon, Jr., James Baldwin, and Joseph Conrad, as well as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Prior to the first class, please do the short readings and watch D.W. Griffith’s (in)famous 1915 silent film, The Birth of a Nation … from a perspective as “critically empathic” as possible. Continue reading

Strategies for ‘Negro Advancement’: Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery vs. W.E.B. DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk


Although often pigeonholed as “African-American intellectuals”, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois thought deeply about the nature of man and America when developing their programs for “Negro advancement”. This lecture will examine their analyses and conclusions as reflected in their two best-known works, Up from Slavery and The Souls of Black Folk, as well as consider how and why they arrived at what are often understood as diametrically-opposed and mutually-exclusive perspectives and programs — for African-Americans in particular and human beings in general Continue reading

African-American Classics


Although issues of race and slavery have long been a prominent subject of American writing, the classic works of African-American authors are often unknown beyond the African-American community. This course will examine a selection of such classics in order to understand the works themselves, the canon of which they form a part and their relationship to comparable Euro-American works. Texts will include: David Walker’s Appeal, Frederick Douglass’s autobiographical Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery, W.E.B. DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk, and more. Continue reading

The Many Meanings of Meekness; Or, Taking the ‘Uncle Tom’ Out of Uncle Tom’s Cabin


Despite the fact that “Uncle Tom” has become a negative cultural stereotype connoting a Black who is abjectly servile to Whites, a close reading of Uncle Tom’s Cabin suggests that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom was no “Uncle Tom”. Indeed, imposing such a characterization on the novel’s protagonist undermines one of the central messages of the book. This lecture will examine the novel and the history of its interpretation as a means of deriving a fair reading of both the text and its key character. Continue reading