2023 FORD FOUNDATION SENIOR FELLOWSHIP AWARDEES
|Okezi T. Otovo, Associate Professor, History and African and African Diaspora Studies |
Florida International University
"Boldly Embodied: Black Women in 20th Century Miami"
For over a decade, my research has uncovered the myriad ways that Black women’s maternal healthcare bears the burden of complex historical legacies. In my first book, Progressive Mothers, Better Babies: Race, Public Health, and the State in Brazil 1850-1945, I argued that maternal health policy in Brazil reflected contradictory impulses of modern and traditional understandings of race and gender. These policies centered women of African descent and offered support to families without opening the possibility of full and equal citizenship. With the assistance of the Ford Foundation Senior Fellowship, I will complete my second book that is a study of Black women’s bodily experiences in Miami to uncover a fuller and richer understanding of sexuality, maternity, birthing, and aging and to explore the lessons this lens provides for how body, memory, solidarity, and harm coalesce into legible insights on African American history.
Boldly Embodied will be the first study of Black Miami women's health histories, lived experiences, and bodily epistemologies, tracing the opportunities and challenges presented by a growing, heterogenous, and conflict-ridden city between its early establishment in the 1890s and the 1980s. Uncovering Black women's health history necessitates exploring alternative ways of knowing and care practices that are rooted in local landscapes, interpersonal relationships, and community solidarities that exist beyond the state and mainstream health institutions. Ultimately, the goal of Boldly Embodied is to craft a complex tapestry of historical analysis and lived experiences to uncover individual and shared knowledge and reflect the ways Black women defined and defended health in a dynamic and, at times, hostile urban environment.
|Darren J. Ranco, Professor of Anthropology, Chair of Native American Programs, Faculty Fellow in the Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions |
University of Maine
“Decolonizing Land Relations in the Dawnland: Landback and Rematriation Across Wabanakik”
For the last twenty years, my scholarship has broadly engaged in decolonial practices, which, following the work of Māori scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith, I define as critiquing settler colonial knowledge systems in order to center Indigenous knowledges, theories, and research questions. These practices often involve mobilizing Indigenous systems of knowledge and diplomacies in ways that impact and seek to intervene in academic research and education practices as well as settler-state policy contexts. For the scholarship that led to my tenure, I primarily focused on the ways that state-sanctioned knowledge and settler-oriented environmental policy leads to an inordinate amount of environmental risk for Indigenous peoples, and how to orient Indigenous-led research to contest both the knowledge and policymaking practices of settler states. For advancement to Full Professor (received in 2022), my research expanded on these earlier issues to engage more directly with Indigenous science, storytelling, and diplomacy as foundational orientations for decolonial research, as well as how to incorporate Indigenous science and storytelling into the research and pedagogical practices of the academy, while also mobilizing knowledge that has concrete positive impacts and applications by Indigenous Peoples and Nations.
Decolonizing Land Relations in the Dawnland: Landback and Rematriation Across Wabanakik is an extension of my previous engaged research--with a more explicit goal of building Indigenous institutional capacity to advance the health and well-being of Indigenous Nations. Landback, rematriation, and conservation work led by Indigenous peoples intersects with several of the key issues impacting the well-being and cultures of our Indigenous nations, including, but not limited to, issues of environmental and climate justice, food sovereignty, health, and economic justice. As one of the conveners and organizers of the Wabanaki Commission on Land and Stewardship/Nil yut ktahomq nik ("the whole earth is our home") (a Tribally appointed entity representing all Wabanaki Tribal Nations in what is now Maine--the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Mi'kmaq), and as an advisor to the First Light Learning Circle (a land trust group organizing and educating other land trusts on Indigenous people and issues), I have witnessed the return of thousands of acres of land to Tribal control and even more acres of land opened up to Wabanaki cultural practices and harvesting of critical cultural resources. During my fellowship year, I will 1. Research, engage, and learn from other Indigenous-led landback and rematriation movements in North America, as well as engage The Nature Conservancy (TNC), through their work with Indigenous groups in Maine and across North America, 2. Document, through story exchange, the tools and strategies of these landback and rematriation efforts and the supports offered by TNC and other Land Trust organizations to support this work—bringing these tools back to the Wabanaki Commission to support its development, 3. Write a peer-reviewed article about the work we have been doing across Wabanaki territory, 4. Write a book proposal on landback and rematriation movements in the United States and how they enhance Indigenous people's well-being and disrupt settler property relations, and 5. Broadly disseminate the stories of landback and rematriation in Indigenous and land trust contexts.
2022 FORD FOUNDATION SENIOR FELLOWSHIP AWARDEES
|T.S. Harvey, Associate Professor, Medical and Linguistic Anthropology |
Vanderbilt University, Department of Anthropology and the Center for Latin American Studies
"The Work of Their Own Hands: Struggles for Environmental Justice, Global Public Health, and Sustainability in Guatemala"
Since earning a PhD in anthropology at the University of Virginia focused on language use in global public health among Maya (indigenous) peoples of Guatemala, the central questions that have driven my research have broadened as have the tools, topical concentrations, and geographical foci but one question, originally posed by a former professor, remains. "Can the original science of humankind, anthropology, answer the needs of human beings (however varied)?" Throughout my academic career, I have investigated the varied needs of human beings and have translated a concern for answering the how portion of this question into establishing research, collaborations, and teaching agendas in medical and linguistic anthropology, global public health, environmental sciences, technology, and infectious disease. My current research interests focus on expanding scientific partnerships, developing innovative technologies, and building local capacities to collaboratively tackle large-scale public health and environmental challenges that emerge at the critical intersection of vulnerable populations, environmental degradation, disease, health disparities, risk, communication, and misinformation.
The Work of Their Own Hands will detail an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-funded project at Laguna de Chichoj in San Cristóbal Verapaz, Guatemala. The research on which the manuscript is to be based engaged local stakeholders, Maya and non-indigenous ethic groups historically under-represented in environmental decision-making, as leaders rather than spectators in the development and implementation of innovative solid-waste management plans designed to protect the environment and human health by reducing the risk of waterborne disease. Caught between the competing imperatives of observational social science that can be detached and the pressing everyday needs of human beings that can be overwhelming, the manuscript will recount struggles for environmental justice and public health from the research and unique perspectives of the unlikely faces of an EPA project in Guatemala. A Maya-speaking African American researcher and a diverse coalition of Maya and non-indigenous scientists, engineers, researchers, craft-workers, volunteers, and elected officials from across Guatemala working together on environmental protection and public health. Confronting the tensions and contradictions of global engagement, the book will reveal how researchers, local communities, and government officials grappled with emerging environmental challenges, the problematic history of U.S. involvement in the region, resource scarcity, and the sometimes competing and conflicting goals of research, capacity-building, and sustainability in order to collaborative address the critical challenges facing San Cristóbal Verapaz.
|Jennifer T. Kubota, Associate Professor, Social Neuroscience |
University of Delaware, Departments of Psychological and Brain Sciences and Political Science and International Relations
“The Drivers of Radicalization and Deradicalization into the White Supremacy Movement”
For over a decade, my neuroscience research has focused on implicit racial bias and basic social cognitive processes as drivers of injustice. With the assistance of the Ford Foundation Senior Fellowship, I will expand my scholarship into the neural and psychological processes underpinning explicit racial hate. Findings from this work will provide foundational insights for my future planned collaborative research that will combine biological measures, behavioral measures, and ethnographic life history interviews to characterize the constellation of factors that predict extreme ideological hate, engagement in white supremacy movements, and disengagement from these movements. It is my hope that combining disciplines and methodologies using empirical methods may provide greater insights into how to combat ideological hate and violence.
2021 FORD FOUNDATION SENIOR FELLOWSHIP AWARDEES
|Marlene L. Daut, Professor, African Diaspora Studies |
University of Virginia, Carter G. Woodson Institute
"Dreaming Freedom: The Story of the First and Last King of Haiti"
Dreaming Freedom: The Story of the First and Last King of Haiti details the little known history of heroism and strife, triumph and betrayal that characterizes the life of Haiti's first and last king, Henry Christophe. Enslaved at birth on the island of Grenada, Christophe's surprising biography involves his fighting heroically at the Battle of Savannah during the U.S. American Revolution; his love affair and subsequent marriage to a free woman of color whom he would make Haiti's only queen; a Civil War that led Haiti to be ruled by a republic in the south and a monarchy in the north; accusations that Christophe reestablished a form of slavery in order to build his awe-inspiring Palace at Sans-Souci and the imposing Citadelle Laferrière, both of which stand today as UNESCO World Heritage sites; and of course, the tragic political machinations that led the "first monarch crowned in the New World" to commit suicide in October 1820.
|Arlene J. Díaz, Associate Professor, History |
“A War Beyond the Battlefield: Espionage, Information, and Representation in the Spanish-Cuban-American War”
My work argues that the war in and with Cuba (1895-1898) was a war of representation. The American government relied heavily on engaging informants to gather useful data, which was then transformed into narratives by means of strategically curated textual and visual representations that were widely disseminated in the United States through the print media. By means of the cultural realm of descriptions and depictions of themselves and "others," the United States deployed representations that conveyed particular relationships of power that would justify certain foreign policy outcomes for the U.S. government. The effects of almost four years of this war of narratives not only impacted the course of the war before American troops even landed in Cuba in June of 1898, but laid the foundation for what would become the American empire.
The behind-the-scenes story I reveal in this book is directly attributable to digital methodology, by which means I have been able to make unprecedented use of a larger-than-usual corpus of sources to leverage the historian's focus on analysis of change and continuity. Specifically, this book analyzes a substantial number of heretofore untapped reports from secret agents—-effectively a spy archive-—to rewrite this history of the Spanish-Cuban-American War.
2020 FORD FOUNDATION SENIOR FELLOWSHIP AWARDEES
|Noenoe K. Silva, Professor, Hawaiian and Indigenous Politics |
University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, Department of Political Science
"A Political and Literary History of the Hawaiian-language Newspapers"
The book will be a political and literary history of the Hawaiian-language newspapers from their inception in 1834 to their end in 1948. It will be organized roughly by decades, with each decade's chapter(s) providing historical context and a description of all secular newspapers in print at the time. That description will include the owners, editors, and major writers of each paper, the paper's political affiliations and/or stance, and discussion of the published contents. The content discussions will include the major topics of political debate and how the papers influenced law and policy making. They will also include the major works of literature published by each paper. The book aims to provide a fairly comprehensive guide to this massive archive of Hawaiian thought, politics, and literature. A second aim is to demonstrate the ways in which Hawaiian-language newspapers served as a medium of political governance and cultural transmission even into the twentieth century, when Hawai'i came under repressive American control.
|Ellen D. Wu, Associate Professor, History |
Indiana University Bloomington
“OVERREPRESENTED: Asian Americans in the Age of Affirmative Action”
OVERREPRESENTED places Asian Americans at the center of the history of affirmative action to tell a new story about diversity, data, and democracy in the United States since the 1960s. The peculiar position of Asians as an "overrepresented minority" in American society, culture, and politics invites us to approach anew proportionality and representation as metrics and tools for achieving equality and justice in democratic life.
2019 FORD FOUNDATION SENIOR FELLOWSHIP AWARDEES
|Sandy Grande, Professor, Director of the Center for the Critical Study of Race and Ethnicity |
Connecticut College, Education Department
"Indigenous Elders and the Decolonial Elsewhere of Aging"
For over 20 years, my scholarship has worked across the disciplines of Native American and Indigenous Studies and Education to develop critical analyses of the colonial present. In my first book, Red Pedagogy: Native American Social and Political Thought, I examined the ways in which critical pedagogy--a school of thought with roots in Marxist philosophy and the Frankfurt School--retains, “the deep structures” of Western ideology and thereby fails to account for the difference of Indigeneity. My new line of research extends this work, presupposing that there is something to be learned, politically and pedagogically, about the colonial present through the study of global aging.
My interest in older adults as an intellectual project began around 2005, when I joined the growing legion of 65.7 million family caregivers in the United States. Since my mother’s death in 2014 and through my ongoing experience as my father’s primary caregiver, I have harbored a burning desire to radically rethink the over medicalization of end-of-life care, the treatment of older adults-as-crisis, and the profound erasure of Indigenous Elders throughout.
The association of aging with crisis is animated primarily through the unprecedented shifts in the global population of “older adults,” which has doubled over the past forty years and is poised to triple by 2050, which has given rise to a variety of sobriquets that index the level of social angst: the silver tsunami, the demographic storm, the age invasion. Until recently, the scientific and medical communities did little to disrupt these problematic assumptions about aging, even tacitly legitimating them through their own associations of older adults with conditions of frailty, decline, and biomedical failure. As such, “global aging” has come to circulate as a virtual metonym for crisis wherein the growing population of older adults is situated as “the problem” to solve.
Recently, a corpus of critical scholarship on aging has helped to decenter older adults as “the problem,” engaging studies on the effects of globalization and neoliberal policy on aging, the persistence of health disparities along multiple and intersecting axes of power, and feminist analyses of the underlying sexism in studies of aging and the body. Such work, however, is grounded in Western modes of critical theory that have not yet contended with the limits of this analytic frame, particularly for Indigenous peoples and communities. As such, my project aims to highlight the ways in which the liberatory aims of aging studies, even those informed by critical theory, remain fettered by the lack of engagement with Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS) and Settler Colonial Studies.
Through a grounding in the analytical frameworks of NAIS and the teachings of Indigenous Elders, my project turns upon the question: What if global aging presents a conceptual opening; one that forces a fundamental reconsideration of the central dichotomies and contradictions of a settler society built upon the exigencies of capital: the conflation of work with existence; the tying of economic growth to production; the limiting of production to wage labor; and association of old age with declining yield? Particularly at a time when we are facing historic and growing divides between the rich and the poor, a rise in fascist and coercive regimes, and a number of irreversible climate thresholds, I argue that we have a moral imperative to cultivate alternate futures; a decolonial elsewhere that refuses the productivist and neoliberal logics of contemporary settler society.
The Senior Ford Fellowship will allow me the opportunity to complete my book manuscript tentatively titled, Indigenous Elders and the Decolonial Elsewhere of Aging; and to host a series of convenings on aging that brings together leading scholars, activists/organizers, health care providers, physicians, and Elders. The hope is to build sustainable communities that not only include older adults but also create spaces where the particular authority of Elders is understood, cultivated, and valued.
|Tiffany D. Joseph, Associate Professor |
“(Not) All In: Race, Ethnicity, Immigration, Exclusion, and Health Care in America’s City on a Hill”
My research over the last seven years has examined how shifting public policies have influenced healthcare access for Latinx immigrants, a sizeable demographic. The Ford Foundation Senior Fellowship will allow me to complete my second solo-authored book (Not) All In: Race, Ethnicity, Immigration, Exclusion, and Health Care in America’s City on a Hill. The central research questions that have been the foundation of the project are: 1) what Latinx immigrants do when they get sick? 2) how do documentation status, race, and ethnicity influence those decisions?; and 3) how does public policy shape immigrants' healthcare access and lived experiences? My primary argument is that public policy facilitates both de jure or legally sanctioned discrimination based on documentation status and de facto or implicit discrimination based on race and ethnicity. Yet, less is known about how both de jure and de facto discrimination affect immigrants of color in a more explicitly anti-immigrant and racist society. In (Not) All In, I demonstrate that this intersectional discrimination produces nuanced forms of exclusion from public benefits like healthcare and civic life for Latinx immigrants.
Relying on interviews conducted with Latinx immigrants (Brazilians, Dominicans, and Salvadorans), healthcare providers, and immigrant/health organization employees in Boston from 2012-2019, this book tells the story of how shifts from the Massachusetts state health reform and the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) shaped immigrants' health coverage and service options. Furthermore, I explore the multifaceted consequences of recent legislative attempts to repeal the ACA and racialized anti-immigrant policy and rhetoric for Latinx immigrants' healthcare and daily lives. As the capital of the only state that had health reform prior to the ACA and a traditional immigrant destination city with a diverse immigrant population, Boston was the ideal place for this book project. Ultimately, (Not) All In aims to show how documentation status, alongside race and ethnicity, is becoming a more salient basis for stratification, creating various disparities between citizens and noncitizens in the contemporary United States.
2018 FORD FOUNDATION SENIOR FELLOWSHIP AWARDEES
|Zain Abdullah, Associate Professor |
Temple University, Religion Department
“‘The Name Means Everything’: Islam and the Contested History of an American Idea”
My last book, Black Mecca, explores how racial, ethnic and religious identities are negotiated. It was guided by a major question: “When does Islam matter in the identity formation of African Muslims and others in Harlem society today?” This current book project broadens that conversation. “The Name Means Everything” is an intellectual history tracing the idea of Islam over the past one hundred years. More importantly, it captures the history of a debate in America about Islam, an encounter that has taken many forms and produced a complex web of relationships among Muslims and non-Muslims, male and female, and among the foreign-born, indigenous and repatriated. It examines the pernicious contest over the “Muslim Question” and explores the roots of Islamophobia. It also reveals a deep dispute over American identity and the national character. Several questions raised in this study include: How have American ideas about Islam been debated over the past century? What do these conflicts say about the meaning of Islam and who Muslims are? How does this inform the range and scope of American identity? And what would this history reveal about how religion works in America?
This book unpacks the nature of anti-Muslim bias or what can be called the “Muslim Question,” as it replaces the much older “Jewish Question,” which was a series of ongoing debates throughout Europe about the marginal status of Jews. This kind of questioning identifies whole populations as problems, as the scholar-activist, W.E.B. DuBois, put it when addressing the “Negro Question” in his The Souls of Black Folk in 1903: “How does it feel to be a problem?” Some have identified this issue as stemming from unresolved tensions over the limits of secular democracy. But this project argues that the Muslim Question constitutes a way of seeing Muslims that assumes a clash between Islam and the West. Edward Said labeled this gaze Orientalism, which involves an imagining of Muslim peoples, their religious identities and cultures as exotic, uncivilized, often dangerous, but most assuredly the mirror opposite of “the West.” Just as Orientalism provided a rationale to justify European colonialism, today’s Islamophobia, often defined as a fear from the presumed threat of Islam, has sanctioned religious intolerance and even acts of violence against Muslims. Most have responded to this bigotry by trying to explain the fear or “phobia” itself. Instead, this project chronicles the “Islam” in Islamophobia, treating it as a historical fact rather than a supernatural category, and it counters the often unconscious implication that Islam is changeless, timeless and homogenizes nearly two billion Muslims into a consensual whole.
“The Name Means Everything” traces six individuals over a series of successive periods, from the late nineteenth century to the first decade of the twenty-first. But this is not a collection of biographies. Each person represents a landmark voice in the history of ideas about Islam. They are also placed in conversation with several of their contemporaries, both men and women, as a way to demonstrate how contrasting or intermediate views shaped their ideas about what Islam means. The main figures are: (1) Mohammed Alexander Russell Webb, a late nineteenth century US diplomat, white American convert and purveyor of traditional Islam (2) President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who implicated Islam in his “public theology” and Cold War strategy (3) Malcolm X, a radical voice of prophetic Islam (4) Robert Bellah, a renowned sociologist of civil religion (5) Maryam Jameelah, an American Jew who, as a young woman, became a Muslim conservative and prolific author, and (6) Feisal Abdul-Rauf, a Kuwaiti-American imam and proponent of moderate Islam. Each chapter speaks to the goals reflected in the public program of the Ford Foundation, “Confronting Islamophobia in America.” Altogether, this is an intellectual history of Islam as a contested idea in American life, and it covers how both Muslims and non-Muslims have participated in framing its various meanings over the past century.
|Rudy P. Guevarra Jr., Associate Professor |
Arizona State University, Asian Pacific American Studies, School of Social Transformation
“Aloha Compadre: Latinxs in Hawai'i, 1832-2010”
My research over the last eighteen years has focused on comparative and relational histories of Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and Latinx populations. Receiving a Ford Foundation Senior Fellowship allows me to complete my second single authored book, Aloha Compadre: Latinxs in Hawai'i, 1832-2010. To date no one has fully examined the collective history and contemporary experiences of Latinxs in Hawai'i. I focus on Mexicans, Central Americans and Puerto Ricans, which make up the majority of the Spanish speaking Latinx population in the state. Historically speaking Latinxs have been voyaging to the Hawaiian Islands for over 180 years, yet their presence has been rendered invisible by the tourist industry and the larger local population. Aloha Compadre demonstrates what historian Evelyn Hu DeHart also noted about Asians in Latin America in that, “these histories are hidden in plain view.” The Latinx population has also significantly increased in Hawai'i over the last century. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Latinxs are now almost ten percent of Hawai'i’s total population and this number is growing. Their rising numbers signal demographic shifts in the state, which in turn are reorganizing current racial, class and labor hierarchies on the islands. Moreover, these shifts are occurring within a context of ongoing settler colonialism, which impact the Native Hawaiian population on the islands.
Aloha Compadre seeks to explore new boundaries of Latinx migration beyond the western hemisphere, as well as the complexities of interracial relationships in Hawai'i, which are transforming the political, social, economic and cultural landscape of the state. Unearthing these histories and contemporary interracial relationships forged from these migrations and identity formations guide the larger goals for this project, which include the following: 1) how race, ethnicity and indigeneity are being rearticulated in diasporic sites such as Hawai'i; 2) conceptually redefining and expanding the borderlands/la frontera to include aquatic regions like Oceania (the Pacific), or as historian Isaiah Helekunihi Walker calls the “boarder-lands.” Simultaneously, I employ Tongan scholar Epeli Hauʻofa’s view of understanding Oceania as “our sea of islands,” which sees the ocean as a borderless, extensive highway system where people converge and connect in the Pacific. I utilize these ideas to reveal how transnational/transpacific migration is also reflective of the historic and contemporary voyages of Latinx migrants to this region and 3) how racial and cultural representations are being challenged by the changing political climate in Hawai'i in the twenty-first century. Exploring these community narratives enables us to understand how the Latinx population navigates the impact of continental U.S. immigration and racial discourses as they seek to build their communities, embrace their multiplicity, and find a sense of belonging in Hawai'i.
2017 FORD FOUNDATION SENIOR FELLOWSHIP AWARDEE
|Leslie M. Alexander, Associate Professor |
“‘The Cradle of Hope:’ African American Internationalism in the Aftermath of the Haitian Revolution”
For more than a decade, my research has focused on Black identity and political consciousness in the nineteenth century. With the assistance of the Ford Foundation Senior Fellowship, I will complete my second monograph, “The Cradle of Hope,” which seeks to understand how African Americans in the antebellum and early post-bellum eras viewed political issues throughout the African Diaspora. Arguing against scholars who claim that Black activists did not develop a sense of international consciousness until the early twentieth century, my study explores how Black leaders during the century between 1804 and 1915 became involved in international movements for racial and social justice and lobbied the United States government for changes in its foreign policy towards African and African diasporic nations. Using Haiti as an illustrative example of early African American internationalism, this project charts the changing views Black leaders held about Haiti over the course of the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century. More specifically, it examines several key themes: how and why the Haitian Revolution inspired Black activists, why Black leaders in the United States fought relentlessly to protect and defend Haitian independence, and how they pressured the U.S. government to grant Haiti diplomatic recognition. This study also delves deeply into the question of why the United States government denied Haiti’s autonomy for several decades, and what the debate over Haitian independence revealed about the larger battle over race and slavery throughout the Atlantic World.
In a broader sense, the goal of this project is to shed new light on the nature of political activism in the nineteenth century in an effort to glean important lessons for contemporary international political organizing. What lessons can the history of nineteenth century Black activism and political consciousness teach us about contemporary transnational struggles for economic and social justice? I argue that by interrogating past successes and failures in the quest for political liberation we can gain useful insight into strategies for the future. At its core, my research project is driven by a central question: how does meaningful, transformative political change happen? Using Haiti in the nineteenth century as an analytical lens, my work seeks to understand how political, economic, and racial inequality is created, sustained, and reinforced through governmental policy. In this case, “The Cradle of Hope” will illustrate how Haiti’s international economic and political position was developed and maintained through the United States government’s discriminatory policies. Perhaps more importantly, however, my mission is to reveal how multiracial, international, transnational, grassroots political movements can alter and shape the nature of foreign policy even within the major western nations. By examining Haiti’s historical plight and its subsequent struggle for political and economic justice, my research will shed new light, not just on the power of inequality, but also on the power of the people who have agitated successfully for meaningful change.
2016 FORD FOUNDATION SENIOR FELLOWSHIP AWARDEES
|Edda L. Fields-Black, Associate Professor |
Carnegie Mellon University, Department of History
“Unburied, Unmourned, and Unmarked: Requiem for Rice”
For more than 20 years, my scholarly work has focused on the transnational history of rice and African rice farmers both in West Africa’s Upper Guinea Coast during the pre-colonial era and Africans enslaved on rice plantations in the Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry in the antebellum period. Out of my research on rice and my most recent book project on the history of “Lowcountry Creoles” and the making of the Gullah Geechee, a collaborative creative project has evolved. Requiem for Rice www.requiemforrice.com is a new kind of collaboration, historians and artists, primary sources brought to life through classical music performance, painting, film, and dance, African and African-American history and culture told through classical music, we aim to assert ourselves, transform our identity, both how we see ourselves and our ancestors and how we/they are seen, promote deep reconciliation, and advance cultural change.
Requiem for Rice is simultaneously a contemporary take on a classic requiem for the dead, Africans enslaved on Lowcountry South Carolina and Georgia rice plantations—in the spirit of Verdi, Mozart, Fauré, and Britten. It is simultaneously an African and African- American work of art, featuring classical West African dance, drumming, and singing, modern dance, and spirituals. Performed by a full symphony orchestra and choir, the lamentation for the sufferings and sacrifices of enslaved Africans becomes a celebration of the critical role that enslaved Africans’ ingenuity, technology, and industry played in the economy of the US South. I am writing the libretto on which Requiem is based from primary sources and co-producing Requiem with two internationally acclaimed artists, visual artist Jonathan Green, who has been called “one of the most acclaimed African American artists to come from the South,”i and filmmaker and director Julie Dash whose Daughters of the Dust was the first feature film by an African-American woman to receive a major studio release and the winner of the Sundance Award for Cinematography. Dr. Trevor Weston, Associate Professor of Music at Drew University is composing the lyrics and score.
As a Senior Ford Foundation Fellow and hosted by the College of Charleston School of Languages, Cultures, and World Affairs, I will collaborate with Requiem for Rice composer on the lyrics and score, co-produce Requiem, and be in Charleston when Requiem debuts at the Colour of Music Black Classical Musicians Festival October 22, 2017. I am also collaborating with CREATE Lab (in Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute) to design and build a mobile interactive website. We will use historic documents, photographs, interactive maps, and the latest virtual reality technology to extend the Requiem performance by enabling website visitors to experience the lives of Africans enslaved on Lowcountry rice plantations, working in a rice field, living in a slave cabin, burying a loved one in an unmarked grave, and traveling up the Combahee River with Harriet Tubman and the US Colored Troops to liberate 756 Africans enslaved on rice plantations six months after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.
iSamuel Johnson Howard (Chancellor) and John M. McCardell, Jr. (Vice Chancellor and President), “The University of the South - Resolution May 10 2014,” presented at Commencement ceremonies during conferral of Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts to Jonathan Green.
|Elizabeth Smith-Pryor, Associate Professor |
Kent State University, Department of History
"Equal Opportunity is Not Enough: The Urban League’s New Thrust in Cleveland, Ohio, 1968-1975"
As Americans we proclaim our allegiance to the ideal of equal opportunity for all. Despite our rhetoric, history suggests we have never agreed on how to define equal opportunity. Moreover, we can’t even agree on what equal opportunity looks like. Polls indicate a wide gap between black and white Americans’ views about social justice, whether equality exists, and what equal opportunity looks like in the 21st century. These differences likely rest on the significant presence of African Americans in the groups of those most likely to fall under the poverty line, endure incarceration, experience unemployment, and accrue less wealth across the generations. The persistence of racialized structural injustices demonstrates clearly that black American definitions of equality play little role in our national beliefs about social justice. Why does it matter that African American understandings of equality and opportunity do not significantly shape dominant conceptions of equality? It matters because these dominant understandings have so far rendered us unable to effectively redress inequality. Yet at specific moments in the past different visions of equality and opportunity offered alternatives. This project explores one key moment when one mainstream African American organization—the National Urban League—contested normative definitions of equality and opportunity. By doing so the Urban League shifted programmatic gears to its “New Thrust” and advanced a conception of equality where the “fundamental goal” would be “equal life results between black and white Americans.”
Given the failure of dominant understandings of equality and opportunity to address inequality over the past fifty years, I intend to assess the Urban League’s New Thrust with three major goals in mind: (1) to develop a historical case study that explores how one mainstream African American organization funded by entities such as the Ford Foundation worked towards alternative definitions of equality in an era of glaring inequality; (2) to examine efforts to develop and implement programs on the local level that took alternative definitions of equality as the goal. How did local (predominantly white) funders, including foundations, respond to these goals? How effective were these programs in achieving their goals? What made these efforts succeed or fail? and (3) to focus attention on Cleveland, Ohio; an understudied city with a rich past that suffered from and still suffers from racialized inequalities. Situating this study in one location allows us to recapture the actions of significant stakeholders including the National Urban League, the Urban League of Cleveland, and funders of the Urban League of Cleveland including the Cleveland Foundation, corporate elites, and public officials.
Perhaps more significantly, a historical case study of the Urban League’s New Thrust offers an innovative approach to exploring the contested meanings of equality and opportunity by placing the drive to achieve equal results at the center of historical analysis. Too often, scholars, policymakers, and foundations (past and present) fail to entertain equal results as a feasible response to inequality. In contrast, this project takes seriously the goal of the New Thrust and pays attention to its programmatic expression through one Urban League affiliate. Moreover, this study will provide needed perspective on the thinking of foundations and other entities that funded the Urban League’s efforts as well as the effects such funding had upon these programs and the meaning of equality.