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Instructor: Joseph Ross. This course meets MWF 12:20 – 1:10 p.m. in GL 302.

The United States of America is full of contradictions. On the one hand, America’s Founders proclaimed in 1776 that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” On the other hand, African Americans were excluded from this declaration and would not gain their freedom, citizenship, or voting rights until nearly one hundred years later. Even then, numerous laws and discriminatory policies emerged that disenfranchised black Americans and prevented them from enjoying the same rights and privileges as white Americans. In fact, nearly 250 years later, African Americans still face many challenges and obstacles to attaining widespread liberty, upward mobility, and economic prosperity. From slavery and Jim Crow to police brutality and the Ku Klux Klan, the black experience in America has always been unequal and unjust. This course seeks to understand how African Americans have 1) responded to these challenges and 2) envisioned a better America that lives up to its founding principles.

Through a variety of primary and secondary sources, students will become familiar with the political beliefs of Frederick Douglass, Martin Delaney, W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, Zora Neale Hurston, Carter Woodson, Anna Julia Cooper, Mary McLeod Bethune, Ida B. Wells, Diane Nash, Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker, Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and others. We will spend time analyzing the historical context when these individuals expressed their views, and we will compare the ideas of one generation of black political thinkers to another. This will allow us to understand how black political thought has changed over time in response to the oppression and racism that African Americans have faced (and are still facing). By the end of the course, students will comprehend the nuance in African American political philosophy and assess which ideologies have been most successful towards attaining social justice.


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