Intro to Afro-American Studies


Everyone Has a Role to Play

Toward a Paradigm of Unity in Afro-American Studies

LOGIC OF CHANGE Social Cohesion Traditional Africa - Slavery - Rural Life - Urban Life
Social Disruption - Slave Trade - Emancipation - Migrations -
UNITS OF ANALYSIS Ideology A1 B1 C1 D1 E1 F1 G1
Nationality A2 B2 C2 D2 E2 F2 G2
Class A3 B3 C3 D3 E3 F3 G3
Race A4 B4 C4 D4 E4 F4 G4


Black people are oppressed and exploited in the United States. It is the responsibility of all people of good will, white and Black, to speak out against this. racist terror on the basis of knowledge and logic. Therefore, the main thing Afro-American Studies is designed to provide is the knowledge and logic needed to under- stand and defend Black people, and in this way make a contribution to the entire society.

Afro-American Studies, as a field, is a partisan activity, an enterprise in which the objective is not merely to understand the world but also to help make it better. For example, people study agriculture in order to increase food production. This is a positive goal for all of society, and it is given support from all aspects of society in recognition of this fact. People study Afro-American Studies because the Black community must be healed if the United States is to survive. In this sense ' Afro-American Studies is not only for the Black community, but, more profoundly, Afro- American Studies is for the entire United States.

In this last chapter, we are raising two basic questions: What should you have, learned by reading this text? and Where do you go next? Beginning to answer these questions is the task of this chapter.


The Afro-American experience is rooted in the everyday activities of a people trying to survive. This consists of how Black people lead their lives under brutal forms of oppression and how they produce resistance against the racist domination they face. This is the fundamental dialectical rhythm of history - the struggle to survive and the struggle to transform history.



The key aspect of society is political economy because this is how a society takes care of its needs (e.g., food, clothing, housing, -health care, etc.). Also, it is this aspect that defines class conflict and class struggle. In fact, given certain class relations, people usually focus on survival. However, there comes a time when chances for survival can't be improved unless there is a change in the class character of society. This is the turning point - when people no longer focus on survival, but take history into their own hands.

A good example of this is a personal statement from a Black woman who joined the Black liberation movement in Mississippi. Mrs. Johnnie Mae Walker was a community organizer for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

My name is Johnnie Mae Walker and I live in Hattiesburg Mississippi. I have lived here all my life. I was born in Forrest County, on May 31, 1934.

I've been a rebel all my days. It started when I first realized that the white man was doing me wrong. It was picking cotton that did it to me - all day in the sun, getting up at 3:30 in the morning and going until 8:30 at night - and all for two dollars a day. That was when I began to hate the white man. Maybe I don't really hate him but I can't think of another word.

Then when I was eighteen I thought I was really getting up in the world. The big day came when I went out on a maid's job. I worked at that job harder than I ever worked at anything in my life trying to keep it. And then the big pay day came and I got twelve dollars. (I had one child, Carolyn, so three dollars went to the baby sitter.) I quit because I wasn't satisfied. That twelve dollars disgusted me. I wished I hadn't worked a day in my life.

I followed this routine of getting a job and quitting, getting a job and quitting, until 1963 when the movement came to Hattiesburg. This is the time that I fully realized that what I had felt all along was right. We are being treated unjustly working hard and not getting paid hardly enough even to survive. This is wrong. I knew it but I did not know how it could be better, how it could be changed. And I did not know what I, personally, could do about it.

I still don't know exactly what to do, but I do know how to begin. We have to stop hating. The reason I hated the white man was because he was on top of the system. It was the system that I hated. The system kept us from going to school and getting a good education, kept us from eating well, and having clothes which is important for our children.

I stopped hating and started understanding., That was my first step toward freedom.

One Monday night I went to a mass meeting. While I was sitting there Bob Moses began to talk and he asked a simple question: "What have you to fear? Death? They've been killing you all along. Job? What job? You don't have a job. You don't make enough to even feed your families well:' That is when I began thinking: "He's right. If I'm going to die, I'm going to die for something. The Negro has never been free."

The COPO called a Freedom Day on January 22, 1964 and I was one of the first to join the picket line around the county courthouse. On that picket line I thought I was doing something to help myself and even doing something that might someday help everybody.

Since that time I've tried to register thirteen times. The registrar failed me every time but I know I'm qualified. I quit school when I was twelve at the end of the fifth grade because I hated that rotten school. It was a cold crummy joint - nothing but a run down wooden shack. And the teachers were brutal; they called you stupid and beat you if you didn't understand. But my education didn't stop. I read and studied on my own and took correspondence courses.

I realized that working for the movement would cause sacrifice. But I am the sole supporter of my two children so I tried to keep my job as a presser in a dry cleaning store. But the day came when I had to make a decision: Would I "uncle tom" to keep that job, that survival ticket, or should I stand up for freedom? What did I really owe my children? I made up my mind. I went with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to Washington, D.C. When my employer found out, I had no job. Today is February 4, 1965. The lights were turned off two days ago, the heat goes off tomorrow and the phone gets cut off in a week but the hell with it. Somehow we'll make out. We borrowed an extension cord and ran it over to the house next door. They can't keep us down anymore.

Now I work full time for the movement and I'll be with the movement until the day I die. This is one job I don't intent to quit. My goal is not freedom for the Negro but freedom for all men. 


All of the Afro-American experience is not reducible to class, though all of it is conditioned by class. Race, nationality, and consciousness exist independently, each with its own "substance and logic of development." But, the main factor that influences more than any other the nature of every other aspect of society is class. This is the most controversial issue in all the social sciences and humanities. ,

Afro-American history can be theoretically summed up as a dynamic process of historical periodization. This consists of three periods of social cohesion (slavery, rural life, urban life) and three periods of social disruption (emancipation, migration, crisis). All aspects of the Afro-American experience fall into this historical paradigm. With this paradigm it is possible to make great progress in theoretical discourse and empirical research. Without such a basis for intellectual unity, there would be confusion and rampant individualism. The role of intellectuals is to make the world easier to understand and therefore easier to change. This requires unity, the opposite of intellectual "do-you-own-thing-ism!"

Every event, person, movement, organization, book, even concepts and language itself must be understood in relationship to all other aspects of society and in terms of historical context.


With a paradigm of unity, and with this method, all knowledge of the Black experience can be synthesized as part of a cumulative process. You must, however, be warned against relying on this paradigm to replace research for detailed information. Each aspect of society must be studied on its own terms, because each thing is unique and has its own identity. But, there is this larger pattern, and it is this pattern that. helps put all of the historical detail into a coherent picture.


Black people in the, United States have been at times very optimistic, and at other times very pessimistic about the future. Of course, this reflects a rational response to the shifting winds of racism. Black people have been quite human in an inhumane condition. At an earlier point in history (generally before the 20th century), Africa was a reasonable goal in times of trouble. If it got bad enough in the United States, then Black people could always go back to Africa and try to make a life there. But this is no longer possible since the system that oppresses Black people is world-wide. Just as Black people used to think that getting out of the South would put them closer to freedom, few now think that. The only place to go is outer space, and with the current development of "star wars, technology" that is actually not a real possibility either. There is no utopia in which to find a refuge. In fact, the actual meaning of the word, utopia is "nowhere," so in this sense there never has been any place to go for ultimate happiness.

The good life is not found, but is made by human beings. The future is produced through collective human action. The critical issues are: Who will do it? What is it? How will they do it? In each case, why will they do it? And, of course, when will it be done? We have been concerned with summing up the historical record and the contemporary conditions of life. These questions about the future you will have to answer through how you lead your life, and how you influence others to lead their lives.

This text stops here, but you must go on. We will leave you with  one last thought from the Afro-American poet laureate Langston Hughes:

Let America be America again.



Let it be the dream it used to be. 
Let it be the pioneer on the plain. 
Seeking a home where he himself is free. 

(America never was America to me.) 

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed - 
Let it be that great strong land of love 
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme 
That any man be crushed by one above.

 (It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty 
Is crowned with-no false patriotic wreath, 
But opportunity is real, and life is free, 
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me, 
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.") 

Say who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars? 

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart, 
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars. 
I am the red man driven from the land, 
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek - 
And finding only the same old stupid plan 
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in, that ancient endless chain 
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land! Of grab the gold! 
Of grab the ways of satisfying need! 
Of work the men! 
Of take the pay! 
Of owning everything for one's own greed! 

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil. 
I am the worker sold to the machine. 
I am the Negro, servant to you all. 
I am the people, worried, hungry, mean - 
Hungry yet today despite the dream. 
Beaten yet today - O, Pioneers! 
I am the man who never got ahead, 
The poorest worker bartered through the years.


Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream 
In that Old World-while still a serf of kings, 
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true, 
That even yet its mighty daring sings 
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned 
That's made America the land it has become. 
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas 
In search of what I meant to be my home - 
For I'm the one-who left dark Ireland's shore, 
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea, 
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came 
To build a "homeland of the free." 

The free? 

A dream - 
Still beckoning to me!

O, let America be America again - 
The land that never has been yet - 
And yet must be - 
The land where every man is free. 
The land that's mine - 
The poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME - 
Who. made America, 
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain, 
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain, 
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose - 
The steel of freedom does not stain. 
For those who live like leeches on the people's lives, 
We must take back our land again, America!

 O, yes, 
I say it plain, 
America never was America to me, 
And yet I swear this oath - 
American will be! 
An ever-living seed, 
Its dream 
Lies deep in the heart of me. 

We, the people, must redeem 
Our land, the mines, the plants, the rivers,
The mountains and the endless plain -
All, all the stretch of these great green states -
And make America again!