Mike Brown’s Body: Meditations on War, Race and Democracy

The Ferguson protests provide an occasion to meditate on the relationship between war, race, freedom and democracy, especially in light of several events: the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and the 13th amendment; the 100th anniversary of World War I and the U.S. occupation of Haiti; the 50th anniversary of SNCC’s Freedom Summer, the March on Selma and the Voting Rights Act, the assassination of Malcolm X, and the passage of the 1965 Immigration Act; and the latest “Freedom Summer” of 2014, from the #BlackLivesMatter movement and anti-police violence protests to the war on Gaza.  Taken together, these three lectures performs something of a political autopsy on Mike Brown to reveal both the history of the racial regimes that ultimately left him dead in the streets for four and a half hours, but more importantly, reveal the alternative possibilities for creating democracy rooted in freedom, justice, and decolonization.


John Brown’s Body: Abolition Democracy Against Perpetual War

This talk opens with the killing of Mike Brown and the wave of anti-police protests, and suggests that the struggle for justice for Brown and other victims is not new, nor is it merely a consequence of the militarization of police.  Instead, Brown—like Tanisha Anderson and others—is a casualty of a war originating over 500 years ago, a war to colonize, dispossess, enslave, deny rights of citizenship; a war to decolonize, repossess, emancipate, democratize.  What we’re witnessing, in other words, is part of a much longer struggle not just against enslavement, colonialism, and state violence, but for democracy itself—a struggle on the part of racialized subjects to end racial capitalism’s brutal war, to bring peace and a new democratic, just, order to the world.


Other Brown Bodies: World War on Working Class

Kelley makes at least three central arguments: 1) that World War I was both a war for colonies and a war on the working class, and that the U.S. opened the real “Western Front” with the occupation of Vera Cruz (1914), Haiti (1915), Dominican Republic (1916), etc. 2) that this moment marked the criminalization of Other Brown bodies–the “immigrant”–which in turn masked the war’s character. Examining the consequences of immigration policy rooted in race, empire, militarization, and class war, Kelley shows how mass immigration and immiseration are produced and reproduced, how such policies laid the basis for the national security state in the U.S., and generated massive inequality on a world scale. 3) Suggest that this modern racial regime shored up white support for U.S. imperial power and succeeded in defeating the global working-class, foreclosing (yet again) a radically different future.


Ending War?: Decolonial Democracy Against Neoliberalism

The final lecture circles around 1965 but extends back to Bandung (1955) and decolonization and moves well into the next five decades in order to explain the consolidation of neoliberalism as not just a response to economic crisis but global and national struggles to decolonize, dismantle racism, patriarchy, the rule of capital, and an expanding national security state.  Again, Kelley will discuss both the alternative futures born of this moment, and their defeat.   The so-called Cold War was hardly “cold”: the deployment of U.S. combat operations, state violence, and interventions actually escalated, but the main theaters of war were the Third World and America’s ghettoes and barrios.  The massive expansion of U.S. military and commercial hegemony coincides with successful multiracial struggles for democracy that ultimately achieve the universal franchise for the first time in the U.S.

‘African American Studies and The Lessons of Experience’

The experiential effects of American racism–the continual lived experiences of racial insult, injustice, and the denial of equal citizenship–led to concerted efforts on the part of African American scholars to pursue the study of their people through multiple academic venues and disciplinary perspectives. Joined by sympathetic white scholars in the decades ahead, they developed a growing body of research that was, in turn, deployed in the real world as a weapon against Jim Crow. The reciprocal roles of academic work and on-the-ground activism appeared prominently on American campuses with the rise of Black Studies in the 1960s and 1970s. These roles remain conjoined in new ways in the twenty-first century.

Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham is the Victor S. Thomas Professor of History and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. She is also serving in her last year as the chair of the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard, having held this position since 2006. Prior to coming to Harvard in 1993, Professor Higginbotham was a tenured member of the Department of History at the University of Pennsylvania. She has enjoyed many years as a teacher, beginning her career as a public school teacher in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and in Washington, DC, before moving to the university setting. She has also taught at Dartmouth College and the University of Maryland, as well as holding visiting professorships at New York University and Princeton University. At the special invitation of Duke University, she taught at the Duke Law School in academic year 2010-2011 as the inaugural John Hope Franklin Professor of American Legal History.