[AAS21 Podcast] Episode #11: The Making of the Modern Black Diaspora

Monday, Feb 19, 2018

Podcast Transcript:

(0:27)

[music plays]

Eddie: Hello I'm Eddie Glaude and I'm the chair of the department of African American Studies here at Princeton University. Welcome to the African American Studies podcast. Today I am delighted to have as our guest my colleague and dear, dear friend professor Joshua Guild.

Professor Guild specializes in 20th century African-American social and cultural history, urban history, and then making of the modern African Diaspora with particular interest in migration, black internationalism, black popular music, and the black radical tradition.

We anxiously await his new book In the Shadows of the Metropolis: Cultural Politics and Black Communities in Post-war New York and London, which will be published by Oxford University Press.

The book examines African-American and Afro Caribbean migration community formation in central Brooklyn and West London from the 1930s to the 1970s.

He's also published or has forthcoming essays on topics ranging from the pioneering Brooklyn politician Shirley Chisholm, the politics of calypso in the age of decolonization and civil rights, and black power and diasporic perspective, his new book project, the latest brilliant book project actually, tentatively entitled The City Lives in You: The Black Freedom Struggle and the Futures of New Orleans, will focus on struggles for racial and economic justice in New Orleans from the mid-20th century black freedom movement through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil disaster. Welcome professor Guild.

Joshua: Thank You, Eddie, thanks for having me.

Eddie: That is my pleasure. Let's talk about this, let's talk about In the Shadows of the Metropolis. Let's talk about the scale of that first book. I mean, how are you thinking about migration transnationally, I mean it's huge.

Joshua: Yeah, the book is of-- is attempt to try to grapple with some really big ideas but to do it at a scale that's manageable for me as a researcher and as a writer, and hopefully is manageable for the-the reader.(0:50)

I mean, It begins with an interest in African-American migration, the great migration that we all know about of black southerners leaving the South in the 20th century and heading out to the-- to the Midwest and sitting to the northeastern kind of Rust Belt. And I thought I'd write about New York City.

This is going back now to graduate school in a very sort of germ of this idea, I thought I'd write about New York and how black New York serve comes into being not in these what some historians talk about is the first great migration, at kind of early period that-that so much has been written about but at the time when I was setting off to do this too, I wanted to think about the Second Great Migration, uh, which is dates roughly from World War Two, uh, through-through into the 70s, and is actually three times larger, uh, than that earlier period, right?

So, what does it mean that, um, you know, five million or so African-Americans are leaving the south at the exact moment in which the sole rights movement is kicking into gear, and Jim Crow is starting to come down.

Um, I'm not want to think about New York City. I didn't want to write about Harlem because again that's-- that's the ground had been tread pretty well, um, and act in fact the plurality of black New Yorkers by that point don't live in Harlem.

They live in other parts of the city. So, I want to think about those other parts and-and-and I focused on Brooklyn which is the largest black community in New York City. So, I want to figure out how that community came to be?

Bedford Stuyvesant is the sort of the focal point and-and sort of surrounding neighborhoods Crown Heights, the sort of area that I just call it the shorthand central Brooklyn.

But thinking about that story of-of black New Yorkers and-and black southerners, uh, coming to New York, it was impossible to conceive of that, to, uh, research it and-and-and did to write about it without also thinking about that group called West Indians.

Eddie: Yeah.

Joshua: Because at that point there, the uh, uh, Afro-Caribbean migrants don't live elsewhere. There-- there's-- there aren't-- They aren't in separate on clays for the most part. They're living side by side, these same black southerners.

Um, so folks from Trinidad are-are living next door (1:40)  and down the street from folks from Georgia and South Carolina, Jamaica and Barbados. These folks are all commingling, intermingling, and I want to really try to understand that process and understand the texture of what that was like in the moment and over time?

Eddie: So, let's-- I mean, this is really interesting. You-you mentioned about how you came to the idea when you were in graduate school.

Joshua: Uhm-hmm.

Eddie: And-and you know you were trained at Yale in history and African American Studies, and you know, you have, you know, two towering figures, uh, in some ways, uh, of you know, black Brits, uh, who were-- who were there at the time. I don't know if Hazel was there at the time?

Joshua: Yes, she's the chair of African-American studies.

Eddie: Yeah, she's the chair of African-American studies at the time and Paul Gilroy. Um, so there's a-- there's a sense in which the way in which you're engaging the subject is in conversation with, uh, say particularly Paul Gilroy.

Joshua: Absolutely.

Eddie: And you're trying to make an intervention of a particular sort. Do you want to talk a little bit about them?

Joshua:  Yeah, so, uh, you know, I started to describe how I-- how I had come to this project and it starts in New York and it starts with-- on-- as a very much, uh, nationally bounded African-American story, um, of a sort, and that's why I'm thinking about Caribbean migration.

At the same moment, I mean, this is kind of early in graduate school. Um, I'm encountering, I mean, class with, I mean conversation with, he's a Carl Being and Paul Gilroy's. I didn't go there to work on a black British topic.

Uh, you know, I had-had these other interests, um, but it was really just the exposure, the conversation, the engagement with their work and-and-and with the kind of tradition out of which they both came. Um, this is my first real exposure to Stuart Hall's work.

Um, then I probably had read an essay or two as an undergraduate but this is the first kind of serious engagement. And that's when I really started of to-to kind of peel back or-or-or scale back and-and-and look in a kind of uh, a broader scope.

To think about Caribbean migration got me, uh, thinking diasporicaly in a-- in a-- in a really new way. And so there was actually a moment (1:40)  to this is now if you-you know, into the-- into the dissertation proposal stage where I'm thinking about New York, Toronto ,and London together.

Uh, and thankfully, uh, have-have then the wisdom of my-- of my committee and my advisor, they said that's too much to-to-to take on as a graduate student but the-the-the story was there and the story for me and this is the story that-that I think remains a-a part the crux of the book, is a kind of reorganization of the African diaspora through migration in the mid-twenties, starting the mid-twentieth century.

Um, that there is an urbanization story that's happening in the Caribbean, right, people are moving from rural areas to capital cities like Port of Spain and Kingston. It's happening in West Africa and so happening in these colonial or imperial, um, metropolis in New York City and London where people are migrating from various corners of the diaspora and encountering each other in the city.

Um, so the-the-the project then became one that had both New York and London together, and  was both, uh, comparative in a sense but always relational.

Eddie: Uhm-hmm.

Joshua: Right? is-- it there-- for me I've-I've never been-- I've never been interested in telling a story of this happened over here and this happened over there, and just you know, one chapter's on New York one chapter's in London and-and you sort of bounce back and forth. Uh, I'm trying-- I have been trying to really try to tell this as one story, um, that-that has differences, of course, not the flat and the differences but to, uh, to attend to the things that are actually in common or in parallel.

Eddie: Well, it's so hard though, alright? I mean one of the things that's so interesting about the conversations that we've been having on-on the podcasts is really just talking with our colleagues about, uh, the challenge of managing the archive.

Joshua: Yes.

Eddie: So, you know, talking with, uh, Tara Hunter and moved the difference between the size of the archive that informed to join my freedom-

Joshua: Uhm-hmm.

Eddie: -and-and the archive of bound and wedlock, right? One was really narrow, she had to find the sources, right, in some ways, listen under-- try to listen in spaces that worked traditionally, uh, heard and then this much more expansive archive.

Or to talk to Reena Galtrey (1:40)  about, uh, her movement as she tracked-- as she traced, uh, the movement of these, uh, West Indian, uh, veterans of the war, uh, and into war period and what they were doing in the Caribbean.

Or even, uh, our colleague Autumn-- Autumn Womack in the way in which she's trying to think about the archive and thinking about social surveys and the like, um, as a way of-of-of-- of kind of interrogating new aesthetic and, uh, uh, visual strategies to deal with the-the new regime of race post-reconstruction.

Your archive is as big and as diverse and as a collective. What were some of the strategies? How do you manage it all? How did you manage it all?

Joshua: Right. Well, I think the first-- the first thing, uh, for me was to be very clear with myself and-and then-- and then as the project evolve with readers, um, that I wasn't trying to-- oh, despite the book's title which is sort of a necessity of the-of the marketing kind of-of how-how you sort of frame the part.

The book is not intended as a kind of definitive or comprehensive history of black New York and black London.

Eddie: Right.

Joshua: Right, which are huge and impossible kind of formulations. So I ground it in-in specific places in these neighborhoods and so, uh, and it was Hazel Kirby who first directed me to Notting Hill, West London in which is the sort of the epicenter of the Lo-- of the London-- of the London portion of the book.

Um, it's the place of probably most famous now in this context for its carnival, West Indian Carnival which happens every August and it's been going on for more than 50 years, um, but it's a site of, uh, racial violence attacking, you know, anti-black violence. Um, that's really formative to that community, um, and it's a place of-of music and of culture and of, uh, radical black organizing and all-all the rest.

And it's a relatively small community especially when compared to Bed-Stuy Brooklyn, but it's-- it's really important community argue. Um, so Browning these-- this-this history, this-this narrative in these very specific places (1:40)  and sort of being, um, being kind of vigilant about that and-and you know, of course, I-I, uh, I am aware of and attend to and gesture to things that are happening elsewhere in cities and-and- and so forth.

Um, but the way one of those strategies again of managing this, is just to say, "Okay, but what's really happening in these specific places, and-and who are the people that are moving through these places? And what are the organizations and community formations that are happening in these places?".

Eddie: Yeah, you know, what I've read your work at this is really important, right, there's a way in which your attentiveness to the voices of everyday people really kind of gives, uh, your-your writing, uh, its texture, uh, it-its establishes the tone of-of-of the work that you do.

Theory enters in. Uh, uh, I mean, obviously you're in conversation with a range of folks who-who write these kinds of histories, who are thinking about the black atl-- a black Atlantic as an analytic of sorts. But, but you-- but-but that-- that preoccupation, that concern never suffocates, it never silences.

So, there's like-- you know, I've said to you before, I like to think of what you do as a kind of thick local description to borrow a phrase from Clifford Gertz with an additional adjective. Ab-- How might such an approach, I mean, um, how might it affect how we do black Atlantic history because it seems to me that black Atlantic history is always engaged in this massive mapping?

Joshua: Yeah.

Eddie: Right. What does it mean to-to be attentive to this broader landscape but then to drill down-

Joshua: Yeah.

Eddie: -and-and then pay attention to and foreground, uh, these local voices and events?

Joshua: Yeah, I mean I think the book is also motivated by a certain, uh, dissatisfaction I had with reading some of the dominant, you know, literature in the field certainly when I started out and even to some extent to this day, um, that on the one hand, uh, I felt sort of, um, stayed-- stayed locked into abstractions, right?

You know, both the kind of the big scale but (1:40)  should be also the big ideas of-of-of-of-of the black Atlantic as a-- as a formulation. Um, but also I think too often, um, focus too much on elites and too much on intellectuals right, and-and-and sort of a certain kind of cosmopolitanism,

um, that-that, uh, really is that the-the--  the experience of-of a very specific category of people, of travelers people move across borders. Um, but for me I'm-- I'm interested in how people experience diaspora? So, to me that's-- that's that's the-- that's the motivation and-and-and, you know, part of it is also, um, you know, African-American studies, black studies is-is necessarily an interdisciplinary enterprise, right?

So for me I'm-I'm-- I'm reading and engaged within a conversation with sociology and anthropology and cultural studies. And so it's not only historians but although, of course, my training is also as a historian.

So, all of that together sort of pushes me to attend to that local-- that-that locality and the specificity of individual lives at the same time I'm trying to keep in view these larger-- these larger forces.

I sometimes describe the work, uh, uh, as being, uh, sort of focused on folks o-o-on individuals and on groups who are at the interests decease of a nation of empire and diaspora. I'm really trying to think about what it means to exist at that-- at that intersection or those intersects?

Eddie: I remember what I was writing, um, my first book Exodus and, you know, I'm so influenced by Paul Gilroy as you know. I was having this dispute, uh, in my head and it-it leaked out on the page and I was just like thinking that, you know, people live diasporic lives, yes, but they're always living it in someplace.

Joshua: Yes.

Eddie: Right, and so, you know, you might be send-- you might be from Jamaica, but you know, you're going to be sending your Western Union from Miami-Dade, uh, the barrel is going to come if you're from Barbados, is going to come from a certain neighborhood in Boston, right or Tehran.

And those where-- where that-- (1:40)  where they're located matters, right? So how do we keep track of-of this as opposed to understanding that the analytic which oftentimes aims to dissenter a kind of America centrism but in the-- in the I guess, one of the consequences of-of that preoccupation with de-centering, you actually-- you actually lose sight of where people are located, where they're actually living.

Joshua: Yeah.

Eddie: And one of the things that I loved about the book, uh, is that, you know, even as you're moving, right, because it's not just like you say, it's not comparative, it's relational even as you move between the spaces, there's a sense of the lived experience in nodding, you know, there's a sense of the lived experience in Brooklyn even though we see connections and- and in some ways movement between, right?

Joshua: Right. Right, right. Um, yeah I mean, part of that is also, um, my investment in and my sort of training as an urbanist and as a historian so that-that there's a kind of spatial dimension to it as well that I-- that-that I write in the book and just try to describe these neighborhoods spatially.

And how people occupy the spaces and, you know, what the-- what the-- what the apartments or the flats are-are like? And how that sort of impacts, how they relate to one another? The streets and the narrowness of streets in London, for example, versus wide boulevards in some cases in-in-in Brooklyn, and so on and so forth. Um, so this kind of occupation of public space is-is a really important element of the-- of the work.

Eddie: Well, you know, I-I have to say this. I don't-- I-I-I didn't mention it to you before but have to ask you about this because you're also very, very attentive to the sonic landscape.

Joshua: Yes.

Eddie: Like, you-you love music.

Joshua: Uhm-hmm.

Eddie: And so the sounds of Brooklyn and the sounds of nodding  or-- of nodding there's their-their-- they're absolutely central.

Joshua: Uhm-hmm.

Eddie: So, talk a little bit about your attention to popular culture in the book.

Joshua: Yeah. I mean from me, um, popular culture but specifically, uh, music-

Eddie: Music, right.

Joshua: -popular music, uh, a-a- a way I think about it is-is the sight of both being and belonging and that so it's a way that people, um, particularly people in-- who are living in diaspora, (1:40)  and living dia-- or living diasporically, um, identified themselves, uh, identified themselves, established their identities and with respect to their home countries often, um, their own cultures.

But it's also, uh, uh, it can be a place and-and I-- and I chart, point to some examples in the book of-of a-a way that people can, um, show an investment in the new place where they arrive, uh, in New York and in London.

They can become New Yorkers, they can become Londoners of a sort through the performance of music or through in these musical spaces in which you have Barbadians and Trainees and Jamaicans altogether, and now there's something eventually will-will emerge out of that that-that-that is identified or named as a black British identity. but one of the ways that manifest itself is through music, musical performance.

Eddie: Yeah. It's almost like every time I hear Steel Pulse, I hear something-

Joshua: Yeah.

Eddie: -you know, that's distinctive. and you know, that's-that's of dating myself but I'd say, oh, I'm always dating myself, right?

Joshua: [laughs]

Eddie: But, I'm-- I mean, I'd-- I'd say a little bit more about, uh, how African-American Studies right, enables this kind of-- this kind of work. I mean, there's a-- there's a sense in which the capaciousness of the feel-

Joshua: Yeah.

Eddie: -right, opens up how we might think about particular subject matters.

Joshua: Yeah. I mean for me and no Black Studies has been everything in my intellectual formation from, uh, when I went off to college and even slightly before, uh, to the present moment.

And in terms of this work, I-I mean, I think it's been-- it's just been liberating, right, because, you know, while I-- well I identify very much as a historian and I-- and I value my training and-and-and as a historian. Um, it can also be, uh, limiting, shackling in a way in terms of, uh, methodology way-- what-what I call capital H history.

What capital H history has to say about what constitutes a source, a valid source of knowledge and information. Um, whereas for many black studies opens up that-- No, un-unlocks that- that shackle and says, you know, not that anything is valid but-but it certainly, uh, puts (1:40)  a much wider range of sources on the table.

So, I can think about literature. I can think about film. I can think about music. I can read ethnographies, um, and all that uniform how I'm trying to narrate, you know, very specifically this-this-this history.

Eddie: Yeah. You know, I mean one of the beautiful things about the podcast, um, has been, uh, my-- my-- my conversations with our colleagues. You kind of get a sense of the scope and depth of the field.

Joshua: Yeah.

Eddie: And like you said it just enables us to key-- because human beings are as complex-

Joshua: Yes.

Eddie: -or really complex, right? You just can't, you know this--

Joshua: No, disciplinarity no-- not bounded by disciplines, you know we have, you know, sure.

Eddie: Yeah, we're complex, so-so we need to figure out how to get at that complexity with some new once in some sophistication. So, let's talk about the next-- the next project. I mean, how do you go from Brooklyn, Notting Hill to-- Notting Gate to-- to New Orleans?

Joshua: Yeah. You know, well I mean, the-the simplest thing is-is a-- is a shift, uh, simply of-of urban-- of-of urban spaces but-but the real-- the real underlying answer is Katrina. For me, Katrina was absolutely transformative moment.

I was in the midst of writing this dissertation then when Katrina happened, um, or at least Kat-- the Katrina the storm happened and-and the flooding of New Orleans in August toSeptember of 2005, and I was just sort of caught in my tracks.

I was, um, at that moment in Hanover New Hampshire off at Dartmouth College on a dissertation fellowship and really trying to finish up this-- this project and move on to the next-- uh, next moment in my career.

Um, I had been to New Orleans a couple times. I don't have any family connections there but I've been there and like many people at been, you know, really, um, wrapped up and-and-and fell in love with the city. Um, and so I was absolutely horrified but as I say kind of paralyzed by the scenes that unfolded televisually, um, in the--in the flooding of-of flooding of New Orleans.

So, um, you know, but I couldn't do anything. I had this impulse to do (1:40)  something, to drop what I was doing and just go do something. And, um, there you know, I mean, I'm-I'm sure I could have found something to do to volunteer my-myself in some way but, um, the reality was, um, I'm not a medical doctor, I don't have construction experience and so on and so forth.

Uh, I'm a writer and historian and so the moment for me to kind of do something came, uh, less than a year later, the following summer 2006 when I, um, was able to join a small or history project in the city, uh, and-and go down there and-and this is nine-ten months after the flooding.

People are returning and trying to-- trying to piece back their lives and-and the city's trying to put itself back together. And on this-- on this team of a-- of-of students and-and journalists and researchers we just sort of fanned out and talked to a wide array of people from kind of all walks of life.

Um, teachers and activists and politicians and musicians, uh, about not so much their experience of-of the flood and storm, the evacuation, all that, that was essential to everyone's story, but actually their vision for the future. And then the project was called Imagining New Orleans.

Eddie: Uhm-hmm.

Joshua: And so, in this moment that we all recognized was-- was a-- was a bounded one, right? So, something was going to change and that the city was going to get rebuilt in some form or fashion.

And in this--in this kind of interstitial moment, um, there were many competing ideas about what the city should look like? What should get rebuilt? How it should get rebuilt? Who gets to come back? Uh, who might come anew, and so on and so forth.

And so we just talked to this-- to-to a wide range of people and I ended up spending a lot of time focusing on sort of two-- two strands of that story. One had to do with the historically black colleges and universities us and specifically I-I looked at Dillard and Xavier-

Eddie: Uhm-hmm.

Joshua: -which had two really different experiences with the storm own-- owing to their position in the city, the-the geography, their leadership. Dillard had just gotten a brand new president who just started that summer. I was still assembling her team, uh, when-when this-- when-when her the campus is flooded with like, you know, (1:40)  four, six, eight feet of water.

Um, Xavier had at that time, uh, the longest-serving university president in the United States, Dr. Norman Francis, who was one of the most politically connected people not only in the city of New Orleans but in the state of Louisiana.

I was able to marshal a set of resources for his campus that simply wasn't-- wasn't possible for Dillard. So anyway, they ended up talking to a lot of faculty and-and-and from those ad-administrators from those institutions. But I-- but I made this the wrong word but I sort of stumbled on another story, in another-- another story presented itself and that was a story of public housing.

Another of the evacuation of public housing and more importantly and more pertinently, uh, the movement by public housing residents to return to the city, fighting for their right to return to the homes, the only homes that they had ever known where many of them had-had lived for two and three generations and their family.

And they were locked out. They were locked out by the Housing Authority of New Orleans which was then under federal receivership here. In a moment of acute housing crisis we have these really solidly built brick buildings, uh, developments that most of which have not flooded hardly at all and very little, uh, wind damage and were sitting vacant, chain-link fences, razor wire around them.

And people, uh, literally set up tent cities in front of some of these developments to, uh, make the case that they should be allowed to return. And for me, it just crystallized so much about social movements, about what constitutes a social movement, who guess the start of social movement.

I mean, I just sat with these residents, most of whom were women and they just had this amazing analysis of-of housing and poverty and-and public policy. And I was kind of blown away and didn't-- but didn't know what to do with it, you know, from are-- from a research perspective.

I didn't know if there was a story there or if there was something for me to write or just my job to listen to witnesses as-as James Baldwin would say, so I mean, I just listened.

Um, but that's stuck with me and-and I ended up just returning back to New Orlean-- to New Orleans just about every year since then I've been back for, you know, shorter and longer periods of time.

And then somewhere in the middle of that, I realize that this would be my next-- my next project, my next-- (1:40)  my next writing project. And for me, New Orleans is a magical City, it's a-- but it's a city that it's also, um, could have enveloped in a lot of Romanticism.

Um, there's a lot of exceptionalism, that's sort of attached to New Orleans, so one of the challenges of this project is to-to write back against that, right, to say that New Orleans is and is not, you know, wholly unique a-a-as a city in the United States. Um, but the-the-the crux of the project, the core of it is to sort of think about the legacies of civil rights and black power-

Eddie: Right.

Joshua: -from the 1960s to the present day and-and tend to really push back against a narrative of or discourse of post-civil rights.

Eddie: Uhm-hmm.

Joshua: And we understand that the movement and some of the, um, major organizations, um, end at a certain point or they-- or they dissipate, uh, some of them are toppled by external forces. Um, but the issues remain the same.

Eddie: Uhm-hmm.

Joshua: And for me most importantly, um, key figures remain and that's where-- that-that's really the book and so just I've write this long story of racial justice, the struggle for racial justice, economic justice in the city through the lives of individual, uh, activists.

Eddie: So, we see a lot of the sensibilities that inform the first book kind of evidence-

Joshua: Yes, yeah, yeah.

Eddie: -in themselves here. And in some ways in New Orleans, the story that you tell in New Orleans is very specific but it also has this kind of cynic docket quality that, you know, that by understanding this very particular story you want the reader to understand something broad, more broadly.

Joshua: Uhm-hmm.

Eddie: Um, what is that something? What-what are you trying to point our attention to?

Joshua: Well, the couple of things. I mean one, that Hurricane Katrina is not an event but a process. I'm not alone in this, there are other scholars who are working in this vein but I'm trying to amplify that story and to kind of focus it around, uh, the experience of African-Americans in particular.

But-- but that Hurricane Katrina, uh, begins before August 29, 2005, and in some ways Hurricane Katrina is not over right, for many people.

Eddie: Right. Right, is not overall.

Joshua: No, there's over a 100,000 African-Americans who have not returned and perhaps will never return.

Eddie: Many of whom in London but in Houston and then had to (1:40)  experience term, right?

Joshua: Yes, exactly.

Eddie: Right.

Joshua: Right. So, so for people whose-- whose lives were disrup-disrupted in that way, Hurricane Katrina still-- is still ongoing in a certain sense. Um, but-but it's also a-a-a-a kind of catastrophe, a disaster that's decades in the making so we're going to point to some of that-- that public policy that leads to, um, to-to the flooding of the city and what happens afterwards.

Uh, but, um, but less about policy it's about how communities are organizing, uh, in response to issues that in some ways are revealed or revealed to the nation or revealed to certain people in-in-in the country, um, after a Katrina but, um, but if we look on the ground we see these are things that people have been-- communities have been struggling over for-for-- for decades and so that's part of what I want to-- want to show.

Um, so as we now are in this a-a-a new season of-of-of a widespread disaster, I think that's one of the things that we can, um, we can hopefully take from a-- an examination of New Orleans. Is to sort of see, you know, the community organizations, um, that struggle mightily beforehand, uh, around issues of inequality, around, you know, spatial inequalities and inequality of resources.

Um, how disasters amplify that work or amplify the need for that work, but how that work is already ongoing, right?

Eddie: So, I mean this is-- I mean, I think this is a wonderful transition, um, to talk about the current moment because you think about what-- you know, you think about Katrina, um, and you think about what is happening in Puerto Rico, um, uh, with-with Hurricane Maria.

You think about the state's response. You think about the populations of, you know, New Orleans and the population of Puerto Rico and-and the ways in which a certain kind of racial ideology, class ideology, right, under guards, right, or shapes-

Joshua: Uhm-hmm.

Eddie: -Uh, how limited the response is? How problematic the response is? How-- how people imagine the futures of a New Orleans,(1:40)  the future of-of-of Puerto Rico. I mean, it-it-it-it throws-- throws me back on-on and to-- unto a set of reflections about our role as scholars. I mean you talked about this when you first went down there, you know, trying to figure out what are you to do, right, now as you were engaging in these oral histories? I remember you and, we went to Ferguson.

Joshua: Yes.

Eddie: And we found ourselves in that, um, whatever, I think it was a teach for America, headquarters at teach-- Te-Teach for America. And then I remember us looking at each other when we realized that we were sitting there talking with Netta and-and Britney and can't, "Oh, wait a minute.

I think we've stumbled into something that's a little bit more central and seeing in some ways the the possibilities and the contradictions like up close as we were there, right?". And-and even after we left and all the advice that we were trying to give, what is the role, right? I mean let me yeah, this is a-- yeah, a kind of odd question but I-I think I could ask it to you.

Kind of the role of the scholar in this moment of such them all, what is-- what might be the role of history, right, in this moment that is so, so full of possibility? Is like that Stewart Hall said that, "conjunctional moments are moments of crisis and moments of a possibility.”

Joshua: Right. Well, I think there are-- there're  several things that I-- that I might say. I mean one, and I sometimes want to separate whatever role responsibilities I see--I see for myself as a scholar from just the basic roles and responsibilities I feel like I have as a human being, right?

And that, you know, I don't have any special superpowers or-or speed even, you know, heightened responsibility that-- So, part of-- part what I do how I try to move through the world is-is with a certain kind of ethical, um, sensibility that's- that's- that's, you know, has really nothing to do with my vocation, let's say as a historian, as a teacher.

So that's one thing. Um, but I think certainly the (1:40)  classroom is important. I mean the way we teach our students. What we teach our students? How we connect, um, historical, uh, moments to the-- to the-- to, you know, past and present constantly. I'm always, you know, I'm sort of toggling back and forth between past and present in the classroom.

Um, I think historians have a job, uh, to document. I think that part of that-- that experience in New Orleans taught me that the real value of oral history and of archive-- of-of-- You know as a scholar I often took the archive for granted.

Archive was a place I went to. Someone-- if someone had collected these materials and I could sometimes be frustrated with certain things were not there that I wanted to be there, but I didn't-- I didn't always reflect, uh, to critically on the-the assemblage of the archive.

Um, but the experience of-- in-in my experience in-in visiting New Orleans in the years after Katrina showed me that the real value, um, and the importance of assembling the archive that would-- that-that I could have a role, right, as I've-- you know, and-and recording people's experiences at that particular historical moment of June of two-- of 2006, um, was in and of itself, uh, valuable.

We also collected ephemera. We-we've collected t-shirts and flyers and-and-and posters and-and you know, meeting minutes if we could get them, and things like that.

All that stuff, some of-- some of us-- uh, some of which we use a the-the-the researchers in the project but-but-but was deposited in the, um, Louisiana State Museum, in the--in the-- at University of North Carolina and at Yale for future researchers, 100 years from now, 200 years from now I want to write about that moment.

So, you know, that-- those are kind of simple things. Um, I don't know. I mean, I think I'm really also trying to figure out, you know, as we all are like what-what is our role?

Eddie: You know, I mean, we see it. I mean-- I mean, I think you're absolutely right. I mean, it was amazing to witness, uh, you know, historians jump into the fray when it came to the debate around confederate statutes, right?

Joshua: Yes.

Eddie: So, uh, to see me-- see Jim Grossman out there on the front lines or does-- or-or our (32:00) colleagues or you or others trying to kind of give folks a sense of from whence these statues, how did they emerge. And-and you know, and in this moment of-of-of-of protest and-and around police brutality, the ways in which, uh, African-American study scholars have tried to intervene in helping provide context for, uh, the history of policing and race in the country.

Joshua: Uhm-hmm.

Eddie: It seems like-- uh, and it may be I'm trying to justify our work beyond just simply our vocation, our choice of, you know, where we-- where-where we go for it, we don't go from 9:00 to 5:00 but where-where we go to do our work? It just seems to me African-American Studies seems to be even more important in this moment.

Joshua: Yeah.

Eddie: Yeah.

Joshua: I mean, I-I remember, um, you know, we were both teaching here, uh, on at the time when the non-indictment of Darren Wilson came down.

Eddie: Yeah, yeah.

Joshua: A-a-and, um, you know, our students who many of whom were getting engaged in a certain kind of protest politics for the first time and we're really seared both by the killing of Trayvon Martin earlier but particularly the killing of Mike Brown.

And, you know, this was their first time for many of them, um, experiencing that-that moment when the state doesn't act in the way that we think it ought to act.

Eddie: Yeah.

Joshua: You know, for those of us who are older we've seen this many time. I didn't-- it didn't hurt any less and make us any less angry but we maybe not-- we're maybe we're not as surprised as these students and I had to teach the very next day my, um, part of my lecture course in African-American history since emancipation.

And, um, you know, I didn't. I struggled a little bit that-that nice or think about how-- you know, what I'm gonna say, wha-what I say and what a-- part of what I chose to do was to read them some pages from my book. Um, and was about the fight over police brutality in Brooklyn in the 1940s.

Eddie: [laughs] I got it.

Joshua: And it wasn't to make them feel good per se, right? It wasn't an-an uplifting hopeful story but it's just to-to-to ground them and they-- then (1:40)  to let them know this is a long struggle, it's a long fight and people been fighting this very exact same fight for decades, and-and-and perhaps for decades beyond, uh, your time here in this university, you'll be fighting this fight.

And, um, just to give them some perspective and I think that's one of the things though it's again not always uplifting, but I think it's an important thing that we can do as scholars is-is to have-- have and provide for others that-that longer-term perspective.

Eddie: Well, I know I'm blessed to have you as a colleague and as a friend on this journey, to have you here at Princeton with-- with us as we try to do this work that we do. In some ways, I want to dedicate this conversation to Willy T.

Joshua: Uhm-hmm.

Eddie: Uh, when Katrina hit, uh, Willy came to Princeton and we hung out. Uh, but Katrina got him and he passed away. The stress of losing all of his music, his archives. I remember Willie T played at Toni Morrison's retirement.

Joshua: Uhm-hmm.

Eddie: And he played beautifully.

Joshua: Yeah.

Eddie: And so this is in tribute to him. Thank you for joining us for this discussion today. I would like to thank professor Joshua Guild for-- for joining me this week.

Additionally, a special thanks to Courtney Bryant for providing the music to the podcast, to the staff of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University, our office manager April Peters, our event coordinator Dion Worthy, our social media specialist Allison Bland ,and our technical specialists and audio engineer Ellie Olio.

Remember, you can find this podcast and more by visiting our website aas.princeton.edu. Thank you and take care.

[music] (1:40)  [music]

[End]

Recent News

Lincoln signed a bill in 1862 that paid up to $300 for every enslaved person freed. Princeton University junior Nathan Poland has been awarded a 2019 Truman Scholarship, which provides up to$30,000 toward graduate school and the...

Editor’s Note: This article represents the views and opinions of the author only and does not necessarily represent the views of The...

Over the spring break, we set out for London in search of the archives and traveling histories of some of the itinerant and exiled thinkers we were...