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Historic Event Celebrates Ph.D.s in Black Studies

Bringing together leading and up-and-coming scholars on critical issues of race

EVANSTON, Ill. --- In her dissertation, La TaSha Levy -- part of Northwestern University’s first cohort of doctoral students in African American studies -- is exploring the rise of modern black conservatism in post-civil rights era politics.

Levy’s research and that of other black studies doctoral students and faculty will be featured at an historic three-day event that -- for the first time ever -- brings together graduate students and leading scholars from each of the nation’s 11 universities that awards Ph.D.s in African American studies. (Read profile of Levy at

Called “A Beautiful Struggle: Transformative Black Studies in Shifting Political Landscapes,” the upcoming conference is a veritable summit of black studies doctoral programs that marks the establishment of Northwestern’s doctoral program in 2006 and the 40th anniversary of the University’s African American studies department.

Free and open to the public, the conference will take place from April 12 to 14 at the Orrington Hotel, 1710 Orrington Ave., Evanston. For more information, visit

As an academic discipline, African American studies has come a long way since the country’s first programs – many of them born of student protest -- were first established some four decades ago. At Northwestern, black students took over the University’s bursar’s office in 1968 and, among other demands, asked that a black studies program be created. 

“A Beautiful Struggle” – which occurs a full 44 years since that student takeover -- will showcase the work of some of the finest scholars in the field of black studies, including Jonathan Holloway, professor of African American studies, history and American studies at Yale University. As the 2012 Leon Forrest Lecturer, Holloway will speak on “The Trauma of Legitimacy: Black Scholars and Memory in the Age of Black Studies, at 4:30 p.m. Friday, April 13, at the Hilton Orrington Hotel, 1710 Orrington Ave., Evanston.

Conference topics will include a look at First Lady Michelle Obama against a backdrop of black women stereotypes; an historic review of the country’s black studies movement; an exploration of black political conservatism; a re-examination of author and social activist James Baldwin; and presentations on African-American home ownership, racial profiling and black sexuality in the era of Obama and hip-hop.

“Above all, ‘A Beautiful Struggle’ celebrates the rich scholarship produced in departments of African American studies, the doctoral students who will be the field’s future stars and the progress of the field itself,” says Northwestern African American studies chair Celeste Watkins-Hayes.

In the field’s early years, critics suggested black studies was more about activism and self-esteem than about scholarship, and the discipline operated on the academy’s margins. “In renewed attacks during the ‘culture wars’ of the 1990s, detractors simplistically argued that discussions of race only reinforced inequality,” Watkins-Hayes adds.

Conference participants will look at the history of black studies and discuss the future of a field that now stands at the center of both the academy and critical public discourse. “African American studies in 2012 speaks not only to questions of race and blackness,” Watkins-Hayes says. “It also provides a conduit to explore issues of inequality, identity, community and memory across and within disciplines.” 

Among the numerous scholars at the conference:

Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, professor and chair of African and African American studies at Harvard University, is co-author with the late John Hope Franklin of the classic African American history survey “From Slavery to Freedom” and, with Henry Louis Gates Jr., is co-editor of “African American National Biography.” The latter is a multi-volume reference work presenting African history through the lives of people. She is a pioneer in the field of African American religious history and, with Northwestern’s Darlene Clark Hine, one of the pioneers of the history of African-American women.

Darlene Clark Hine, Board of Trustees Professor of African American Studies at Northwestern, is a leading historian of the African-American experience and a pioneer in African-American women’s history who has co-edited more than 40 volumes. When in 1994 Oxford University Press published her first edition of “Black Women in America,” it was hailed as “one of those publishing events that changes the way we look at a field.” Hine will deliver a keynote address on “First Lady Michelle Obama and the Dialectics of Black Women’s Studies” at 12:15 p.m. Friday, April 13.

Jonathan Holloway, professor of African American studies, history and American studies at Yale University, is the author of “Confronting the Veil: Abram Harris Jr., E. Franklin Frazier and Ralphe Bunche, 1919-1941.” Co-editor of “Black Scholars on the Line: Race, Social Science and American Thought in the 20 Century (2007), he will deliver the Leon Forrest Lecture April 13.

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, formerly of Indiana University and now director of New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, is author of the landmark “The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime and the Making of Modern Urban America.” He has said that he seeks “to uncover the ways in which social scientists and social reformers have imaged African-Americans as a distinctly criminal population, and how their ideas about blacks as criminals have changed at specific times and places over the course of the 20th century.” 

Doctoral students and their presentations:

Tera Agyepong, Northwestern University, “Boundaries of Innocence: The Criminalization of African American Girls at Illinois Training School for Girls, 1893-1945”

Ernest Gibson, University of Massachusetts Amherst, “A Project of Salvation: The W.E.B. Du Bois Department, African American Studies and the Reclamation of James Baldwin”

Zinga A. Fraser, Northwestern University, “Sister Outsider/Sister Insider: Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan and Black Women’s Politics in the Post-Civil Rights Era”

Cynthia Greenlee-Donnell, Duke University, “A Most Offensive Outrage: Black Families, Child Rape and the Law in South Carolina 1885-1905”

Ruth Hays, Northwestern University, “Filling the Gaps/Speaking the Silences: Black American Women and Childbirth”

La TaSha Levy, Northwestern University, “I’m Not Selling Out, I’m Selling In: Black Republicans and the Campaign for Black Capitalism”

• Josh Myers, Temple University, “(Re)conceptualizing Intellectual Histories of Africana Studies”

Dwayne Nash, Northwestern University, “Forbidden Testimonies of Racial Profiling: Police Stop and Frisk on Trial in Local Criminal Court”

Carolyn Roberts, Harvard University, “Medicine, Disease and the Bio-Cultural Body in the Transatlantic Slave Trade: New Directions in Slavery Studies”

Frederick Staidum, Northwestern University, “The Haunted Houses of New Orleans: Queer Marriage and White Dread in 19th Century Domestic Spaces”

Keeanga Taylor, Northwestern University, “From American Dream to Predatory Lending: Public/Private Programs to Promote Home Ownership Among Low-Income African Americans in the 1970s”

The nation’s 11 Ph.D. programs are at Brown, Harvard, Indiana, Michigan State, Northwestern, Temple and Yale universities and at University of California, Berkeley, University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of Pennsylvania and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. 

For registration and other information about the admission-free “A Beautiful Struggle” conference, visit
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