Standard covenant Curriculum: a study of Black Democratic Action



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Covenant Curriculum: A Study of Black Democratic Action

State of the Black Union 2006: Defining the African American Agenda, Part II

Cornel West

Eddie S. Glaude, Jr.

[I]t was the rise and growth among the slaves of a determination to be free and an active part of American democracy that forced American democracy continually to look into the depths. . . . One cannot think then of democracy in America or in the modern world without reference to the American Negro.
―W.E.B. Du Bois, The Gift of Black Folk (1924)

Course Description
The struggle for black freedom has been and continues to be the highest form of democratic action in American history. In other words, the black freedom struggle―from abolitionism to contemporary black quests for justice―has been and is the moral and civic conscience of a fragile democratic experiment whose limitations are shaped, in part, by white supremacy. Without the black freedom struggle, American democracy lacks integrity and maturity. To travel the road of black democratic action, then, is to pursue a path of courageous efforts to achieve our country.
The aim of this course is to introduce the student to the complex array of black democratic practices from slavery to our contemporary moment. This will be done by close readings of books, speeches, and images that, in our view, best capture the dynamics of black democratic action―action, we believe, called for in The Covenant.

Topics and Readings

Week 1: The Grand Scholar of Black Democratic Action



  • W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk

Week 2: Historical Background: The Original Hypocrisy



  • “The Declaration of Independence”

  • Thomas Jefferson, “Notes on the State of Virginia,” Wilson Jeremiah Moses (ed.), Classical Black Nationalism: From the American Revolution to Marcus Garvey, pp. 45–47

  • David Walker, Appeal in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States

  • Deborah Gray White, “Let My People Go: 1804–1860,” Robin D.G. Kelley and Earl Lewis (eds.), To Make Our World Anew: Volume I: A History of African Americans to 1880, pp. 169–226

Week 3: Slavery: Exploited Labor, Degraded Bodies, and Resilient People



  • Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Week 4: Slavery and the American Imagination



  • Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Week 5: Prelude to War



  • John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans (eighth edition), pp. 192–219

  • “First Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Ottawa, Illinois,” Andrew Delbanco (ed.), The Portable Abraham Lincoln, pp. 97–140

  • Frederick Douglass, “July 5th Oration,” William L. Andrews (ed.), The Oxford Frederick Douglass Reader, pp. 108–130

Week 6: The Civil War: Hypocrisy Explodes



  • John Hope Franklin, “Civil War,” From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans (eighth edition), pp. 220–244

  • Abraham Lincoln, “The Second Inaugural,” Andrew Delbanco (ed.), The Portable Abraham Lincoln, pp. 320–321

  • Henry Highland Garnet, “Let the Monster Perish,” Philip S. Foner (ed.), Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787–1900, pp. 459–497

  • Walt Whitman, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” Whitman: Poetry and Prose (The Library of America), pp. 459–467


Assignment #1: Black Democratic Action requires personal integrity and historical memory. Therefore all of our work must be informed by moral vision and the power of history. You are charged to write an historical timeline of the black presence in America from the American Revolution to the end of American slavery. Use dates, images, and music to tell heroic stories.
Week 7: Reconstruction: A Failed Experiment in Multiracial Democracy

  • Noralee Frankel, “Breaking the Chains, 1860–1880,” Robin D.G. Kelley and Earl Lewis (eds.), To Make Our World Anew: Volume I: A History of African Americans to 1880, pp. 227–280

Week 8: The Rise of Jim Crow: American Terrorism Run Amok



  • The Birth of a Nation (1915 movie)

  • Ida B. Wells, A Red Record

  • C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, pp. 3–96

Week 9: New Organizations and Courageous Leadership: Black Democratic Responses to American Terrorism



  • James R. Grossman, “A Chance to Make Good: 1900–1929,” Robin D.G. Kelley and Earl Lewis (eds.), To Make Our World Anew: Volume II: A History of African Americans Since 1880, pp. 67–130

  • T. Thomas Fortune, “It is Time to Call a Halt,” Philip S. Foner (ed.), Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787–1900, pp. 713–727

  • Mary Church Terrell, “In Union There is Strength,” Philip S. Foner (ed.), Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787–1900, pp. 840–845

  • Richard Wright, 12 Million Black Voices

Week 10: Black Democratic Dreams and Global Realities



  • Robin D.G. Kelley, “The Negro Question: Red Dreams of Black Liberation,” Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Tradition, pp. 36–59

Week 11: White Supremacy and the American Imagination



  • James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time


Assignment #2: Black Democratic Action requires individual courage and collective organization. Therefore all of our work for human dignity and freedom must be informed by the extraordinary efforts of ordinary men and women who served and sacrificed for the precious ideals of democracy. You are charged to find and interview a person in your family or community who was a part of the black freedom movements of the 1960s and 1970s.
Week 12: Black Social Movements: Hypocrisy Exposed

  • Manning Marable, Race, Reform, and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction in Black America, 1945–1990, pp. 40–85

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. “A Testament of Hope” James Melvin Washington (ed.), A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., pp. 313–328

  • Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years/Bridge to Freedom 1965 (1987 documentary)

Week 13: Courage, Conviction, and Compassion: Black Youth and Democratic Action



  • Melba Pattillo Beals, Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High

Week 14: Black Social Movements II: Hypocrisy Exposed



  • Manning Marable, Race, Reform, and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction in Black America, 1945–1990, pp. 86–113

  • Malcolm X, “Not just an American problem, but a world problem,” Bruce Perry (ed.), Malcolm X: The Last Speeches, pp. 151–181

  • Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads (1990 documentary)

Week 15: Black Democratic Action: The Age of the American Empire



  • Robin D.G. Kelley, “Into the Fire: 1970 to the Present,” Robin D. G. Kelley and Earl Lewis (eds.), To Make Our World Anew: Volume II: A History of African Americans Since 1880, pp. 265–341

  • Imani Perry, “Bling Bling . . . Going Pop,” Prophets in the Hood, pp. 191–203

  • Tavis Smiley, The Covenant


Assignment #3: Black Democratic Action requires unshakable determination and creative imagination. Therefore all of our work should not only build on the best of freedom struggles but also envision new ways of challenging and changing the powers that be. You are charged to identify and analyze three towering Hip Hop artists in light of the principles of black democratic action you have learned in this course.


Additional Web Resources




African American History (University of Washington Library) http://www.lib.washington.edu/subject/History/tm/black.html
African American History and Culture
http://www.loc.gov/rr/mss/guide/african.html
African American History Digital Library
http://www.academicinfo.net/africanamlibrary.html

Library of Congress
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/aaohtml/exhibit/aointro.html


The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
http://www.nypl.org/research/sc/sc.html


Schomburg Collection (Images from/of Harlem)
http://www.si.umich.edu/CHICO/Harlem/

Schomburg Collection (Images of African Americans in the 19th Century)
http://digital.nypl.org/schomburg/images_aa19




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