Message from the Acting Chair - Robin D. G. Kelley

For those unfamiliar with our website’s banner image, it is a photo of 25-year-old Angela Davis delivering her first and only lecture as Acting Assistant Professor of Philosophy at UCLA.  The course, “Recurring Philosophical Themes in Black Literature,” was offered in the fall of 1969 and her lecture attracted nearly 2,000 students.  The lucky ones squeezed into Royce Hall while the rest huddled outside straining to hear every word.  Drawing on Frederick Douglass’s narrative, she methodically illustrated Hegel’s “master-slave dialectic,” insisting that philosophical reflections on bondage, mastery and freedom be understood in the context of actual chattel slavery—not simply as metaphor.  Early into her lecture she makes a startling assertion that Black Literature is more illuminating than the whole body of Western philosophy on the question of human freedom, because the lives of African-descended people “have exposed by their very existence, the inadequacies not only of the practice of freedom, but of its very theoretical formulation.”  Davis designed the course to examine the concept of freedom expressed in works by Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Frantz Fanon, Jean Toomer, Richard Wright, John A. Williams, and poets such as the Afro-Cuban bard, Nicolas Guilllen...

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