Fall 2016 Black Studies Conference Keynote Address with Emory University Prof. Carol Anderson
As part of programming for the NEH “Humanities in the Public Square” grant initiative, the Kinder Institute co-sponsored the October 14 keynote address for MU’s Fall 2016 Black Studies Conference, delivered by Emory University Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor and Chair of African American Studies Carol Anderson. Drawing and expanding on her widely read August 2014 Washington Post op-ed, penned in response to, and in rebuke of, the nature of popular discourse about protests in Ferguson, Missouri, Prof. Anderson focused in her talk on the various ways in which civil rights gains have often been systematically rolled back by policies which reflect white rage over minority aspiration, progress, and achievement. The consequence of this rage manifests itself, she noted in introducing her topic, in the generations of minority students who pass through school districts broken by discriminatory funding mechanisms. We see it, she went on to explain, in data that reveals a war on drugs which, by design, criminalizes most those who offend least.
In reading selections from her May 2016 book from which the lecture’s title was taken, Prof. Anderson elaborated on the rage-fueled racial divide seen in public education and the war on drugs. With regard to the former, she cited San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973), in which the Supreme Court reversed a prior district court ruling in determining that the property tax-based school district financing system in place in San Antonio met judicial standards for equal protection, despite a roughly 95% per capita disparity in funding between the largely minority Edgewood District and largely white Alamo Heights. Apoplectic at the Court’s ruling that education was not a fundamental constitutional right—and at the general, discriminatory attitude necessary to claim that there was no correlation between funding and school quality—Thurgood Marshall (among others) decried the decision for merely substituting economics for race as a way to turn back the clock to a pre-Civil Rights, pre-Brown v. Board America. These property tax-financing systems, Prof. Anderson noted, are still in place throughout the nation.
And then there was Tulia, Texas, lawman Tom Coleman, whose solo, undercover tactics pulled the curtain back on a massive cocaine distribution ring in the panhandle and led to the conviction of nearly 50% of African American males in the town. A victory for Nixon and Reagan’s War on Drugs, except for the fact that Coleman could produce no audio or visual evidence of, nor any witnesses for, his 100+ undercover buys and that he was eventually found guilty of aggravated perjury in 2003, resulting in the pardon of 35 defendants who had spent almost five years in prison on fabricated charges. Prof. Anderson concluded with a discussion of how, given events ranging from the June 2015 shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston to elected officials’ continued, open participation in organizations like the Council of Conservative Citizens, President Obama’s election must be viewed not as a beacon of progress but instead as an historical landmark that underscored the cross-class physical and political vulnerability of minority citizens in the United States.
Carol Anderson received her M.A. in Political Science from Miami University (Ohio) and her Ph.D. in History from The Ohio State University, and she currently serves as Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor and Chair of African American Studies at Emory University in Atlanta. Prof. Anderson was also an Associate Professor of History at University of Missouri and a Gladstein Visiting Professor of Human Rights at University of Connecticut, and she will serve as the Pozen Chair in Human Rights at University of Chicago in 2019. She is the author of Bourgeois Radicals: The NAACP and the Struggle for Colonial Liberation, 1941-1960 (Cambridge University Press, 2014) and Eyes Off the Prize: The United Nations and the African American Struggle for Human Rights, 1944-1955 (Cambridge University Press, 2003), which won the Myrna Bernath Book Award and the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award and was a finalist for both the Truman and W.E.B. Du Bois Book Awards. She has received research fellowships from Harvard’s Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History, the Gilder Lehrman Institute, and the National Humanities Center, among many other places, and she teaches courses at Emory on topics including 20th Century African American History, Human Rights, War Crimes and Genocide, U.S. Cold War Foreign Policy, and the Civil Rights Movement.
The lecture was made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and was conducted in partnership with the Missouri Humanities Council. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed during or in response to the lecture do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.