Black Listed: African American Writers and the Cold War Politics of Integration, Surveillance, Censorship, and Publication

Black Listed: African American Writers and the Cold War Politics of Integration, Surveillance, Censorship, and Publication


Black Listed: African American Writers and the Cold War Politics of Integration, Surveillance, Censorship, and Publication

A Futures Initiative Course with a Public Component

Student-Led, Participatory, Engaged, Radical Pedagogy with a Serious Subject-Matter Focus

We invite you to join our Group, to follow along, contribute, and let us know about your own work and ideas. 

Professors Cathy N. Davidson (The Graduate Center, English) and Shelly Eversley (Baruch College, English)

Professor Allison Guess, Graduate Research and Assistant Teacher (Futures Initiative Fellow and PhD Student in Earth and Environmental Sciences, The Graduate Center)

English 80300, IDS 81630

Tuesdays, 6:30-8:30pm  (Begins Tues, Jan 30, 2018)  ROOM 3207

Link to our class Word Press blog on The Futures Initiative:

Overview: This course has two intertwined purposes: 

First, as content: it examines the inter-relationship between the Cold War, the early Civil Rights movement, and the writing and censorship of African American writers during the McCarthy Era, at a time of extreme, constant, and focused surveillance, discrimination, harassment, and persecution. 

Second, as method: This course models what can be gained from engaged, activist pedagogy in the humanities, for the students in the class as well as for anyone participating in this Group or following us online.  The professors have "scaffolded" the class with basic ideas, texts, and topics.  On the first day of class, the students will self-organize into groups, with each group taking responsibility for designing a unit for the class around one of the topics, with readings, effective pedagogical methods, and other ideas for making learning engaged and interactive. After they have completed their unit (two class sessions), they will present a public recap of the insights, experiences, and pedagogies on this site. 

Since many graduate students in this course are also teaching at a CUNY campus in S 2018, they will also be using the methods they develop in "Black Listed" to teach their undergraduate classes (in different subject areas).  Their own CUNY undergraduate students will be encouraged to join this HASTAC Group.  We will invite the undergraduates to give us weekly feedback on the effectiveness of these methods (thereby continuing their own process of engaged, active, participatory learning too.)   They will also be invited to participate in our Futures Initiatve Symposium on March 28, 2018:  "Publics, Politics, and Pedagogy: Remaking Higher Education for Our Times."


Black Listed: African American Writers and the Cold War Politics of Integration, Surveillance, and Censorship

By looking at a range of literary and theoretical texts, we will work to understand the relationship between a range of legal, political, and social conditions and the forms of Black protest and expression at that time. We will be looking at writers who were deeply involved in many forms of activism, including the organizing of domestic workers and other less well-known aspects and actors of the Civil Rights movement (such Claudia Jones and Alice Childress), writers who wrote against and around censorship especially of same-sex sexual and affective relationships (such as Chester Himes and James Baldwin), writers who had to leave America to write about it (including Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright and others), and writers, especially Black women writers, who did not have the freedom to leave the U.S. and who, for the most part, disappeared within America and to literary history (including Alice Childress and Ann Petry).

Method: The active learning methodology of this class is rooted in traditions of progressive or radical pedagogies that extend from Montessori and Dewey to Freire and bell hooks and Audre Lorde to Gardner and Dweck. All are designed to help students not only to learn the content but to be able to apply ideas beyond the classroom, to life and society. Because we believe deep learning about literature, close reading, and historical perspective are crucial tools for understanding the world, we will constantly be emphasizing the ways we learn from the writers we read in this course, from the political situtation in which they were embattled and ultimately thrived.

Why the humanities now?  There are many things one learns from a humanities course and, one of these, is how to put one's immediate and personal situation into a larger social, political, and cultural context.  All of the writers we read in this course do this brilliantly.  They offer us tools for seeing ourselves in perspective, tools that help us to live and work and act more effectively, meaningfully, and deeply in the world.  Thinking about our content area in this "reflective" way (pedagogy theorists call this "meta-cognition") helps us to gain a sense of distance and control over our learning, which is to say our life.  As teachers, we also strive to pass this tool and skill on to our students.

Graduate students in Black Listed will take charge of choosing, collaborating on, and organizing units; will work together on ways to have equitable, shared roles across collaborations (methods again applicable to their own present and future teaching); and to design their own active learning pedagogies for our class to try.

Requirements: Texts and topics for this course were designed for those especially interested in original, archival research. Every student will leave this course contributing something “public” and published (online, in print, or in a conference paper), enhanced pedagogical tools for their teaching, and (where appropriate) contributions for their required departmental portfolios.  The four requirements (see Syllabus below for details) are: (1) participation--weekly contribution to the class as well as weekly response to the assignments and to classmates on our private class WordPresss site; (2) collaborative team work on one class presentation--two class periods plus a "recap" on this public HASTAC group; (3) preparation and contribution to the Futures Initiative Conference on Publics, Politics, and Pedagogy (March 28); (4) a final public project (many options, see the syllabus) published on or in an equivalent place, with a link to our HASTAC Group.

Website and digital components: Much of the activity of the course will be made public on a course website and in a “group” made for our course as part of the network. Students will be expected to learn minimal digital literacy skills as part of the contribution to public knowledge that is at aim in the course.  You will need to familiarize yourself and sign in to three tools and we'll discuss the affordances of each, all free and open source:  (1) class Wordpress site for internal communication and blogging and responding; (2) HASTAC Group where you become part of a nearly 16,000 member community dedicated to "Changing the Way We Teach and Learn" with "Difference as our operating system."  (3) Google Docs for weekly agendas and collaborative, in-class notetaking.

Equality Archive:  Students in the course will be given an opportunity to submit a short publication to the Equality Archive, an open education resources on the history, issues, and people relevant to issues of sex and gender equality in the United States

Active, Engaged Pedagogy (what Freire and bell hooks call "radical pedagogy"): Every aspect of this course will be designed for active, student-centered learning.  Every student will be a responsible participant in the course, in contributing to public knowledge, in having an active, dedicated role in shaping the forms, structures, and methods of public communication for all we do together.  This is not a course for the passive.  These writers were brave, bold activist writers, who knew words can be weapons, wielded for good or for ill.  We will attend to their message and emulate their practice, wherever possible.  Anyone wishing to learn more about active pedagogy can visit Cathy Davidson's HASTAC blog, "An Active Learning 'Kit':  Rationale, Methods, Models, Research, and Bibliography."

As a "warm up" to engaged pedagogy, please watch this remarkable video by one of the nation's most innovative and caring profs, Michael Wesch, "The End of Wonder,"

And here, via a New Year's Eve Twitter feed, is an excellent example of an effective method you can adapt to any subject, to any size course, to inspire your students to think deeply about what they are doing in class:  Cate Denial, "Making the First Day Matter,"


Spring Symposium, Wed March 28: As a Futures Initiative course, our class will participate in the annual Symposium.  Our topic this year, "Publics, Politics, and Pedagogy: Remaking Higher Education for Our Times." Our class will decide how we want to participate--and find ways to include undergraduates taught by graduate students in our class at the Symposium too, through a panel, poster session, workshop, or other contribution on Wednesday, March 28th, 9:00am-5:00pm (Skylight Room). All class members will be included in the preparation or presentation at the Symposium (the equivalent of a midterm paper).



Some possible texts:
These texts were chosen because they are rich, multi-layered, and offer many opportunities for graduate students to do extensive theorizing, historical, and other kinds of research (including archival). They are grouped under topics, all of which students leading our discussions may wish to revise, remix, recombine, refocus.

Possible Topics for Students to Choose From:
1- The Sojourners: Women, Activism, Communism, Immigration, Deportation

Claudia Jones, “We Seek Full Equality for Women” (1949) Black Nationalism, Marxism, Identity

Dayo F. Gore, "Reframing Civil Rights Activism During the Cold War" in Radicalism at the Crossroads:  African American Women Activists in the Cold War  (NYU 2012)

Erik S. McDuffie, "We Are Sojourners for Our Rights:  The Cold War, 1946-1956" in Sojourning for Freedom:  Black Women, American Communism, and the Making of Black Left Feminism  (Duke 2011)


2- Sexuality, Sex and Normalization of Surveillance

Ann Petry, The Narrows (1953)

3- Print culture (magazines, Black newspapers: how ideas are transmitted)

Shelly Eversley, "The Protest Aesthetic,"  Ms chapter from "Black Listed".

Langston Hughes, Simple Speaks His Mind (1950) or Simple Stakes a Claim (1957) Alice Childress, Like One of the Family (1956)
Stories published in Afro American and Defender and Pittsburgh Courier

4- Editing, Censorship, Rebellion, and Incarceration

William J. Maxwell, "Total Literary Awareness: How the FBI Pre-Read African American Writing" from The American Reader.

Digital Archives from William J. Maxwell, FBI Eyes:  How J. Edgar Hoover's Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature (Princeton, 2015)

Clare Rolens, "Write Like a Man:  Chester Himes and the Criminal Text Beyond Bars"  Callaloo 37:2 (Spring 2014)
Chester Himes, Yesterday Will Make You Cry (formerly Cast the First Stone [1952])

Lawrence P. Jackson, Chester B. Himes: A Biography (2017)

5- Global Blackness in Exile: Debates and Controversy

Penny Von Eschen, Race Against Empire:  Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937-1957  (Cornell, 1997)

Nikhil Pal Singh, "Internationalizing Freedom"  in Black is a Country:  Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy  (Harvard 2005)

Eric Porter, "Race and the Future World" in The Problem of the Future World:  W.E.B. DuBois and the Concept of Race at Midcentury  (Duke 2010)

Richard Wright, White Man, Listen! (1957), “Tradition and Industrialization”

James Baldwin, “Princes and Powers” (1957)

Franz Fanon, On Violence (1960)


Secondary and Other Readings and References

Please note: We begin, by design, with a brief list. Our students (and anyone in this Group, using the "Comments" feature) will be adding resources throughout the term as a public contribution to knowledge.

Simone Browne Dark Matters {for context on the long history of surveilling black people}

Katherine McKittrick, “Freedom is a Secret” {For a critical perspective on objectivity ie surveillance}
B. Ransby “Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision” {For an understanding of how some Black activists evaded surveillance and the challenges to recovering biographic information}

Other readings/references
James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name (1961)
Thelma Wamble, All in the Family (1953)
Zora Neale Hurston, “What White Editors Won’t Publish”
Paul Robeson’s Freedom (newspaper), especially columns by DuBois, Hansberry
Erik McDuffie, Sojourning for Freedom (selections)
William Maxwell, FBI Eyes (selections), James Baldwin: The FBI File; “Total Literary Awareness”
Mary Helen Washington, The Other Black List
Eric Porter, The Problem of the Future World: WEB DuBois and the Race Concept at Midcentury
Dayo Gore, Radicalism at the Crossroads: African American Women Activists in the Cold War

And a brief video of Mary Helen Washington and Farah Jasmine Griffin on "The Other Black List":


Helpful resources for how to structure your project/pedagogical/research teams:

Cathy N. Davidson, "The Surprising Thing Google Learned About Its Employees--and What It Means for Students Today," December 20, 2017, Washington Post. 

Here is the exceptionally helpful Google site about teamwork, with lots of good advice, questions, and ideas for successful project management:

Here is the same guide as an editable, customizable Google Doc (groups are highly encouraged to use this in planning your project for our class--and perhaps to adapt it for your own classes):



Course Schedule:  An Evolving, Student-Designed Syllabus


COURSE SCHEDULE--Designed by the Students in "Black Listed" over the course of the semester

On the first day of class, the profs leave and the students self-organize into Groups. Each Group chooses and refines a topic, selects  and assigns the readings, and creates challenging exercises and assignments that enrich and deep our experience of two class periods.

Tentative Schedule:  Details to be decided by students in “Black Listed.”
Tuesdays  630-830PM

Jan 30  First day of class.   This is a student-centered, student-designed class that puts equal emphasis on original research and pedagogical innovation.  After carefully reading the syllabus together, students will design the class, select groups, and take responsibility (in the group) for two class sessions that both focus on the topic and use an innovative pedagogical approach to ensure that everyone in the class engages with the topic in a meaningful way.  Students who are teaching this semester are urged to try this approach in their undergraduate classrooms, gain feedback from their students, and report back to the class.
–Distribute hard copy of preliminary syllabus
–Leave room 645-745.  Students self-organize, divide up into groups, choose topics, design work plan.
–Rejoin at 745 and populate the syllabus on

Feb 6  Overview of the "Black Listed" (Prof. Shelly Eversley); Overview of pedagogy and introduction of symposium plans (March 28; Prof. Cathy Davidson)

Feb 13 Group 1 (Tyler, Amrit, and Kashema) Topic:   Print Culture, Editing, Censorship, Rebellion, Incarceration 

- Simone Brown, Dark Matters: Introduction (1-29), Racializing Surveillance (50-62) -

- Katherine McKittrick: Freedom is a Secret

- Mary Helen Washington, The Other Blacklist: Introduction

No class Feb 20 (GC classes follow a Monday Schedule)

- Please also visit Maxwell's archive of the FBI files on African-American writers:[] and select one to look closely at, using the readings as a framework for approaching the file.   Please bring any questions, thoughts and takeaways from this encounter to class on Tues, to share and discuss.  

--For Feb 27:  Yesterday Will Make You Cry, by Chester Himes   and 400 word blog on the Word Press site about this book

Mar 6  Group 2 (Chelsea, Damele, Charlene, Flora)  Topic: Black Feminism and Intersectional Critical Theory

Paule Marshall, Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959)

Available via CUNY libraries, NYPL, Brooklyn Public Library

Mar 13 “The Bronx Slave Market” (1950)

Group 3 (Dan, Luis)  Topic:  Race, Racism, Sexuality, Interracial Relations, and Queer Sexualities.

Mar 20  Portfolio of 1950s Popular Black Literature and Essays, including from Tan Confessions, Jet, and other popular magazines owned, edited, and for Black post-War audiences as well as critical essays on this topic

"Color Blind” by Margaret Halsey

“Strange Love” by Leisa D. Meyer

“The Liberal 1950s?” by Joanne Meyerowitz

Choose one article from the “1950s Periodical” folder


Mar 27 Novel:  The Narrows, by Ann Petry

Available via CUNY libraries, NYPL, Brooklyn Public Library

Suggested 1st week reading

Chapters 1-7

Full discussion will be in 2nd week, based upon the remainder of the book.

“White Pervert” by Tyler T. Schmidt

Mar 28   Futures Initiative Conference:  "Publics, Politics, and Pedagogy: Rethinking Higher Education for Turbulent Times" KELLY SKYLIGHT ROOM   9-5

(Full Conference Recap, with videos:

Panel by "Black Listed" Class with video on censorship, "Censorship in Real Time: The Case of Chester HImes," a stop-motion animated video by Dan Carlson and members of the class: )


Apr 10   Professor Shelly Eversley presents new work on The Narrows  

April 17   Group 4 (Arelle, Charles, Pedro)  Topic: International Black Activism: Paul Robeson, W. E. B. DuBois, Richard Wright

Penny Von Eschen, Race Against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937-1957

Introduction and Chapter 8

"Let Paul Robeson Sing" by Manic Street Preachers link:

"Here I Stand" documentary on Paul Robeson's life

April 24 Richard Wright, "I Choose Exile"

Tumblr version:;
Manuscript Version from Kent State University

Richard Wright, "Tradition and Industrialization"

May 1  Wrap up and reflection and left overs . . . or a field trip . . . 

May 8   Assistant Teacher, Professor Allison Guess presents

May 15   LAST DAY OF CLASS  Big wrap up Tentative Schedule:  Details to be decided by students in “Black Listed.”




Recent Posts

Subscribe to This Group's Most Recent Posts