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The Role of the Black Intellectual Today

Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - 6:00pm to 7:00pm
Registration is requested
Free and open to the public

The Role of the Black Intellectual Today

Jesse McCarthy

If the role of the intellectual is to speak on behalf of those who are voiceless and disempowered then the black intellectual tradition arguably constitutes the original and most enduringly vital intellectual tradition in the United States. How should those who write and think within that tradition confront the political and cultural landscape that brought Trump into the presidency and appears likely to dominate our public life for the foreseeable future? This presentation will look to the past but also attempt to diagnose the particular neuroses of the present and make an argument for the urgency of rekindling and remembering the best of the black intellectual tradition in the service of the urgent task to, in Baldwin’s famous words, “achieve our country.”

Jesse McCarthy was born in Los Angeles in 1983. He is Assistant Professor of English and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. His dissertation, The Blue Period: Black Writing in the Early Cold War, 1945-1965 examines aesthetic constraint and experiment in black fiction, essays, and poetry, in the context of the cultural politics and ideological pressures of the Cold War. He is an editor at The Point magazine, and his writings on race, literature, politics and music have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Harvard Magazine, The Nation, n+1 and Dissent.

Booker T. Washington and Adam Lewis established the Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site (or Tuskegee University, as it is known today) in Alabama in 1881 in support of Washington’s sometimes-controversial political philosophy that education and entrepreneurship provided the best means of improving life for African Americans. The Boston Athenæum holds a collection of letters that Washington wrote to donors in Boston while he was principal of the Tuskegee Institute. The letters offer a sense of the daily activities of the Institute, as well as of Washington’s social and political influence. Schedule an appointment to read his letters and learn more about one of the United States’ most famous thought leaders.

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