St. John's College Annapolis The Program

“What to the African American is Freedom?” Reflections on the AEI/UNCF Program

Posted on behalf of Raeann Clement

During the week of July 29 – August 2, I got to take part in a program that was very rich and empowering; a 5-day course titled, “What to the African American is Freedom? – A Historical Perspective.”

This program was run by three different organisations – St. John’s College, Annapolis; the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the United Negro College Fund (UNCF). The American Enterprise Institute is a public policy think-tank based in Washington, DC, and the United Negro College Fund is a group dedicated to empowering and funding African American students and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), not only have they doubled the amount of minorities attending colleges since their inception in 1944, but they also push them to flourish and became leaders. These three institutions came together to pilot this very unique program in the name of higher learning. The following is an introduction that was given to us in our course manuals:

“African American political thought is a rich and varied tradition. But if there is one concept that can be said to unite the diverse aspirations of black people in the United States, it is the idea of freedom. What is freedom? What were perceived to be the obstacles to it? How did African Americans imagine bringing it to fruition? In this week-long course, we will survey some of the key moments in the tradition with an eye to addressing the questions above. Along the way, we will discover that African American intellectuals and activists were not merely reacting to the social and political domination of black people in the United States, but they were also providing Americans a way of thinking about human fulfilment, self- and collective-identity, self-realization, self-governance, and self-help. In short, theirs was an attempt to outline a vision of the good life in which all could share.”

The participants of the program consisted of 4 St. John’s students; 16 African American students from different colleges (all part of UNCF’s Koch Scholars Program); 2 St. John’s tutors; 4 instructors from other institutions such as Brown University, and Howard University; and several representatives from each organisation, in an observational capacity. The program was a very intense one; for each day we did 3 hours of classes and we had about 5 readings per class. Our schedule that week was as follows:

Sunday, July 28

4:00-6:00pm – Arrival and Check-In

6:00-7:30pm – Dinner and Introductions

Monday, July 29

8:00-9:00am – Breakfast and Orientation

9:00am-12:00pm – Class: Abolition and Revolution

12:15-1:30pm – Lunch

1:30-2:30pm – Break

2:30-4:30pm – Guided Tour of Annapolis

5:30-8:30pm – Cookout Dinner

Tuesday, July 30

8:00-9:00am – Breakfast

9:00am-12:00pm – Class: Freedom and Justice

12:00-12:30pm – Lunch

12:30pm – Depart to Washington, DC

1:30-5:30 – Site Visit: National Museum of African American History and Culture

6:00-8:00pm – Dinner with AEI President Robert Doar

8:15pm – Return to Annapolis

Wednesday, July 31

8:00-9:00am Breakfast

9:00-12:00pm – Class: Self-Help

12:12-2:00pm – Lunch with St. John’s Alumni Anika Prather and Robert George

2:30-4:30pm – Site Visit: Banneker-Douglas Museum in Annapolis

4:30-6:30pm – Break

6:30-8:30pm – Dinner

Thursday, August 1

8:00-9:00am – Breakfast

9:00am-12:00pm – Class: Political Economy

12:15-2:00pm – Lunch with Brown University Professor Glenn Loury

2:30pm – Depart for Alexandria, Virginia, with Manumission Tour Company

6:15-8:15pm – Dinner

8:155pm – Return to Annapolis

Friday, August 2

8:00-9:00am – Breakfast

9:00am-12:00pm – Class: Freedom and Justice

12:15-1:30pm – Lunch

1:30pm-5:30pm – Break

5:30pm-8:00pm – Dinner and Harry Browne’s

This schedule required a lot of mental and physical effort to get through each day; but it was very rewarding. Mostly because the content was very intellectually stimulating. The reading list was as deep as the one at SJC:

Day 1: Abolition/Revolution:

Declaration of Independence

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 of America (1829)- version: http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/walker/walker.html) .Focus on the Preamble and Articles I and II.

Henry Highland Garnet, “Address to the Slaves of the United States” (1843)

Maria W. Stewart, “An Address Delivered at the African Masonic Hall (1833)

Day 2: Freedom/Justice

Martin Delany, “Political Destiny of the Colored Race on the American Continent” (1854)

Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” (1852)

Ida B. Wells, “ Preface” to Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases (1892)

Hosea Easton ?  “On the Nature of Prejudice”

 Ida B. Wells, “Self-Help” from Southern Horrors (1892)

Booker T. Washington, “Individual Responsibility” and “Substance vs. Shadow” from Character Building: Being an Address Delivered on Sunday Evenings to the Students of Tuskegee Institute (1902)* [Suggested: “The Atlanta Exposition Address” (1895)]

W.E.B. Du Bois, “Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others” from The Souls of Black Folk (1903)

Zora Neale Hurston, “My People! My People!”* in Folklore, Memoirs and Other Writings. New York, NY: Library of America, 1995, [1942]

Day 4:  Political Economy

 Frederick Douglass, “I Denounce the So-Called Emancipation as a Stupendous Fraud” (April 16th, 1888)*;

Marcus Garvey, “What We Believe,” “An Appeal to the Soul of White America,” “Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World,” “Capitalism and the State,” in Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, Part 2. Paterson, NJ: Frank Cass and Company Limited, 1925 *


W.E.B. Du Bois, “Of Work and Wealth”, “The Ruling of Men,” and “The Souls of White Folk” in Darkwater

Claudia Jones, “An End to the Neglect of the Problems of Negro Women!,” Political Affairs (1949) in Words of Fire: A Black Feminist Anthology

Day 5: Freedom/Justice

Thurgood Marshall, “The Legal Attack to Secure Civil Rights” (Speech at the NAACP Wartime Conference) (1944)*

Martin Luther King, “The Ethical Demands for Integration,” “Black Power” “A Time to Break Silence,” “The Other America,” in A Testament of Hope

Malcolm X

Audre Lord – learning from the 1960s

Stokely Carmichael “What We Want”: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1966/sep/22/what-we-want/

The Ten Point Platform and the Program of the Black Panther Party*: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/workers/black-panthers/1966/10/15.htm

Combahee River Collective, “A Black Feminist Statement” (1977)

Frances Beale, “Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female”

The opportunity to read these authors/orators in our beloved SJC classroom style was truly invaluable. At St. John’s we spend a lot of time delving into many different types of people and minds, but sometimes it feels like we only scratch the surface. There are many different cultures and regions that are not part of this curriculum. This by no means makes our education invaluable, but it does make it incomplete. There are many different cultures and groups of people that we do not interact with at St. John’s. The experience of getting to explore a different culture really enriched the education I have been receiving at St. John’s for the last four years.

The people I got to share it with also heightened this experience. They came with that desire to learn and grow mentally and intellectually, which made the classroom experience incredible and rewarding because we all had that common goal. And together we learned that the African American narrative isn’t the same; while they are a people going through the same experience, just like us in the classroom, they did not have the same reactions to their experiences. So, while David Walker wanted black people to rise up and fight back, Martin Delany proposed that black folks in the US find somewhere else to go where they aren’t the minority. Malcolm X proposed separations, whereas Martin Luther King wanted integration. The faculty also helped make this program what it was; from the St. John’s tutors to the Brown professors, they all accepted our program style wholeheartedly and set the tone from the very first day. The classes had a first-time, freshman seminar feel to it, but the instructors kept us somewhat on track. It was not by any means a perfect model of St. John’s, but given the fact that we had to read five different readings per class, it came as close as it could.

This program meant a lot to me for two different reasons. Firstly, I am not African American, but they are a culture I always think about and that I am always curious about. Immersing myself in African American political thought using St. John’s pedagogy was something I never thought I would be able to do, and it was worth all the labor I put into it. Secondly, for St. John’s to be a part of this and to bring it to our campus is an important step in the right direction. While we do have the works of W. E. B. Du Bois and Frederick Douglass on our reading list, the history of African Americans is absent from the college. During our visits that week, we learned about the African American culture here in Annapolis and Alexandria, Virginia. I even learned the very sad truth that a lynching took place on campus in the early 1900s. While the history of slavery is a very ugly, violent and tragic one, it must be memorialized. It is important that the history and the struggle of African American slaves be remembered in a country that was built off of their backs. I recently read a quote from Angela Davis that said: “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist – we must be anti-racist.” In doing that, we have to start conversations like these; it’s important for predominantly white schools like St. John’s to be a part of programs like these. But first, those who are not part of the struggle must listen to those who are. This I believe is how progress can be made.  

The student writing staff of the johnnie chair blog

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