Voices of Black History: Past and Present

Black history in the making

Beyonce in the music video for "Formation"
Beyonce in the music video for “Formation”

From archival audio holdings to the daily podcasts we index at Audiosear.ch, Pop Up Archive works with some of the most important voices of the Civil Rights Movement and beyond. In honor of Black History Month, we’ve collected audio that traces issues like discrimination, feminism, and education in African American communities throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.

Social Criticism: James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates

James_Baldwin_37_Allan_WarrenYou’ll find several seminal recordings of African American writer and social critic James Baldwin (pictured left) in Pop Up’s public archive. From the Studs Terkel Radio Archive, the Pacifica Radio Archives, and Illinois Public Media, hear intimate, civil rights-era conversations with man who wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates delves into the conflicted and hopeful state of black America today. What does "black culture" mean? What is the continuing role of both the older and younger generations in shaping it? Where will gentrification, education, and the splintering (or unifying) of families take it? With an easy-going manner, an unashamedly erudite approach, and a journalist's grasp of narrative and clarity, Coates delivers an ear-to-the-ground (and Eyes on the Prize) talk that asks the small personal questions as well as the big historic ones. Presented on January 21, 2015 by the Institute for Research on Women & Gender and the Women’s Studies Department, with cosponsorship from the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and the Office of the Vice Provost for Equity, Inclusion, and Academic Affairs, the biennial Motorola Lecture features an outstanding journalist who routinely addresses issues concerning gender in his or her reporting. Photo credit: Sean Carter Photography Details: http://fordschool.umich.edu/events/2015/deeper-black-race-americaEchoes of Baldwin’s rhetoric have been noted in the writings of social critic Ta-Nehisi Coates (pictured right). In addition to reviving the debate around reparations for American slavery with an incendiary 2014 cover story in The Atlantic, last year Coates topped the New York Times Bestseller list with his book Between the World and Me. Written as a letter to his son, the book examines what it means to be black in America today. In multiple podcast interviews last year, Coates took his arguments to the mic: Hear him on Another Round, Longform, and Backstory.

Feminism: Double Jeopardy and Bad Feminists

womenlibBack in 1972, Black Women’s Liberation activist Wilhelmina Wanda Hogan lectured at an Illinois YMCA about the “double jeopardy” of discrimination faced by black women: “There is a common denominator, a common strand of history that characterizes all black women, and that’s oppression…[The black woman] faces double jeopardy: she faces racial as well as sexual discrimination.”

roxaneRoxane Gay’s 2014 essay collection Bad Feminist casts light on many issues of intersectional discrimination, while simultaneously addressing the complicated matter of combating sexism as an individual raised in — and in many ways, complicit in — a sexist system. Hear Gay (pictured right) on Nerdette and Another Round.

Education: From segregation to integration to re-segregation?

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Desegregation of schools was one of the most significant fronts of the Civil Rights Movement. When the 1954 Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education held that racial segregation of public schools was unconstitutional, the country had to grapple with the complicated process of actually racially integrating schools.

Throughout the mid and late 20th century, racial integration was the focus of activism that included sit-in protests, as introduced to students by an Illinois Reverend in this Illinois Public Media recording from 1960, as well as the continued advocacy of figures like Thurgood Marshall (pictured above), who would become the Supreme Court’s first African American Justice. Hear Marshall speak about civil rights in 1956, just two years after Brown v. Board of Education.

Segregation is no thing of the past. KQED Forum recently reported that many public schools are more segregated now than in the 1970s. And last year, This American Life released a two-part story exploring the aftermath of forced integration programs and how often they resulted in re-segregation.

lead_largeReporter Nikole Hannah-Jones: “People say, ‘Well, we tried to force it, and it just didn’t work out.’ And typically, what people are thinking of are places like Boston, where busing was used, and where it was violent and ugly, and white people just left and didn’t want to deal with it. White people fled the school systems. And basically they re-segregated the school systems by fleeing.” In its second part, This American Life recounts integration success stories, offering some hope for the future of integrated education.


Looking for more? These stories just scratch the surface of the voices from black history, past and present. We’ll be sharing #BlackHistoryMonth audio featuring African American writers, musicians, activists, and others all month long from our Twitter accounts @PopUpArchive and @audiosearchfm.