Africana Philosophy in the Twentieth Century

The third and final series in our coverage of Africana Philosophy takes us to the relatively recent past. We begin around the turn of the century with the contribution of African-American intellectuals and activists, including such luminaries as W.E.B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey, and cover movements such as African-American socialism and the famous "Harlem Renaissance," here touching on the work of key figures like Alain Locke and Zora Neale Hurston. We will continue to examine African-American philosophy as the series proceeds, taking the story all the way up to later thinkers like Martin Luther King Jr, and Malcolm X, rounding things off with the ideas of academic philosophers like Cornel West. But the series will not restrict itself to developments in the United States. A number of the thinkers covered will hail from the Caribbean, including the major Africana philosopher Frantz Fanon, and we will of course devote ample coverage to intellectuals in Africa itself. These will include politician-philosophers like Amílcar Cabral, Kwame Nkrumah, and Nelson Mandela. As always on the podcast, we will cast a wide net, and consider the philosophical relevance of figures more often thought of as literary figures, like Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison, and even musicians like Bob Marley. We will be joined be a number of expert interview guests to provide further depth and detail; look out for episodes featuring Liam Kofi Bright, Tommy Curry, Michael Dawson, Vanessa Wills, and many more!

Further Reading

• A.B. Bogues, Black Heretics, Black Prophets: Radical Political Intellectuals (New York: 2003).

• L.R. Gordon, An Introduction to Africana Philosophy (New York: 2008).

• B. Guy-Sheftall, Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought (New York: 1995). 

• L. Harris, Philosophy Born of Struggle: Anthology of Afro-American Philosophy from 1917 (Dubuque: 1983).

• P. Henry, Caliban's Reason: Introducing Afro-Caribbean Philosophy (New York: 2000).

• F.L. Hord (Mzee Lasana Okpara) and J.S. Lee (eds), I Am Because We Are: Readings in Africana Philosophy, revised ed. (Amherst: 2016).

• P.E. Joseph, Waiting 'til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America (New York: 2006).

• R. July, The Origins of Modern African Thought: Its Development in West Africa During the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (New York: 1967).

• D.L. Lewis, When Harlem Was in Vogue (New York: 1981).

• T.L. Lott and J.P. Pittman (eds), A Companion to African-American Philosophy (Malden: 2003).

• J.H. McClendon III and S.C. Ferguson II, African American Philosophers and Philosophy: An Introduction to the History, Concepts, and Contemporary Issues (New York: 2019).

• J. McDade (ed.), The Philosophical Forum: Special Issue: Philosophy and Black Experience 9 (Winter-Spring 1977-1978). 

• J.A. Montmarquet and W.H. Hardy (eds), Reflections: An Anthology of African American Philosophy (Belmont: 2000).

• L.T. Outlaw, Jr., On Race and Philosophy (New York: 1996).

• J.P. Pittman (ed.), African-American Perspectives and Philosophical Traditions (New York: 1996).

• R. Rabaka, Africana Critical Theory: Reconstructing the Black Radical Tradition, from W.E.B. Du Bois and C.L.R. James to Frantz Fanon and Amilcar Cabral (Lanham: 2009).

• C.J. Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (London: 1983).

• T. Serequeberhan, Our Heritage: The Past in the Present of African-American and African Existence (Lanham: 2000).

• T. Shelby, We Who Are Dark: the Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity (Cambridge MA: 2005)

• N.P. Singh, Black is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy (Cambridge, MA: 2005).

• P. Von Eschen, Race Against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937-1957 (Ithaca: 1997).

• G. Yancy (ed.), African-American Philosophers: 17 Conversations (New York: 1998).

68. The Problem of the Color Line: Introducing the Twentieth Century

Posted on

By exploring the work and activities of W.E.B. Du Bois around the turn of the twentieth century, we introduce some of the themes of our coverage of that century.

69. The Best We Have: The American Negro Academy

Posted on

The ANA unites leading African American scholars of the early 20th century, including W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Laurence Dunbar, William Ferris, Archibald Grimké, and Kelly Miller (pictured).

70. Tommy Curry on the Early 20th Century

Posted on

We chat with Tommy Curry about African-American thought between the turn of the century and the Harlem Renaissance.

71. In Blyden’s Wake: West African Intellectuals of the Early Twentieth Century

Posted on

West African intellectuals like J.E. Casely-Hayford (pictured) and Mojola Agbebi build upon Edward Blyden’s ideas at the dawn of the twentieth century.

72. In A Class of Their Own: Early African American Socialism

Posted on

Around the time of World War One, Hubert Harrison (pictured), A. Philip Randolph, and other black socialists argue that racial oppression is caused by capitalism.

73. Vanessa Wills on Africana Marxism

Posted on

Vanessa Wills speaks  to us about Marx and his Africana legacy, with a special focus on black women Marxists.

74. Black Star: Marcus Garvey

Posted on

Marcus Garvey leads a powerful movement, inspires racial pride, and feuds with other thinkers like Du Bois.

75. Now I Have a Rival: the Two Amy Garveys

Posted on

Marcus Garvey’s two wives, Amy Ashwood Garvey and Amy Jacques Garvey (pictured), establish themselves as activists in their own right and provide feminist voices within the Pan-African movement.

76. Michael Dawson on Garvey and Black Nationalism

Posted on

An interview with Michael Dawson, who explains Marcus Garvey's black nationalism and how this and other political ideologies, like socialism and liberalism, have fared from the time of Garvey down to the present day.

77. A Race Capital: the Harlem Renaissance

Posted on

The artistic flowering of the 1920s known as the Harlem Renaissance raises important questions about identity and the purpose of art.

78. Freedom Through Art: Alain Locke

Posted on

The aesthetics of Alain Locke and its basis in his theory of value judgments.

79. Leonard Harris on Alain Locke

Posted on

Leonard Harris explains how Locke's value theory was the basis for his aesthetics and theories of democracy and race.

80. Scholarly Contributions: African American Professional Philosophers

Posted on

From the latter half of the nineteenth century to the 1970s, African Americans only rarely obtain jobs as philosophy professors but bring distinctive perspectives to the profession.

81. Making History: Carter G. Woodson

Posted on

Pioneering historian Carter G. Woodson argues for a new approach to education and economic uplift.

82. The Florida Project: Zora Neale Hurston

Posted on

Zora Neale Hurston’s interest in Africana folklore feeds into her great novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.

83. Songs of the People: Paul Robeson and the Negro Spiritual

Posted on

The career of the multi-talented activist and performer Paul Robeson, and the place of the Negro spiritual in the Harlem Renaissance.

84. Live Long and Protest: W.E.B. Du Bois, 1920-1963

Posted on

Du Bois moves to the left, and revisits and refines older positions during the latter half of his very long life.

85. Liam Kofi Bright on Du Bois' Philosophy of Science

Posted on

Guest Liam Kofi Bright discusses Du Bois' ideal of value-free science and the place of science within his wider thought.

86. French Connection: The Negritude Movement

Posted on

Our first look at the emergence of the Negritude movement in Paris in the 1930s, with a focus on the early leadership of the Nardal sisters and Leon Damas.

87. Call It Intuition: Leopold Senghor

Posted on

Leopold Senghor compares different ways of knowing while developing his theory of Negritude and combining the roles of poet and politician.

88. The Surreal Deal: Aimé and Suzanne Césaire

Posted on

Negritude thinkers Aimé and Suzanne Césaire embrace surrealism and reflect on the relationships between poetry, knowledge, and identity.

89. Separate but Unequal: E. Franklin Frazier

Posted on

Sociologist E. Franklin Frazier critiques the Harlem Renaissance and the “black bourgeoisie” for failing to embrace values that will empower black Americans.

90. Move Fast and Break Things: C.L.R. James

Posted on

The Trinidadian historian and cultural critic C.L.R. James applies Marxist analysis to the Haitian Revolution, American cinema, and Shakespeare.

91. Massa Day Done: Oliver Cox and Eric Williams

Posted on

Two Trinidadian political thinkers: sociologist Oliver Cox analyzes the nature of racial prejudice, and historian Eric Williams connects capitalism to slavery.

92. Half the World: Claudia Jones

Posted on

Claudia Jones argues that Communism provides the remedy for racism and imperialism.

93. Carole Boyce Davies on Claudia Jones

Posted on

Interview guest Carole Boyce Davies joins us to talk about the radical ideas of Claudia Jones.

94. How Did You Happen? Richard Wright

Posted on

Famous for his incendiary novel Native Son, Richard Wright responds in his multifaceted writings to sociology, communism, colonialism, and existentialism.

95. Black and Blue: Ralph Ellison

Posted on

Ralph Ellison provides a new metaphor for the experience of racism in his Invisible Man and tackles topics of art and identity in his essays.

96. A Lover’s War: James Baldwin

Posted on

In The Fire Next Time and other writings, the essayist and novelist James Baldwin seeks to dispel the illusions surrounding racial and sexual difference.

97. American Dream: Martin Luther King Jr.

Posted on

The story of Martin Luther King Jr. up to 1963, focusing on the development of his philosophy of nonviolence.

98. Meena Krishnamurthy on Martin Luther King Jr

Posted on

An interview about the role of the emotions, including anger and feelings of dignity, in the non-violent protest campaign of King.

99. American Nightmare: Malcolm X

Posted on

The life and career of Malcolm X up to 1963, with a focus on his separatist black nationalism and his critique of non-violent protest.

100. Chike Jeffers on the First Half of the Twentieth Century

Posted on

Chike joins Peter to look back at our coverage of Africana philosophy in the first half of the 20th century.

101. Crossing Paths: the Last Years of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr

Posted on

After 1963, the views of Malcolm X and MLK came closer together, on topics including internationalism, political engagement, and economics.

102. From Cuba with Love: Juan Rene Betancourt

Posted on

The Cuban activist and author Juan Rene Betancourt urges racial solidarity and reckons with the revolution under Castro and the island’s turn towards Communism.

103. A Federal Case: Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo

Posted on

Two Nigerian activists lead the struggle for independence, and clash over the competing values of national unity and ethnic diversity.

104. In Unity Lies Strength: Kwame Nkrumah

Posted on

The first leader of independent Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, writes against neocolonialism and in favor of socialism and Pan-Africanism.

105. Meeting the Gaze: Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks

Posted on

Frantz Fanon combines psychoanalysis and existential phenomenology to diagnose neuroses deriving from the colonial condition.

106. Combat Literature: Franz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth

Posted on

Fanon’s incendiary final work explores the violent process of decolonization.

107. Lewis Gordon on Frantz Fanon

Posted on

We're joined by a leading Fanon expert to talk about a range of themes in his work: Negritude, psychiatry, and violence.

108. Or Does It Explode? Lorraine Hansberry

Posted on

The author of the famous play, A Raisin in the Sun, explores questions of violence, sexuality, and more during her too brief life. 

109. Say It Loud: Black Power

Posted on

How the controversial slogan “black power,” used by activists like H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael (pictured), relates to ideas of militancy, separatism, and the power of language.

110. Politics with Bloodshed: the Black Panthers

Posted on

The philosophical underpinnings of a “vanguard of revolution” led by Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, and Eldridge Cleaver: the Black Panther Party.

111. A Kwanzaa Story: Maulana Karenga

Posted on

The Pan-Africanist philosopher Maulana Karenga defends the importance of cultural revolution and invents the holiday Kwanzaa.

112. Poems That Kill: the Black Arts Movement

Posted on

African American literature of the late 1960s reflects the Black Power movement, in the works of such authors as Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Haki Madhubuti, Larry Neal, and Sonia Sanchez.

113. A Fighting God: Black Theology

Posted on

After Albert Cleage and James Cone propose a liberatory interpretation of Christianity, William R. Jones wonders whether God is a white racist. We also follow Black Theology among “Womanist” authors and in South Africa.

114. Teacher Taught Me: Julius Nyerere

Posted on

The first leader of independent Tanzania grounds his socialist ideas in traditional African values.

115. Weapon of Choice: Amílcar Cabral

Posted on

Amílcar Cabral, leader of a revolution against colonialism in Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, rethinks culture and Marxist theory as bases for his struggle.

116. Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò and Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò on Cabral

Posted on

Two scholars of the same name join us to shed further light on freedom fighter and political theorist Amílcar Cabral.

117. Spear of the Nation: Nelson Mandela and the ANC

Posted on

The career and ideas of Nelson Mandela up to the time of his imprisonment, in the context of the founding of the African National Congress.

118. African Survivals: Abdias do Nascimento

Posted on

Abdias do Nascimento, a leader in Brazilian theater and politics, and his theory of Quilombismo.

119. The Space Race: Afrofuturism

Posted on

Sun Ra and Parliament-Funkadelic return to claim the pyramids, and Octavia Butler uses science fiction to confront the brutal past of slavery.

Thanks to Stephan Terre for the creation of the futuristic intro music!

120. Redemption Songs: Reggae and Rastafari

Posted on

How the Rastafari movement grew from trends within Africana philosophy, and then passed into global popular culture in the music of Bob Marley and other reggae artists.

121. No Agreement: Fela Kuti and Wole Soyinka

Posted on

The political and musical revolution of Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat, the social critique of his cousin, the playwright Wole Soyinka, and the extraordinary career of Fela's mother Funmilayo.

122. A More Human Face: Steve Biko

Posted on

Famous for his killing at the hands of the Apartheid government in South Africa, Steve Biko was also a deep thinker, who introduced the notion of Black Consciousness.

123. History Teaches Us: Walter Rodney

Posted on

Pan-Africanist and Marxist historian Walter Rodney rethinks Black Power, engages with Rastafari, and opposes racial division in his home country of Guyana.

124. Double Jeopardy: Black Feminism

Posted on

Toni Cade Bambara, the Combahee River Collective, the Brixton Black Women's Group, and Awa Thiam critique white feminist and black nationalist failures to recognize the unique struggle of the black woman.

125. Phenomenal Woman: The Black Women’s Literary Renaissance

Posted on

Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Maya Angelou explore the themes of black feminism (or “womanism”) in their fiction. 

Warning: this episode contains discussion of sexual violence and suicide.

126. Fugitive for Justice: Angela Davis

Posted on

The eventful life and penetrating philosophy of Angela Davis, an icon of resistance deeply informed by Marxism and influential on black feminist thought.

127. Knowing the Difference: Audre Lorde

Posted on

In poetry and prose, especially her collection Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde explores ideas of difference, eroticism, and feminist theory.

128. Marginal Comments: bell hooks and Patricia Hill Collins

Posted on

We bring the story of black feminism up to the turn of the century with the incisive works of bell hooks and Patricia Hill Collins.

129. Afrophone Home: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

Posted on

How one of Kenya's greatest writers came to argue that African literature should be written in African languages.

130. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o on... Himself!

Posted on

The great Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o joins us to speak about his career, his influences, and the power and politics of language.

131. Mixed Messages: Black British Cultural Studies

Posted on

Stuart Hall pioneers “cultural studies,” offering tools for analysis of films, television, fiction and music that were put to use by followers like Paul Gilroy and Hazel Carby.

Thanks to Glenn Adamson for his feedback on this episode!

132. French Creolizing: Edouard Glissant and the Créolité Movement

Posted on

Poet, novelist, playwright and philosopher Edouard Glissant, his theory of "creolization", and the Creolists who were influence by him. 

133. John Drabinski on Edouard Glissant

Posted on

The author of an important book on Glissant joins us to talk about his approach to this major Caribbean thinker.

134. The Marx Brothers: Cedric J. Robinson

Posted on

Cedric J. Robinson reflects on the power and limitations of Marxism while charting the past and prospects of black radical thought.

135. Mastering Ceremonies: Sylvia Wynter

Posted on

Sylvia Wynter offers a bold and provocative assessment of the role of the humanities in understanding humankind.

Subscribe to Africana Philosophy in the Twentieth Century