Black Listed Syllabus


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

Prof. Cathy N. Davidson (Graduate Center, Futures Initiative); Prof. Shelly Eversley (Baruch, Equality Archives); Assisting Instructor Allison Guess (Doctoral Fellow, Futures Initiative, and PhD Candidate, Geography)

English 80300, IDS 81630   S 2018

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

Course description:  This course examines the inter-relationship between the Cold War, the early Civil Rights movement, and the writing and censorship of African American writers from the mid-1940s to the early 1960s, with an emphasis on the McCarthy Era. 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 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).

Pedagogical Method: We will be used and examining a range of pedagogies variously known as active learning, radical pedagogy, engaged pedagogy, or student-centered learning. These are rooted in traditions that extend from Montessori, Dewey, and DuBois to Ella Baker, Paulo Freire, bell hooks and Audre Lorde to Howard Gardner and Carol Dweck. All are designed to help every student 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 situation in which they were embattled and ultimately thrived.

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.

    We will use three online tools for this course: a shared Google Doc for weekly agendas and assignments and collaborative note-taking; a class Word Press website where students will blog each week and then, the following week, write a comment or response to each blog; and then a HASTAC public website for published work, recaps, resources of interest to a larger public.   

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

Spring Symposium, Wed March 28: As a Futures Initiative course, our class will need to be represented in a panel, poster session, workshop, or other contribution in the Futures Initiative Symposium, “Publics, Politics, and Pedagogy: Remaking Higher Education for Our Times” 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).



This class is intended to offer students the following:

–in-depth knowledge of the course topic

–in-depth knowledge and practice of active or engaged learning (radical pedagogy) models applicable to teaching, management, community organizing, and any collective experience

–critical reading and thinking of literary works in a deeply informed historical and political context

–original research and writing, including possible archival research

–collaborative planning and presentation

–dialogical communication with one’s peers (in writing before class as well as in class)

–extensive practice in giving and responding to serious, informed, critical feedback and in thinking through alternative to “grading” as an evaluation mechanism

–publication of one’s work to a wider audience

–individual and collaborative project management


Course Requirements:


Successful completion of this course means fulfilling the four basic course requirements at a fully professional (graduate student) level, with original work, respect for the collaborative team, attention to the seriousness of the topic, and innovation in pedagogical approach. 

(1) Full participation in each class, including blogging about each reading, followed by a response/comment on each class mate’s blog.

  Class Participation:

  Even if you cannot attend in person, you will be required to do the reading and blogging assignment.

If you cannot physically attend a class, please indicate that you won’t be there on the Google doc agenda for that class period.

If you need to miss a class where your Group is presenting, you need to make arrangements with your Group for how you will still contribute and then let the Instructors know.

Weekly Blogging and Commenting:

Before the first class of each Group Topic, post a blog response on the Futures Initiative Word Press site  to the reading (approx. 400 words–the lengthy of an entry in Equality Archive)

Before the second class of each Group Topic, post a response or comment to each blog post for each of your classmates.  (These can be brief, under 100 words is fine).

(2) Full participation in one Group [equivalent to a “midterm exam/paper”] 

You will participate fully in choosing the topic, the readings, the pedagogy, and taking charge of two classes.  

You will write up, with photos, videos, or illustrations, a public presentation of your Group work and post it to our Group.  For examples of how this has been done in the past, see:

Every Group will also write a self-evaluation of their own contribution, as individuals and as team members (during the second class period for which the Group is responsible)

The rest of the class will also write an evaluation of the Group’s presentation

[Please see the handout for thoughts on evaluations and we will discuss the forms, purposes, and different kinds of alternative evaluation, feedback, and grading available in formal education.]


(3) Contribution to the Futures Initiative Symposium  

    Not everyone will be able to attend but, if you can, the full days’ participation is encouraged. You will also work together to find a way to present our class to the Symposium participants.  (We’re hoping we can come up with a unique and interesting presentation together.)


(4) Final Project 

Final research/pedagogy project:  Due May 22, 2017, with a public component, posted by the due date to the Group.

There are several options.

a.   OPTION 1:  12-15 pp RESEARCH PAPER:  A research paper that grows out of the topic of this course, 12-15 pp with full bibliography.  If you are a doctoral student, this might be a part of a dissertation chapter, a prospectus, or other work re-shaped as a stand-alone paper for this course.   For those pursuing a doctorate, we strongly urge that your final project be all or part of a piece you will or will plan to submit for publication.  

i.To fulfill the online publication requirement, you can post an abstract of your paper rather than the full paper in our public Group on…      You will need to join the Group to post.

B.  OPTION 2:  SYLLABUS AND REFLECTION ESSAY: For those interested in     pedagogy, an alternative assignment would be to write a syllabus and then a reflection (approx 1500 words) on why you made the choices you made.

To fulfill the online publication requirement, you can post an abstract of your paper rather than the full paper in our public Group on…      You will need to join the Group to post.

C. OPTION 3  What else?  Make us a proposal!  If you have an alternate idea for a significant final project, please make a proposal.  It should be a project  that has the same scope as these, and that includes a public blogging component on  This can be a substantive, original multimedia project.  If it is collaborative, define the roles of each participant.

One possibility is a contribution to the Equality Archives project led by Professor Shelly Eversley, Baruch College.  If you are interested, please let us know and we can put you in touch with Professor Eversley.  

D.  OPTIONS FOR ENGLISH PHDs (plus public component):  Check with the English Department and your adviser about what you need for your English Department Portfolio.  We have agreed to make final projects compatible with the portfolio requirements for English Department (and other) students but have very little information.  It’s your responsibility to check and confirm that this “counts” for the English Department:  This is the information we have (quoted directly):

i.     12-15 page review essay–an annotated bibliography of 15 primary or secondary sources

ii.     a syllabus with a 1500 word account of a pedagogical approach to a text

iii.     a 10-page conference paper.”       



We will be discussing various assessment methods throughout the course and careful feedback will be part of each Group presentation.  Please see the handout on one professor’s alternative assessment form.  We hope to present others as the course proceeds and invite students to bring in relevant assessment documents.


Possible Topics and Texts:

On the first day of class, students will begin the process of working collaboratively to prepare a topic (and a pedagogical method) that will extend over two class periods.  Students will craft this presentation from the suggested topics and texts below.

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.

1- The Sojourners: Women, Activism, Communism, Immigration, Deportation

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

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

2- Sexuality, Sex and Normalization of Surveillance

Ann Petry, The Narrows (1953)

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

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

Chester Himes, Yesterday Will Make You Cry (formerly C ast the First Stone (1952)

5- Global Blackness in Exile: Debates and Controversy

Richard Wright, White Man, Listen! (1957) (“Tradition and Industrialization”) James Baldwin, “Princes and Powers” (1957)

Franz Fanon, On Violence (1960)

6- Activism, Communism, Deportation, Women

Claudia Jones, “We Seek Full Equality for Women” (1949)

Secondary and Other Readings and References   (we will be adding to this list throughout the course)

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

COURSE SCHEDULE  (evolving; student-led)

​On the first day of class, students self-organized into groups and chose and individualized a topic for their group project.  Throughout the term, they will elaborate on this schedule with reading and pedagogical assignments.  This schedule represents the work done by the instructors prior to the course and by the students on the first day of class.

Jan 30  First day of class.   

Feb 6  Overview of the “Black Listed” (Prof. Shelly Eversley); Overview of pedagogy and introduction of symposium plans (March 28; Prof. Cathy Davidson)   “Total Literary Awareness” by William Maxwell

Course Schedule


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.  

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)

Mar 20 Group 3 (Dan, Luis)  Topic:  Race, Racism, Sexuality, Interracial Relations, and Queer Sexualities.

“Color Blind” by Margaret Halsey

“Strange Love” by Leisa D. Meyer

“The Liberal 1950s?” by Joanne Meyerowitz

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

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

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

Introduction and Chapter 8

“Let Paul Robeson Sing” by Manic Street Preachers

“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  Assisting Instructor Allison Guess will distribute a draft of part of her dissertation prospectus focusing on Archives; Prof Shelly Eversley discusses The Equality Archive.

May 8  Intro and Chp 8, Conclusion (recommended Chps 1 and 2) Cathy N Davidson, The New Education: How to Revoutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux (students have been given copies of the book)  Why all progressive social movements are school movements (Freedom Schools, etc); why all reactionary movements are school movements. Prof Eversley will talk about the Jefferson School

May 15   LAST DAY OF CLASS  Big wrap up T

May 22  Final projects due.  Post to “Black Listed” Group on