Initially, the 1960s was a time of understandable optimism. The civil rights movement and the legislation it inspired suggested an end to institutionalized racism and inequality in the United States. In Africa and the West Indies, the transformation of colonies into independent nation states anticipated political liberation and increased prosperity. And across the globe the generation born after the Second World War was coming of age with high expectations and a general impatience with gerontocracy and patriarchy. When entrenched privilege, cold war politics, and fiscal reality dashed these hopes later in the decade the world experienced a wave of protests, assassinations, revolutions, military coups, and other acts of aggressive disobedience. The year 1968 alone witnessed student strikes in Paris, Prague, Belgrade, Lahore, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Berkeley, and many other locations. That same year there were revolutions or coups in Peru, Panama and Iraq, in addition to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the Tet Offensive against American forces in Vietnam. 1968 also saw the assassination of Martin Luther King and the rise of significant civil rights movements in Northern Ireland and Quebec. In Britain, the rightwing response to immigration by former colonial subjects led Enoch Powell’s infamous “rivers of blood speech” and the restrictive Commonwealth Immigrants Act.
In December 1968, African American students at Washington University in St. Louis, responding both to harassment by local and campus police and the institutionalized inequality that was troubling the entire world, occupied the university’s primarily administration building to demand an education that fully reflected their history, circumstances, and aspirations. A central demand of this “Black Manifesto” was the creation of a black studies program for, as the students put it, such a program was “not only necessary for our education, but for our very survival.” In September of 1969, Washington University formally accepted this demand with the creation of an interdisciplinary unit that eventually became the Department of African and African American Studies.
To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of our founding, the faculty of the Department of African and African American Studies at Washington University will hold a conference on “Black 1968” in the spring of 2021. We therefore invite scholars from across the disciplines to submit essays interpreting the turbulent events of the late 1968s from the perspective of their particular fields and areas of expertise. We are interested to know more about how global forces like capitalism, imperialism, informal and institutionalized racism, migration, youth and labor activism, and cold war politics shaped local black experiences. We are also equally interested in better understanding how local events like the student protests at Washington University influenced these larger global forces. Several publishers have already expressed an interest in publishing the best of these conference papers in an edited volume. Topics like the civil rights movement, African liberation, the black power movement, freedom and Black liberation schools, and student activism will most likely appear in our collection, but the editors of Black 1968 also strongly welcome papers that explore the role of peoples of African descent in the larger events of the era like the student strikes, cold war controversies, liberation movements, and other key events of the period. We also encourage submissions that use innovative and unconventional methodologies to better understand these complex global and local interactions. What can the study of food, music, literature, film, gender, material culture, medicine, and incarceration tell us about Black 1968 that archives and other more conventional sources cannot?
To respond to this call for papers, please send a one page paper proposal and CV to the address below by 15 January 2021. The conference(s) to discuss these papers and select chapters for the book will most likely be held on Zoom in the late spring and/or early fall of 2021.