Community & Government

Freedom, Love & The Blues

Angela Davis discusses what life was like for Black women after the end of slavery, and the unique experience of Black women in blues music.

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Topics include: Freedom Love & The Blues

Seven preeminent Black thought leaders share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future.

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 MAN: Ladies and gentlemen, now, we have a guest with us tonight, a star of a decade ago. And you can believe me, she is marvelous as a singer of the blues. Ladies and gentlemen, she is the first of the Red Hot Mamas. I'd like to have you meet all over again Mamie Smith. What do you say? [MUSIC PLAYING] [VOCAL MUSIC] INSTRUCTOR: If one looks at the blues, one begins to get a sense of how Black women were feeling in the aftermath of slavery, what their desires were. What I think is important about the ways in which Black women emerged from slavery with new needs and new desires and new aspirations is that even poor Black women found ways to give expression to those new aspirations. And it was largely through music. I mean, I should probably say that when I wrote "Women, Race and Class," I did an enormous amount of research. I read all of the minutes for all of the conventions, the Black conventions, the women's conventions, and I also read all of the literature that was available at the time. But later, it occurred to me that I was basing my own analysis on the testimonies of women who were literate, who were therefore middle class, who had had the opportunity to get an education. And so then I wondered, well, what about Black working class women? What about poor women who could not even learn how to read and write? And one of the conclusions I came to was that there is such a great focus on love and sexuality in the blues, and of course in popular music in general, because sexuality and the expression of love represented a way of experiencing liberation, a way of feeling free. In the aftermath of slavery, the liberation that I imagine so many people who were enslaved wanted and were expecting did not arrive. Economic liberation was not available. Although there was a period, a short period of radical reconstruction where there was an enormous amount of hope for the future, those hopes were dashed. Also, there was political liberation that appeared to be on the verge of happening. But of course, with the 1877 compromise, the very possibility of Black people participating in political power was destroyed. So there were only certain areas in which people could actually experience in a palpable way the meaning of freedom. One of them was in education. And this was a period when vast numbers of schools were created. And Black women were the ones who were most passionate about teaching and creating these schools. But also, there was love. And that was a sphere which had been controlled by the slave holder, who got to say, under these conditions of creating the possibilities of reproducing the labor force, that, you know, you sleep with this man because he's a strong, strapping man, and you will produce human beings who will be capable of doing the work that the slave holder needed to be done. And so in the aftermath of the abolition of slavery, the possibility of making one's o...

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From critical race theory to the 1619 Project, Black intellectuals are reshaping conversations on race in America. Now seven of those preeminent voices share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future. Gain a foundational understanding of the history of white supremacy and discover a path forward through the limitless capacity and resilience of Black love.

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Angela Davis, Cornel West, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Sherrilyn Ifill, Jelani Cobb, and John McWhorter

Seven preeminent Black thought leaders share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future.

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