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A History of African American Political Thought

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On February 22, 2021, the Kluge Center released a Conversation on the Future of Democracy titled “A History of African American Political Thought,” with political theorists Melvin Rogers and Jack Turner. Outreach and Partnerships Program Specialist Janna Deitz interviewed Rogers and Turner on their recent book, African American Political Thought: A Collected History. The book brings together contemporary scholars to reflect on the contributions of important figures in the tradition of African American political thought, providing an unprecedented philosophical history of thinkers from the African American community and the African diaspora.

The book grew out of the friendship between the two scholars, Turner said. Turner and Rogers met as undergraduates in a class on philosophy, race, and racism. The class, Turner said, began an intellectual friendship between Rogers and himself, based on a shared interest in political philosophy. Robert Gooding-Williams, who taught that class, is a contributor to African American Political Thought.

Rogers and Turner thought that political science needed a project that could provide a clear picture of the history of African American political theory, and aimed to provide that with their book. Rogers described the project as a collective history, intended to “focus on the distinctiveness of the individual lives of the African American thinkers” surveyed in the book. At the same time, he said, “all of these figures are grappling with and are confronting racial disregard and they’re confronting white supremacy, and that binds them together historically across time.”

Rogers and Turner went on to trace the evolution of the idea of freedom and the just society through several African American political philosophers. “Ideas coming out of the African American political tradition, they’re not just variations of Euro-American traditions,” Turner said. “They are complete reconfigurations and distinct contributions that we neglect to our impoverishment and sometimes maybe to our peril.”

Watch the full event here.

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