Ella Baker for the 21st Century: National One Day Symposium
Presented by BCRW and the Institute for Research in African-American Studies, Columbia University
In honor of the 20th anniversary of the publication of Ella Baker and the Black Radical Tradition by Barbara Ransby, this day-long symposium will be held at Barnard College/Columbia University on December 1, 2023 and will include panels featuring nationally recognized scholars, followed by a keynote conversation and a celebratory reception that will include music and dinner. In addition to being a robust celebration of Ella Baker and her legacy, we expect the day will generate rich conversation about Black radicalism and will be an opportunity for community building.
9:30-10 a.m. | Welcome
Premilla Nadasen (Barnard College)
10-11:30 a.m. | Black Women and the Black Radical Tradition
Robin D.G. Kelley (University of California, Los Angeles), Dayo Gore (Georgetown University), Mariame Kaba (Project Nia), and Barbara Smith (Combahee River Collective), moderated by Gina Dent (University of California, Santa Cruz)
11:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. | Lunch Break
1-2:30 p.m. | Teaching Ella Baker
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (Princeton University), Robyn Spencer (Wayne State University), and Beverly Guy-Sheftall (Spelman College), moderated by Farah Jasmine Griffin (Columbia University)
2:30-2:45 p.m. | Coffee Break
2:45-4:15 p.m. | What Ella Baker’s Legacy Means for the Freedom Movement Today
Maurice Mitchell (Working Families Party), Leena Odeh (Ella’s Daughters), Karissa Lewis (M4BL), and Asha Ransby-Sporn (BYP100), moderated by Cathy Cohen (University of Chicago)
4:15-4:30 p.m. | Break
4:30-6 p.m. | Keynote Conversation
Barbara Ransby (University of Illinois, Chicago) and Angela Davis (University of California, Santa Cruz), introduced by Premilla Nadasen (Barnard College)
6-8 p.m. | Reception
Remarks by Sarah Haley (Columbia University) and Jafari Allen (Columbia University)
Music by DJ Lynnée Denise and performance by poet Kristiana Rae Colón
ABOUT THE SPEAKERS
Cathy J. Cohen is the David and Mary Winton Green Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. She formerly served in numerous administrative positions, including chair of the Department of Political Science, director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, and deputy provost for Graduate Education at the University of Chicago. Cohen is the author of two books, The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics (University of Chicago Press) and Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and the Future of American Politics (Oxford University Press). She is also co-editor of the anthology Women Transforming Politics: An Alternative Reader (NYU Press) with Kathleen Jones and Joan Tronto. Her articles have been published in numerous journals and edited volumes including the American Political Science Review, NOMOS, GLQ, Social Text, and the DuBois Review. Cohen created and oversees two major research and public-facing projects: the GenForward Survey and the Black Youth Project. She is the recipient of numerous awards, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and co-editor with Frederick Harris of a book series at Oxford University Press entitled “Transgressing Boundaries: Studies in Black Politics and Black Communities.”
Poet, playwright, actor, and educator Kristiana Rae Colón earned a BA at the University of Chicago and an MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is the author of the chapbooks pieces of shedu (2008) and promised instruments (2013), which won the inaugural Drinking Gourd Poetry Prize. Her poems have been included in Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web 2010 and the anthologies Not a Muse: The Inner Lives of Women, a World Poetry Anthology (2009) and Chorus: A Literary (Re)Mixtape (2012). She appeared on the fifth season of HBO's Def Poetry Jam. An alum of the Goodman Theater's Playwrights Unit, Colón’s plays include florissant & canfield, an epic reimagining of the Ferguson protests, which was featured in the 2016 Hedgebrook Women Playwrights Festival; Octagon, which won the Arizona Theater Company's 2014 National Latino Playwriting Award and Polarity Ensemble Theater's Dionysos Festival of New Work, and had its 2015 world premiere at the Arcola Theater in London; but i cd only whisper, which premiered at The Flea in New York; and good friday which had its world premiere at Oracle Productions. In 2017, Colón was awarded 2017 Best Black Playwright by The Black Mall. A Cave Canem fellow, creator of #BlackSexMatters and co-director of the #LetUsBreathe Collective, she is a resident playwright at Chicago Dramatists and one half of the brother/sister hip-hop duo April Fools.
Angela Y. Davis is known internationally for her ongoing work to combat all forms of oppression in the U.S. and abroad. Over the years she has been active as a student, teacher, writer, scholar, and activist/organizer. She is a living witness to the historical struggles of the contemporary era. Professor Davis's political activism began when she was a youngster in Birmingham, Alabama, and continued through her high school years in New York. But it was not until 1969 that she came to national attention after being removed from her teaching position in the Philosophy Department at UCLA as a result of her social activism and her membership in the Communist Party, USA. In 1970 she was placed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List on false charges, and was the subject of an intense police search that drove her underground and culminated in one of the most famous trials in recent U.S. history. During her sixteen-month incarceration, a massive international "Free Angela Davis" campaign was organized, leading to her acquittal in 1972. Professor Davis's long-standing commitment to prisoners' rights dates back to her involvement in the campaign to free the Soledad Brothers, which led to her own arrest and imprisonment. Today she remains an advocate of prison abolition and has developed a powerful critique of racism in the criminal justice system. She is a founding member of Critical Resistance, a national organization dedicated to the dismantling of the prison industrial complex. Internationally, she is affiliated with Sisters Inside, an abolitionist organization based in Queensland, Australia that works in solidarity with women in prison. Like many educators, Professor Davis is especially concerned with the general tendency to devote more resources and attention to the prison system than to educational institutions. Having helped to popularize the notion of a “prison industrial complex,” she now urges her audiences to think seriously about the future possibility of a world without prisons and to help forge a 21st century abolitionist movement. During the last twenty-five years, Professor Davis has lectured in all of the fifty United States, as well as in Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and the former Soviet Union. Her articles and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, and she is the author of nine books, including Angela Davis: An Autobiography; Women, Race, and Class; Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday; The Angela Y. Davis Reader; Are Prisons Obsolete?; a new edition of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass; and The Meaning of Freedom. Former California Governor Ronald Reagan once vowed that Angela Davis would never again teach in the University of California system. Today she is Distinguished Professor Emerita in the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies Departments at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In 1994, she received the distinguished honor of an appointment to the University of California Presidential Chair in African American and Feminist Studies.
Gina Dent (Ph.D., English & Comparative Literature, Columbia University) is Humanities Associate Dean of DEI and Professor of Feminist Studies, History of Consciousness, and Legal Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she has won awards for her teaching (Dizikes Faculty Teaching Award, 2019), advocacy (Chancellor’s Award for Diversity, 2007), and research (Innovator of the Year, 2023). She is the editor of Black Popular Culture ( New York: The New Press, 1998) and author of articles on race, feminism, popular culture, and visual art. Currently, she serves as PI and Co-Director for the Mellon Foundation-funded Visualizing Abolition (visualizingabolition.ucsc.edu), a project designed to redirect social resources away from prisons by accessing the power of the arts. Her recent projects also grow out of her decades-long work as an advocate for prison abolition—Abolition. Feminism. Now. (co-authored with Angela Davis, Erica Meiners, and Beth Richie, Haymarket 2022), and the in-progress works Visualizing Abolition (co-edited with Rachel Nelson) and Prison as a Border, on popular culture and the conditions of knowledge.
Dayo F. Gore is an Associate Professor in the Department of African American Studies at Georgetown University. She received her Ph.D. in History from New York University and has previously taught at the University of California, San Diego and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Professor Gore’s research interests include Black Women’s Intellectual History; U.S. Political and Cultural Activism; African Diasporic Politics; and Women, Gender and Sexuality studies. She is the author of Radicalism at the Crossroads: African American Women Activists in the Cold War (which is just out in paperback) and editor of Want to Start of Revolution: Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle. Professor Gore’s work has been supported by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University, and the Tamiment Library’s Center for the United States and the Cold War.
Farah Jasmine Griffin is the William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies at Columbia University and was the inaugural chair of its African American and African Diaspora Studies Department (2019 - 2021). She serves as program director for The Schomburg Center's Scholars-in-Residence Program. She is a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow. Professor Griffin received her BA from Harvard, where she majored in American History and Literature and her PhD in American Studies from Yale. Her major fields of interest are American and African American literature, music, and history. She has published widely on issues of race and gender, feminism and cultural politics. Griffin is the author of Who Set You Flowin?: The African American Migration Narrative (Oxford, 1995), If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday (Free Press, 2001) and co-author, with Salim Washington, of Clawing At the Limits of Cool: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and the Greatest Jazz Collaboration Ever (Thomas Dunne, 2008). She is the editor of Beloved Sisters and Loving Friends: Letters from Addie Brown and Rebecca Primus (Knopf, 1999) co-editor, with Cheryl Fish, of Stranger in the Village: Two Centuries of African American Travel Writing (Beacon, 1998) and co-editor with Brent Edwards and Robert O'Meally of Uptown Conversations: The New Jazz Studies (Columbia University Press, 2004). Her book, Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II, was published by Basic Books in 2013. Her current publications are Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature (Norton 2021) and In Search of a Beautiful Freedom: New and Selected Essays (Norton 2023).
Mariame Kaba is an educator, organizer and librarian who is active in movements for racial, gender, and transformative justice. She is the founder and director of Project NIA, a grassroots abolitionist organization with a vision to end youth incarceration. Mariame co-leads the initiative Interrupting Criminalization, a project she co-founded with Andrea Ritchie in 2018. She has co-founded multiple organizations and projects over the years including We Charge Genocide, the Chicago Freedom School, the Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Young Women, Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander (now Love & Protect), Just Practice Collaborative, Survived & Punished, and For the People Lefitist Library Project. Kaba’s writing has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Nation, The Guardian, Washington Post, In These Times, Teen Vogue, Essence, The New Inquiry and more. She is the author of the New York Times bestseller We Do This Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice (Haymarket Press 2021), Missing Daddy (Haymarket 2019), Fumbling Towards Repair: A Workbook for Community Accountability Facilitators with Shira Hassan (Project NIA, 2019), See You Soon (Haymarket, March 2022), No More Police: A Case for Abolition with Andrea Ritchie (The New Press, Aug 2022), Let This Radicalize You: Organizing and the Revolution of Reciprocal Care with Kelly Hayes (Haymarket, May 2023) and Lifting As They Climbed: Mapping A History of Trailblazing Black Women in Chicago with Essence McDowell (Haymarket, August 2023).
At the center of all Robin DG Kelley’s work is a focus on labor and on the ways people have struggled not only to survive, but to make a better world. Kelley is the Distinguished Professor and Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair in U.S. History and professor of African American studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. Kelley’s extensive academic career explores the history of social movements in the U.S., the African Diaspora, and Africa; Black intellectuals; music; visual culture; contemporary urban studies; historiography and historical theory; poverty studies and ethnography; colonialism/imperialism; organized labor; constructions of race; Surrealism, Marxism, nationalism, among other things.
Karissa Lewis is part of the Executive team at the Movement for Black Lives. M4BL is a national network of more than 150 leaders and organizations creating a broad political home for Black people to learn, organize and take action. With extensive experience in organizing and activist training, she works to build leadership in communities of color with an emphasis on supporting Black Movements. She is dedicated to creating a movement for social justice that is led by the people most affected. She has organized around issues ranging from gentrification to environmental racism, gang injunctions, and police brutality. She believes centering joy is as necessary as centering strategy, and has committed her life to bringing both to the movement.
Maurice Mitchell is the National Director of the Working Families Party and a nationally-recognized social movement strategist, a visionary leader in the Movement for Black Lives, and a community organizer for racial, social, and economic justice. Born and raised in New York to Caribbean working-class parents, Maurice began organizing as a teenager — and never stopped. As a high school student, Maurice served as a student leader for the Long Island Student Coalition for Peace and Justice. At Howard University, after a classmate was killed by police officers, Maurice led organizing efforts against police brutality and for divestment from private prisons. Maurice went on to work as an organizer for the Long Island Progressive Coalition, downstate organizing director for Citizen Action of NY, and Director of the NY State Civic Engagement Table. Two tragedies changed the course of Maurice’s life. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy destroyed Maurice’s house in Long Beach, NY and left him living in hotels for months. Eighteen months later, after Mike Brown was killed by police in Missouri, Maurice relocated to Ferguson to support organizations on the ground. Seeing the need for an anchor organization to provide strategic support and guidance to Movement for Black Lives activists across the country, Maurice co-founded and managed Blackbird. Maurice was a key organizer of the Movement for Black Lives convention in Cleveland in 2015. In 2018, Maurice took the helm of the Working Families Party as National Director. He is applying his passion and experience to make WFP the political home for a multi-racial working class movement.
Leena Odeh (she/her) is a legal advocate, consultant, professor, and community weaver. Leena co-leads people-centered transformative justice organizations with the belief that creating sustainable and alternative systems to punishment, domination, consumption, and control, is as important as dismantling these harmful systems and structures. Leena advises, invests in, and sits on the boards of groups working on transformative justice “glocally.” In her spare time, she is committed to a practice of unearthing and preserving the embodied cultural wisdom to honor our elders and ancestors and carry on that wisdom generation after generation. Leena holds a B.A. from Carleton College and JD from Northeastern University School of Law. She is an alumna of the Center for Constitutional Rights Movement Lawyering Fellows and co-founder of Reed Smith LLC’s Pro Bono Detained Refugee Protection Project. She hails from Chicago’s southwest side.
Dr. Barbara Ransby is the John D. MacArthur Chair, and Distinguished Professor, in the Departments of Black Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, and History at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She also directs the campus-wide Social Justice Initiative (SJI), a project that promotes connections between academics and community organizers doing work on social justice. SJI is currently hosting The Portal Project, a floating symposium on social, racial and environmental justice involving nearly 200 artists, activists and scholars. Dr. Ransby is a graduate of Columbia University and the University of Michigan, where she was a Mellon Fellow. She is the author of two award-winning books: Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision (University of North Carolina Press, 2003); and Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson (Yale University Press, 2013). Dr. Ransby is also the author of a third book published by University of California Press in August 2018 entitled: Making All Black Lives Matter: Re-imagining Freedom in the 21st Century. Her book awards include: The Liberty-Legacy Prize from the Organization of American Historians; the Joan Kelly prize from the American Historical Association; and the James A. Rawley Prize (also from the AHA). In 2018, the Chronicle of Higher Education acknowledged the Baker biography as “one of the most influential books of the last twenty years.” Her second biography, Eslanda, was the recipient of the Letitia Woods Brown Memorial prize for the best book in African American women’s history from the Association of Black Women Historians. In 2017, Dr. Ransby was honored as “one of the top 25 women in higher education,” by the publication, Diverse Issues in Higher Education. Dr. Ransby is a recipient of the 2018 Angela Y. Davis Prize from the American Studies Association for scholarship in service of the public good. In 2020, she was elected as a fellow to the Society of American Historians and received one of the inaugural Freedom Scholars Award from the Marguerite Casey Foundation and Group Health Foundation for “social and economic justice scholarship”. In 2022, she received the Frantz Fanon Lifetime Achievement Award from the Caribbean Philosophical Association. She was also editor in chief of Souls: a Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture and Society, and is a member of the editorial working group of the London-based journal, Race and Class, and the editorial advisory board of the “Justice, Politics and Power” book series at University of North Carolina Press. She served as President of the National Women’s Studies Association from 2016 to 2018. She also serves on a number of community and editorial boards. Dr. Ransby publishes regularly in popular venues, which include: DISSENT, In These Times, Colorlines, The Nation, the Boston Review, Truthout, and The New York Times.
Asha Ransby-Sporn is a Chicago-based organizer and writer. She has led and been a part of community based campaigns that have won ballot referenda on investing in non-police mental health programs, blocked a weapons manufacturer from a multi-million dollar tax break, pressured institutions to divest from the private prison industry, and organized on winning political campaigns.
Beverly Guy-Sheftall is the founding director of the Women’s Research and Resource Center (1981) and Anna Julia Cooper Professor of Women’s Studies at Spelman College. For many years she was a visiting professor at Emory University’s Institute for Women’s Studies where she taught graduate courses in Women’s Studies. At the age of sixteen, she entered Spelman College where she majored in English and minored in secondary education. After graduating with honors, she attended Wellesley College for a fifth year of study in English. In 1968, she entered Atlanta University to pursue a master’s degree in English; her thesis was entitled, “Faulkner’s Treatment of Women in His Major Novels.” A year later she began her first teaching job in the Department of English at Alabama State University in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1971 she returned to her alma mater Spelman College and joined the English Department. Beverly Guy-Sheftall has a Ph.D. in American Studies from Emory University. She has published a number of texts within African American and Women’s Studies which have been noted as seminal works by other scholars, including the first anthology on Black women’s literature, Sturdy Black Bridges: Visions of Black Women in Literature (Doubleday, 1980), which she co-edited with Roseann P. Bell and Bettye Parker Smith; her dissertation, Daughters of Sorrow: Attitudes Toward Black Women, 1880-1920 (Carlson, 1991); Words of Fire: An Anthology of African American Feminist Thought (New Press, 1995); an anthology she co-edited with Rudolph Byrd entitled Traps: African American Men on Gender and Sexuality (Indiana University Press, 2001); a book co-authored with Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Gender Talk: The Struggle for Women’s Equality in African American Communities (Random House, 2003); an anthology, I Am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde, co-edited with Rudolph P. Bryd and Johnnetta B. Cole (Oxford University Press, 2009); an anthology, Still Brave: The Evolution of Black Women’s Studies (Feminist Press, 2010), with Stanlie James and Frances Smith Foster. Her most recent publication (SUNY Press, 2010) is an anthology co-edited with Johnnetta B. Cole, Who Should Be First: Feminists Speak Out on the 2008 Presidential Campaign. In 1983 she became founding co-editor of Sage: A Scholarly Journal of Black Women which was devoted exclusively to the experiences of women of African descent. She is the past president of the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) and was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2017).
Barbara Smith is a Black feminist pioneer, lesbian, activist, author, lecturer and publisher. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, she and her twin sister, Beverly, began participating in civil rights protests in the 1960s. In 1974 Smith co-founded the Combahee River Collective in Boston, Massachusetts, and in 1977, she co-authored the Combahee River Collective Statement with Beverly and Demita Frazier. Smith taught her first class on Black women’s literature in 1973 at Emerson College and has taught at numerous colleges and universities. She co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the first U.S. publisher of books for women of color, in 1980. In 2005, Smith was elected to the Common Council in Albany, New York. She was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize that same year. Smith’s essays, reviews and other work has been published in The New York Times, The Black Scholar, Ms., The Guardian, The Village Voice, and The Nation, among others.
Robyn C. Spencer-Antoine is a historian who focuses on Black social protest after World War II, urban and working-class radicalism, and gender. Her book The Revolution Has Come: Black Power, Gender, and the Black Panther Party in Oakland was published in 2016. She is co-founder of the Intersectional Black Panther Party History Project and has written widely on gender and Black Power. Her writings have appeared in the Journal of Women’s History and Souls as well as The Washington Post, Vibe Magazine, Colorlines, and Truthout. She has received awards for her work from the Mellon foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies and the Association of Black Women Historians. She is completing her second book on the intersections between the movement for Black liberation and the movement against the US war as a fellow at Harvard University’s Warren Center for Studies in American History. In addition, she is working on biographies of both Angela Davis and Patricia Murphy Robinson. She created @PATarchives on Instagram to spotlight the ways that the items in Black left theorist Patricia Murphy Robinson’s unprocessed home archives reframe the Black Radical Tradition. To learn more visit www.robyncspencer.com.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes and speaks on Black politics, social movements, and racial inequality in the United States. She is the author of Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership, published in 2019 by University of North Carolina Press. Race for Profit was a semi-finalist for the 2019 National Book Award and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History in 2020. She is a 2021 MacArthur Foundation Fellow. Her earlier book From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation won the Lannan Cultural Freedom Award for an Especially Notable Book in 2016. She is also editor of How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, which won the Lambda Literary Award for LGBQT nonfiction in 2018. Taylor is a contributing writer at The New Yorker. Her writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Boston Review, Paris Review, Guardian, The Nation, Jacobin, and Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society, among others. She is a former Contributing Opinion Writer for The New York Times. In 2016, she was named one of the hundred most influential African Americans in the United States by The Root. In 2018 Essence Magazine named her among the top one hundred “change makers” in the county. She has been appointed as a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians by the Organization of American Historians.
Cosponsored by the Africana Studies Department and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department, Barnard College; the Center for American Studies, the Department of History, the Institute for Research in African-American Studies, and the Institute for the Study of Sexuality and Gender, Columbia University; and the Marguerite Casey Foundation.
Image credit: Robert Shetterly