This year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Symposium featured Maylei Blackwell and N.D.B. Connolly, two scholars whose work focuses on recent US social history.
The January 16 event, “Where Do We Go from Here?” borrowed the title from King’s last published work, which assessed race relations in America in 1967 and analyzed the prospects for racial justice in the future. Blackwell and Connolly were asked to address the current state of the struggle for social justice.
Blackwell is an associate professor in Chicana/o studies and women’s studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she engages in community-based research on feminist and indigenous-rights movements in the United States, Mexico, and the rest of the Americas. Connolly, who received his PhD in history from the University of Michigan, is Herbert Baxter Adams Associate Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University. Last year, he co-developed Trump Syllabus 2.0, a reading list exploring “the currents of American culture that led to ‘Trumpism.’” This list has gone viral.
Connolly describes himself as a historian who explores the “interplay between racism, capitalism, politics, and the built environment in the twentieth century.” He discussed contemporary racial politics—including persistent strains of white supremacy—in relation to the 2016 election.
Blackwell recollected her shift from archival research to ethnographic field work that directly engages with the activist groups she studies. Based on this experience, she left the audience with ten lessons from a career in history and activism, including the ways memory—history, really—can be deployed in the service of social movements. As she explained, participants can find solidarity and inspiration in the documentation, preservation, and promotion of their historical and contemporary experiences, and this history can in turn be used to bolster their causes.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Day Symposium is an annual event presented by the Department of History and the Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies with support from the Kalt Fund for African American and African History.