The Black Scholar
|Edited by||Louis Chude-Sokei|
|1969 to present|
The Black Scholar (TBS), the third-oldest journal of black culture and political thought in the United States, was founded in 1969 near San Francisco, California, by Robert Chrisman, Nathan Hare and Allan Ross. It is arguably the most influential journal of Black Studies and central to the very emergence of that field. Its associated Black Scholar Press has published books since the 1970s.
The Black Scholar's Editor-in-Chief is the writer and scholar Louis Chude-Sokei; its Senior Editor is Shireen K. Lewis (scholar and founder/director of SisterMentors, a notable non-profit in Washington DC). Additionally, historian Jonathan Fenderson and Safiya Umoja Noble, scholar of technology and critical media studies, serve as Associate Editors, and Shannon Hanks-Mackey is Managing Editor. It is the third-oldest journal in print. The NAACP’s Crisis and the Journal of African American History (formerly The Journal of Negro History) have been publishing for a longer period of time. TBS is owned by the Black World Foundation, an Oakland, California, non-profit educational organization, and published quarterly by Routledge/Taylor & Francis.
Original editorial board
Robert Chrisman (1937–2013), Nathan Hare (b. 1933) were active in the 1968 black and ethnic studies battles at San Francisco State University. Hare, among others, had been hired to set up a Black Studies program, which black students wanted to have as a fully independent department. As a consequence of a five-month student-faculty strike, the first and the longest strike for black studies in the US academy, Hare was fired and Chrisman was removed as a professor from tenure track. The strike experience motivated Chrisman and Hare to create a venue outside of the academy for black knowledge production.
In November 1969, Chrisman, Hare and Allan Ross, a white Bay Area printer, founded The Black Scholar: A Journal of Black Studies and Research to cover issues of social, cultural, economic and political thought. Its opening issue, "The Culture of Revolution", featured articles by Eldridge Cleaver, Amiri Baraka, Sekou Toure, and Stokely Carmichael, among others.
Early members of the editorial and advisory board included Shirley Chisholm, Imamu Baraka, Angela Davis, Sonia Sanchez, Chuck Stone, Dempsey Travis, Max Roach, John Oliver Killens, Ossie Davis, Shirley Graham Du Bois, Ron Karenga, and Lerone Bennett. Robert L. Allen (b. 1942) joined the journal as Senior Editor during the 1970s and remained Senior Editor until his retirement in 2012.
Nathan Hare left The Black Scholar in 1975 during an ideological dispute. In his open letter of resignation, Hare accused other board members of TBS of sabotaging his contribution in order to further a black Marxist agenda. He said that the shift took place after Robert Chrisman and Robert Allen went to Cuba in 1973, and asserted that following this, the journal became reluctant to publish black cultural nationalists. Hare’s resignation was followed by that of Charles Hamilton. The remaining members denied Hare's allegations, calling them "red-baiting and smearing".
The public split attracted coverage from leading national newspapers. The New York Times covered the story in an article titled "Ideology Dispute Shakes Black Journal", while the New York Amsterdam News headline read "Black Reds Take Over Black Scholar!"
The Black Scholar published a special issue entitled "The Black Sexism Debate," Vol. 10, No. 8/9 (May/June 1979); this was one of the first public scholarly forums about sexism within the African-American community and it generated controversy due to contradictory positions on gender equality. The issue featured responses from feminists, intellectuals, and artists to Robert Staples’ controversial essay, “The Myth of the Black Macho: A Response to Angry Black Feminists,” which had been published in the previous issue of TBS. Staples had criticized the work of Michele Wallace and Ntozake Shange. The editors of the journal viewed the issue as a means of clarifying the relationship between black men and women while forging solidarities among them.
Over a decade later, when millions of people were fascinated by Clarence Thomas’ hearings in the Senate prior to his being confirmed to the Supreme Court, TBS compiled a special issue. Scholars and historians commented on the issues of sexism and racism in the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill controversy Vol. 22, No. 1/2 (Winter 1991-Spring 1992). The essays were later published as Court of Appeal: The Black Community Speaks Out on the Racial and Sexual Politics of Thomas vs. Hill (1992).
In 2008 the journal published two special editions on Senator and president-elect Barack Obama’s impact on race relations in America – Vol. 38, No. 1 (Spring 2008) and Vol. 38, No. 4 (Winter 2008). These were collected and published as an anthology entitled The Obama Phenomenon: Toward a Multiracial Democracy (2011). Scholars from an array of fields, including political science, sociology, theology, journalism, and law, critically analyze Obama’s relationship with the media, race relations during presidential campaigns of the 1960s, the American public’s perception of first lady Michelle Obama, and the broader social implications of America’s first black president.
Most recently, the journal has published special issues on Dominican Black Studies, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Summer 2015); a roundtable on the ABC television drama Scandal Vol. 45, No. 1 (Spring 2015); States of Black Studies, Vol. 44, No. 2 (Summer 2014); and The Role of Black Philosophy, Vol. 43, No. 4 (Winter 2013).
TBS has always explored black American issues through questions of black transnational solidarity and through an explicit global/pan-African lens. In 1977, for example, TBS published a special issue on Cuba, featuring essays from artists, activists, and intellectuals who had been enabled to visit Cubs through the initiative of the journal’s board. It has also devoted issues to South Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and addresses issues from all points of the black world.
The Black Scholar was founded with the principle that all black authors, scholars and activists could take part in dialogues within its pages. It has been dedicated to finding and developing new talent while also continuing to publish established authors. TBS has retained its non-discriminatory policy of publishing intellectuals from a variety of professions outside of academia. For example TBS has featured articles by US Congress representatives Shirley Chisholm, Ron Dellums, Barbara Lee, and activists such as Julian Bond, Herb Boyd, Amílcar Cabral, Eldridge Cleaver, Nawal El Saadawi, Cheddi Jagan, Julius Nyerere, Bobby Seale, and Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael).
The journal has regularly showcased creative writers from across the black world. Opal Palmer Adisa, Margaret Walker Alexander, Amiri Baraka, Dennis Brutus, Frank M. Chipasula, Wanda Coleman, Jayne Cortez, René Depestre, Ernest J. Gaines, Nicolás Guillén, June Jordan, Jackie Kay, Yusef Komunyakaa, Audre Lorde, Nancy Morejón, Agostinho Neto, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, May Opitz, Ishmael Reed, Andrew Salkey, Sonia Sanchez, Ntozake Shange, Wole Soyinka and Alice Walker have been published in issues of TBS over the years.
The journal has promoted a wide ideological spectrum of black scholarly and artistic talent including Derrick Bell, Horace Campbell, Clayborne Carson, Elizabeth Catlett, John Henrik Clarke, Darlene Clark Hine, Johnnetta B. Cole, Carolyn Cooper, St. Clair Drake, Katherine Dunham, E. Chukwudi Eze, Kevin Gaines, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Lewis R. Gordon, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Patricia Hill Collins, Joy James, E. Patrick Johnson, Peniel Joseph, Thabiti Asukile, Kara Keeling, Robin D. G. Kelley, Treva B. Lindsey, Julianne Malveaux, Manning Marable, J. Lorand Matory, Tavia Nyong'o, Adolph Reed, Christina Sharpe, Barbara Smith, Hortense Spillers, Catherine Squires, Chuck Stone, and Ronald Walters.
Furthermore, TBS has been recognized for its timely and significant interviews, such as the now famous dialogues with Muhammad Ali, Maya Angelou, Arthur Ashe, James Baldwin, Octavia Butler, Alex Haley, Darcus Howe, C. L. R. James, Jacob Lawrence, Queen Mother Audley Moore, Jack O’Dell, Walter Rodney, McCoy Tyner, George Yancy, and Robert F. Williams.
The journal has been home to celebrated essays from activists and academics alike. Angela Davis’s now canonized essay "Reflections on the Black Woman's Role in the Community of Slaves,” written while she was in prison, was first published in TBS in 1971, Vol. 3, No. 4. She was still in prison on murder and kidnapping charges linked to George Jackson’s attempted escape from the Marin County Hall of Justice when the article was printed. TBS’ archives at UC Berkeley also house the last published writing by George Jackson while he was alive (Vol. 2, No. 10, June 1971), printed just two months before his fatal attempt to escape incarceration.
Activism has always been a founding premise of The Black Scholar. As a result of student and faculty agitation and strikes in the late 1960s, a Black Studies department was inaugurated at San Francisco State University. Robert Chrisman and Nathan Hare, along with other African-American faculty, were a part of the advisory board created to hire faculty for the new department. As activists in the Civil Rights Movement and the student movements of the 1960s, the founders of TBS used the journal not only as a publication informed by community activism but also as a hub for further activist work that addresses social inequality based on race, class, and gender in the United States and abroad.
Many of TBS’ contributing and advisory editors have been involved with social and political activism such as organizing a political prisoners' fund, protests against the Vietnam War, trips to Cuba in the 1970s, a trip to the Eastern Bloc in 1985, and a speaker’s bureau to arrange speaking engagements for diverse thinkers of varying disciplines and experiences in and outside traditional academia. Founder Robert Chrisman represented TBS at a conference held in Havana, Cuba where a large American delegation met with Angolan leaders Commandante Dibalo, Ogla Lima, and Pedro Zinga Baptista in support of the MPLA. A few months later Chrisman represented TBS at the Angola Support Conference, which opposed U.S. and South African intervention in Angola.
The published works produced by TBS editors have also promoted activism by spreading awareness of racial injustices. As a result of Robert L. Allen’s publication The Port Chicago Mutiny, which shed light on the unjust and unsafe working conditions that black Navy servicemen sustained during wartime efforts, social activists were inspired to rectify the injustices of the events. The surviving service were honored by a group of California State Assemblymen in 1998, more than 50 years after these men were charged with mutiny for refusing to work under unsafe conditions. One of the men involved also received an official pardon by President Bill Clinton.
Robert Chrisman’s retirement
On June 30, 2012, founding editor Robert Chrisman officially retired from his long-standing position as Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of The Black Scholar. He publicly announced his retirement in a letter published on the back page of the Spring 2012 issue of TBS. Chrisman claimed that through the creation and the dissemination of such materials TBS was able to “establish a foundation and platform for late 20th-century black criticism and scholarship." In his letter, Chrisman made reference to the transitioning direction and goals of the journal in the light of changes in the field of Black Studies and the intellectual interests of scholars and activists within it.
He ended his letter thanking those who provided support throughout his tenure, including his executive assistant Jacki Frommé, typographer Rick Giezentaner, Pat Scott, and Conyus Calhoun. Since retiring, Chrisman completed his third volume of poems, The Dirty Wars, published in summer 2012 by Black Scholar Press, and continued to work on another volume of poetry entitled Minotaur and to work with Robert L. Allen on The Black Scholar archive at UC Berkeley. Chrisman died after a long illness on March 10, 2013.
Black Scholar Press
Black Scholar Press was based in San Francisco, California. It began publishing books beginning in the 1970s, mostly regarding social science or poetry. Notable titles include:
- Sonia Sanchez, I've Been A Woman: New and Selected Poems. Black Scholar Press, 1978
- Andrew Salkey, Land. Black Scholar Press, 1979
- Robert Chrisman, Children of Empire. Black Scholar Press, 1981
- Robert Staples, Black Masculinity: The Black Male's Role in American Society. Black Scholar Press, 1982
- Kenneth A. McClane, A Tree Beyond Telling. Black Scholar Press, 1983
- Nancy Morejon, trans. Kathleen Weaver, Where the Island Sleeps Like a Wing: Selected Poetry. Black Scholar Press, 1985
- D. L. Crockett-Smith, Cowboy Amok: Poems. Black Scholar Press, 1987
- William McClendon (ed. Robert Chrisman), Straight Ahead: Essays on the Struggle of Blacks in America, 1934-1994. Black Scholar Press, 1995
- Robert Chrisman, The Dirty Wars. New Poems. Black Scholar Press, 2012
The editors of The Black Scholar have published anthologies of notable articles from the journal, including:
- Robert Chrisman and Nathan Hare (eds), Pan-Africanism, 1972
- Robert Chrisman and Nathan Hare (eds), Contemporary Black Thought: The Best of The Black Scholar, Bobbs-Merrill, 1974
- Court of Appeal: The Black Community Speaks Out on the Racial and Sexual Politics of Thomas vs. Hill (edited by The Black Scholar), Ballantine Books, 1992
- Charles P. Henry, Robert L. Allen and Robert Chrisman (eds), The Obama Phenomenon: Toward a Multiracial Democracy, University of Illinois Press, 2011.
The Black Scholar archive was endowed to the African American Writers Collection at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, which is “one of the largest and most heavily used libraries of manuscripts, rare books, and unique materials in the United States,” as a means of furthering education on African-American history and social issues for future generations.
“Launched in 1978, The Bancroft Library’s African American Writers Collection contains thousands of books, manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, and other rare works by African American authors,” ranging in date from the 1790s to contemporary society. Along with TBS’s extensive archive, the African American Writers Collection also houses the NAACP Archival Project and the Records of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
- Chrisman, Robert. The Black Scholar 41.4 (Winter 2011): 2-4. Print.
- "Robert Chrisman Obituary", H-Net (Humanities & Social Sciences Online).
- Hunter, Charlayne. “Ideology Dispute Shakes Black Journal”, The New York Times, March 11, 1975. Web Archive.
- Hunter, Charlayne. “Ideology Dispute Shakes Black Journal.” The New York Times, March 11, 1975. Web Archive.
- Byrd, Rudolph P., and Beverly Guy-Sheftall. Traps: African American Men on Gender and Sexuality. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001. 14. Print.
- McGill, Lisa D. Constructing Black Selves: Caribbean American Narratives and the Second Generation. New York University Press, 2005, pp. 119-120. Print.
- Sheri Elaine Metzger and Ralph Zerbonia, "Robert L. Allen", Gale Contemporary Black Biography, at Answers.com.
- Charles P. Henry, Robert L. Allen and Robert Chrisman (eds), The Obama Phenomenon: Toward a Multiracial Democracy, University of Illinois Press, 2011.
- Brock, Lisa. "Reflections on Cuba: History, Memory, Race, and Solidarity," Souls 1.2 (1999): 64-68. Print.
- Chrisman, Laura, et al. "The Black Scholar Press Release." April 2012. Print.
- Biondi, Martha. The Black Revolution on Campus. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012. 75. Print.
- Watkins, Mel. "The Last Word: The Black Scholar." New York Times, May 30, 1971. Web Archive.
- "Robert Chrisman" at KeyWiki.
- Chrisman, Robert. "An Open Letter from Robert Chrisman." The Black Scholar 42.1 (Spring 2012).
- Jean Damu, "Robert Chrisman and The Black Scholar", San Francisco BayView, March 21, 2013.
- The Bancroft Library.
- "African Americans in California", The Bancroft Library.