The Black 1980s: Promises of Inclusion, Perils of Access

Leah Wright Rigueur, 2017–2018 Radcliffe Institute Fellow
George Derek Musgrove
, University of Maryland Baltimore 

Throughout the 1980s and well into the 1990s, Black political leaders and activists stood at the forefront of the fight against the economic restructuring of the United States and the new conservative turn in American politics. Key political movements and moments, including, but by no means limited to, Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns, the Free South Africa Movement, the Black Family Reunion, and the Million Man March, highlight the dramatic role that Black political communities played during this era. Conversely, we are aware that African Americans were influenced by the conservative ascendance, and their politics sometimes changed to conform with the tenor of the times. The larger celebration of capitalism and the push for “personal responsibility” buoyed the voices of a diverse roster of Black conservatives like the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan and the economist Thomas Sowell.  

This colloquium proposes a multidisciplinary exploration of Black politics in the post-civil rights period through an in-depth exploration of this critical decade and one half. More specifically, this seminar seeks to map out and complicate the foundational movements and moments of the era, with a focus on the growth, nuance, and transformation of Black electoral mobilization; Black nationalism, African American interest in and influence on US foreign policy in Africa, the Caribbean and South America; Black communities’ complex intersections and rejections of the heightened conservatism of the Democratic and Republican parties; and the rebirth of Black socio-economic and political movement activism in the 1980s and early 1990s.