Black Movements for Freedom: History, Theory, and Transformative Justice

Winter 2021
Freshman - Senior
Class Size: 50
12 16 Credits per quarter
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Taught by

​         “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” -- Fannie Lou Hamer  

This program will analyze past and contemporary Black-led movements for freedom, justice, equity, autonomy, and self-determination. We will both critique myriad forms of structural oppression and study the ways people have sought to dismantle them. As legendary historian Robin D. G. Kelley articulated: “Freedom is the operative word because the movements and activists we consider emerge out of, or struggle against, the conditions of incarceration...which is not limited to the formal jail or prison.” We will study abolition movements against chattel slavery in the nineteenth century, legal segregation in the twentieth century, and the carceral state today. Specific movements will include organizing for agricultural and industrial labor, Civil Rights, Black Power, anti-colonial Third World liberation, Pan-Africanism, prisoners’ rights, and environmental justice. In so doing, we will examine how Black people have challenged conditions of oppression and formed movements to overturn the various “prisons” that dominate and subjugate target populations. Further, we will explore intersecting analyses of oppression by considering the position of Black women under white supremacy and patriarchy and unique oppressions experienced by Black LGBTQ groups.  

We will utilize sociological scholarship on the studies of social movements to help frame our learning, through theoretical concepts and analyses of movement case studies. In addition to exploring Black social and cultural history, we will also interrogate the practices of history by questioning whose stories get told in mainstream narratives. Furthermore, the program will explore the links between activism and the academic work of radical theory, including postcolonialism and intersectionality. Transformative Justice will provide deeper framing for our studies, by offering visions and practices that aim to heal the root causes of oppression and violence—hence balancing our critical studies with generative explorations of what an alternative world looks like.

The program will be reading and writing intensive, focusing on strengthening students’ academic skills in the humanities and social sciences. We will read the works of scholars and authors such as: W.E.B. DuBois, Robin D. G. Kelley, Barbara Ransby, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Octavia Butler, Hazel Carby, and others. Learning modalities will consist of asynchronous (through Canvas) and synchronous (through Zoom) activities including discussion boards, workshops, seminars, music analysis, films, and collaborations with other programs.

The program will seek to move us beyond traditional binaries (e.g. activism vs. academia; accommodation vs. resistance; integration vs. separatism; North vs. South; reform vs. abolition; survival vs. revolution); challenge myths about social movements; center local leaders who rose from the grassroots; and reveal broad and fluid visions of emancipation. For Black movements, at their best, shed light on the unsustainability of society as a whole while offering a blueprint of a future that works for all.

To successfully complete this online program, students will need: a computer or laptop with speakers, a microphone, a camera (preferably) as well as internet access. Grants or other resources may be available to support students with technology needs, so students with tech needs should contact faculty for additional information. The program will meet for 6 synchronous (through Zoom) hours a week. Our approach will emphasize participation in synchronous (live) sessions; however, if students find themselves unable to participate due to technology, caregiving obligations, economic disruption, health risk, or illness, they can work with faculty to pursue alternate options to earn related credit.

This program is offered at 12 and 16 credits; both groups of students will participate in the same synchronous and asynchronous learning activities. 16 credit students will have the opportunity to complete either a 4-credit research project or a 4 credit in-program internship with a community partner.


Winter 2021 Registration

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16): 20231
Fr (16): 20234
So - Sr (12): 20235
Fr (12): 20238

Academic details

Preparatory For

Social work, education, law, policy, advocacy, community organizing

Maximum Enrollment
Class Standing
Research Opportunities

Those enrolling for 16 credits will have the option of completing a 4-credit original historical research project.

Internship Opportunities

Students enrolling for 16 credits will have the option of completing a 4-credit internship or volunteer project with a community-based organization (which could be completed in-person following COVID safety protocols or fully online). 


Time Offered
Schedule Evergreen link
see Schedule Evergreen for detailed schedule

First Meeting