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ANNOUNCING Call for Papers and Panels: “Unleashing the Black Erotic:Gender and Sexuality-Passion, Power and Praxis”

Avery Research Center is inviting proposals from across disciplines for its Fall 2013 Conference and Symposium: “Unleashing the Black Erotic: Gender and Sexuality-Passion, Power and Praxis”. This conference and symposium seeks to articulate the wide, varied, and expansive nature of gender and sexuality, and the performance of both. It also aims to teach us how to understand, embrace, and harness the power, beauty, and essence of the erotic as a key to our positive evolution as people.

We invite proposals from across disciplines. We are most interested in proposals that address aspects of the following topics:

  • Black bodies in popular culture
  • Black sexuality in television, film, and literature
  • Queering the Black body in art and performance studies
  • Iconic Black Queer motifs
  • Sex and Sexuality and Black Faith
  • Naughty, but nice: Black women and the politics of respectability
  • Black Erotica, Romance Novels, Comic Books
  • The Black Body and Public Health
  • Hip Hop and the Hypersexuality of Black Women
  • Alternative Modes of Black Love and Family
  • The Politics and Economics of Porn

The deadline for proposals is May 10, 2013; complete papers due by August 1, 2013. Please
send all paper and panel proposals to with your name, institution, title,
email address, presentation title and format, along with a 150 word abstract, brief bio, and
recent cv. Please put “Unleashing the Erotic” in your subject line. Presentations will be
limited to twenty minutes.

For additional information, please contact Dr. Patricia Williams Lessane, Executive
Director, Avery Research Center, at and Dr. Conseula Francis,
Associate Professor, English Department and Program Director, African American Studies
Program (AAST) at

Information regarding registration, lodging, and symposium schedule will be available on
the Avery Research Center’s website beginning in May 2013.

Ongoing Exhibit: The Phillis Wheatley Literary and Social Club: Fostering Civic Engagement, Intellectual Exchange and Female Solidarity


Members of the Phillis Wheatley Literary and Social Club (circa 1949)

In celebration of Women’s History Month, members of the Avery Research Center staff have organized an exhibit titled, The Phillis Wheatley Literary and Social Club: Fostering Civic Engagement, Intellectual Exchange and Female Solidarity. Located on the first floor, adjacent to the SMART classroom, the exhibit highlights the Phillis Wheatley Club’s commitment to female empowerment and social activism in the Charleston community by drawing its content from Avery’s archival holdings on the club, which includes: manuscripts, correspondence, printed material and ephemera.

The Phillis Wheatley Literary and Social Club was one of the earliest black women’s clubs in Charleston and was founded on December 5th, 1916 by Jeanette Keeble Cox. Mrs. Cox was the wife of Benjamin F. Cox, the first African American principal of the Avery Normal Institute. The mission of the club was “to promote interest in literary and community work and to lift others as they climb to higher heights.”The club’s meetings were held bi-monthly at the members’ homes and monthly dues were ten cents. Members of the club were lovers of literature and stated among their goals the promotion of self-expansion by establishing a forum for discussion of literary works, and contributing to the welfare of the Charleston community. At the time the club was founded, it was natural for it to be named after Phillis Wheatley—a former slave woman who, in the 18th century, became the first person of African descent to publish a book of poetry in English.

The Phillis Wheatley clubwomen sponsored events that brought international and nationally known blacks to the local Charleston community. Some of the club’s most famous guests were W.E.B. DuBois, Marian Anderson, Mary McCleod Bethune, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Charleston natives, Edwin Harleston and Edmund Jenkins. Additionally, throughout its nearly one hundred year history, the club has raised funds and donated its services to support organizations such as Jenkins Institute for Children, the NAACP, the YMCA, the YWCA– as well as local Charleston schools, writers and artists. Thus “while quietly expanding their opportunities in the public sphere and promoting higher education for women, ”the club performed numerous social services for Charleston’s black community— in addition to “providing social contact for individual black women in the city.”3

This exhibit is free and open to the public.


1. Wall text, The Phillis Wheatley Literary and Social Club, Avery Research Center, Charleston, S.C.

2. Johnson, Joan Marie. 2004. Southern ladies, new women: Race, region, and clubwomen in South Carolina, 1890-1930. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

3. Jones, Cherisse Renee. 1997. “Loyal women of Palmetto”: Black women’s clubs in Charleston, South Carolina: 1916-1965. Thesis (M.S.)–University of Charleston (South Carolina) and The Citadel, 1997.

Dr. Robert Chase’s Conference Updates

As a part of our efforts to educate the public about the scholarship that is being done here at the Avery Research Center here is a post written by the Public Historian, Dr. Robert Chase, about his upcoming conference.

In the Fall, Dr. Chase presented his research on the history of the prisoners’ rights movement and the construction of the carceral state to three conferences:  Rutgers University’s conference on “From Post Modern to Post Blackness”; University of Colorado, Boulder’s “Sunbelt Prisons and the Carceral State: New Frontiers of State Power, Resistance, and Racial Oppression” symposium; and at the Western History Association’s annual meeting.

Sunbelt Prisons and the Carceral State: New Frontiers of Racial Oppression, State Power, and Resistance

Conference Website

At the invitation of the Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Dr. Chase is presently coordinating a symposium and co-editing an anthology titled, Sunbelt Prisons and the Carceral State: New Frontiers of Racial Oppression, State Power, and Resistance.  This anthology and interdisciplinary symposium brings together scholars of the state and state formation, borderlands, Chicano/a history, the Black Power movement, politics and social movements.  It is co-sponsored by the Clements Center for Southwest Studies of Southern Methodist University and by the Center of the American West of the University of Colorado, Boulder.  The Clements Center has co-sponsored ten such symposiums, each of which has resulted in a published groundbreaking anthology based on a specific theme or field of pioneering historical studies.

Michelle Alexander

Michelle Alexander (image from

Declaring that today’s racially disproportionate rates of incarceration represent “a New Jim Crow,” legal scholar Michelle Alexander has advanced the argument that “We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” Historians should have something important to say about whether our age is indeed a “New Jim Crow,” and the history of region, geography, and space plays a crucial role in this reconsideration. Dr. Chase takes up Professor Alexander’s charge by considering the historic role of the American Southwest and Borderlands in shaping today’s contemporary era of mass incarceration and the construction of what many historians now call the “carceral state.”

Building on the innovative fall 2011 symposium held at the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Center of the American West, the spring 2012 symposium (March 22-24) offers a different platform than the academic seminars of years past. This year’s seminar features a public history event and public policy symposium where some of the nation’s leading scholars, politicians, civil rights attorneys, formerly incarcerated activists, journalists, and community organizers in Dallas will collectively discuss the historical roots of mass incarceration and problems, possibilities, and potential solutions. The day-long event includes a series of four roundtable panels that will include dialogue with the audience. The final panel of the day will create a space for academics, students, and faculty to exchange ideas and experiences with those who have experienced incarceration as well those who have challenged the problem of mass incarceration through the legislature, the courts, and grass-roots activism. The day’s final panel will include Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (invited); Ernest McMillan – civil rights veteran and formerly incarcerated activist; Ray Hill – formerly incarcerated activist and host of “The Prison Radio Program;” Bill Habern – long-time civil rights and criminal defense attorney; and Lisa Graybill – legal director of ACLU, Texas.

Below is a recap of a conference that Dr. Chase attended in October 2011.

Narratives of Power-Center for Historical Analysis, Rutgers  University

From Black Modern to Post Blackness: A Retrospective Look at Identity.”

Conference Schedule

Conference Program

This conference addressed the changing narratives of power in a time of historical transformation. Inspired by the election of Barack Obama, media pundits, scholars, and the public more broadly are asking how this momentous shift in the United States’ polity has changed the way that we understand the American past and present. Given the history of New World slavery, segregation, and disfranchisement, the election of the country’s first black president has led many to reflect on the operation and exercise of power in the United States. Although his election has been widely celebrated by supporters, Barack Obama’s campaign highlighted many of the growing fault lines and demographic shifts within the American public. Shifting parameters of identity created both the opportunity for new coalition and division. One of the most striking elements of the election was the remapping of the U.S. electorate based on multiple vectors of identity and voting behavior. The mass media focused an unprecedented level of attention on region, gender, intergenerational change, immigration status and linguistic designation as analysts stressed the increasing power of new political constituencies.

Using both President Obama’s campaign and election as starting point, we plan to use this topical theme as an opportunity to create an expansive, interdisciplinary dialogue about the intersection, overlap, and conflict across different channels of power and identity, including race, gender, sexuality and class. We have chosen to include narrative because as decades of scholarship questioning the interrelation of author and subject have shown, an interrogation of how the story is told, by whom, and to what end is essential to the process of understanding power.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Charleston Branch Collection

For the past couple of weeks, I have been inventorying the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Charleston Branch Collection. The local branch was started in 1916 by individuals who believed in being an advocate for the African-American voice in both Charleston and South Carolina. The collection has been asked about by several researchers, which provided the opportunity to prioritize the inventorying and eventual full processing of this collection

The bulk of the collection I have inventoried so far ranges from 1988 to 1994; and while we were hoping for some earlier materials from the Association, the years we have provide insight into the social conditions for African Americans in Charleston and South Carolina.


The types of letters found in the collection include thank-you letters, cards, calls for boycotts of stores, media outlets, and petitions. In addition, there are memorandums from the NAACP National Branch about what issues are important to the branch, such as the Benjamin Hooks controversy and Clarence Thomas’s appointment to the Supreme Court.

Some of the most interesting letters and correspondence to read in the collection are from people who write to the branch asking for assistance. In the letters, it is possible to read the desperation, hope, anger, frustration, and a range of other emotions people have about their situation. Issues include discrimination in the workplace, wrongful termination, police brutality, wrongful imprisonment, custody issues, gender discrimination, etc. There are a few full court cases in the collection, while others are comprised of letters asking for assistance. Institutions and business that were accused of discrimination by the complainants range from institutions of higher education (ex. the Citadel) to grocery stores (ex. Piggly Wiggly) to the public school system to department stores. The amount of letters that the association received asking for this kind of assistance is disappointing, disturbing, and overwhelming. By reading these letters, one becomes more aware of how much injustice is in the American justice system, and I wonder what happened to these individuals.  I have not found a form that notes how the branch decided which cases to investigate; however, I imagine the branch wanted to help as many people as possible, but had to be selective because of limited resources. According, to a 1991 Freedom Fund Drive press release:

“The Branch is the reliable and trusted voice airing their [African Americans] grievances, articulating their hopes and expressing their frustrations—whether it be to a local employer or to the Governor of South Carolina.”

Programs and Publications

The collection contains some copies of the NAACP’s Crisis Magazine (circa 1980s) as well as the local branch newsletter sent to the members of the organization. There are records detailing special programs and events undertaken by the association such as their Annual Freedom Fund programs, the ACT-SO Golf Classic, the 1992 Gospel Concert, and the NAACP Annual Conventions (regional and national).


As one would imagine, the social issues of politics, education, and voting comprises a lot of the collection. Records of note are those that detail statistics about the number of African-American teachers in the Charleston County School System; the number of Black politicians in South Carolina; the importance of voting for Black politicians; the need for minority businesses in South Carolina and particularly Charleston; media biases; and efforts relating to the struggle to take down the Confederate flag from the state house dome.

Other Records

Other important records include the rules, constitution, branch manual of the NAACP; the meeting minutes and the agendas for the branch executive board, general body, and various committees; membership lists, officer positions, and membership drive information; local and national newspaper clippings; and records relating the NAACP’s role in helping the community rebuild after Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston in 1989.

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