Black Patience: Performance, Civil Rights, and the Unfinished Project of Emancipation

On Monday, April 8, Julius B. Fleming Jr. will introduce the role of Black theater in the Black Freedom Struggle and the concept of “Black patience.” In conversation with educator Jessica Rucker, he will discuss his book Black Patience: Performance, Civil Rights, and the Unfinished Project of Emancipation.

  • Black theater as a space in which Black people rehearsed and staged Black freedom and liberation,
  • The role of Black theater and Black theater workers in the successes of the Civil Rights Movement and how they helped engage a base of Black people who might not have otherwise embodied Black freedom through activism and organizing,
  • The term “Black patience” to name the ways time is weaponized against Black people by forcing them to repeatedly perform waiting as a criteria for their freedom,
  • How Black patience “maps a racial history of time” — a concept that teachers can use to introduce the importance of and demand “freedom now.”

Here is a description of the book from the publisher,

“Freedom, Now!” This rallying cry became the most iconic phrase of the Civil Rights Movement, challenging the persistent command that Black people wait—in the holds of slave ships and on auction blocks, in segregated bus stops and schoolyards—for their long-deferred liberation.

In Black Patience, Julius B. Fleming Jr. argues that, during the Civil Rights Movement, Black artists and activists used theater to energize this radical refusal to wait. Participating in a vibrant culture of embodied political performance that ranged from marches and sit-ins to jail-ins and speeches, these artists turned to theater to unsettle a violent racial project that Fleming refers to as “Black patience.” Inviting the likes of James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, Alice Childress, Douglas Turner Ward, Duke Ellington, and Oscar Brown Jr. to the stage, Black Patience illuminates how Black artists and activists of the Civil Rights era used theater to expose, critique, and repurpose structures of white supremacy. In this bold rethinking of the Civil Rights Movement, Fleming contends that Black theatrical performance was a vital technology of civil rights activism, and a crucial site of Black artistic and cultural production.

Julius B. Fleming Jr. is associate professor of English at the University of Maryland. Specializing in Afro-Diasporic literatures and cultures, he has particular interests in performance studies, black political culture, diaspora, and colonialism, especially where they intersect with race, gender, and sexuality. He has been awarded fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the University of Virginia’s Carter G. Woodson Institute, the Social Science Research Council, and the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory University.

These online classes with people’s historians are held at least once a month (generally on Mondays) at 4:00 pm PT / 7:00 pm ET for 90 minutes. In each session, the historian is interviewed by a teacher and breakout rooms allow participants to meet each other in small groups, discuss the content, and share teaching ideas. We designed the sessions for teachers and other school staff. Parents, students, and others are also welcome to participate.

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