It’s not uncommon for political scientists or sociology teachers to present the writings of James Baldwin, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X in the context of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, especially during Black History Month.
But Duquesne University Professor Dr. Kathy Glass is doing something a little different—she’s an English professor and she is teaching a course on all three as writers. And in this case, the fact that it is offered during Black History Month is coincidental.
“It was not offered to coincide with Black History Month, but the course does emphasize a theme that Black History Month highlights—Blacks’ rich intellectual and cultural contributions to America,” said Dr. Glass in an exclusive interview with the New Pittsburgh Courier, Feb. 20.
“We cover approximately nine texts in the course, but they help illuminate a broader tradition of African American literature, activism, and culture.”
For example, in addition to essays, students are studying dramatic literature, autobiographies, and the “oral texts,” of jazz, spirituals and gospel music.
“Since allusions to these oral texts often appear in the literature, students have an opportunity to learn about the social value of written and oral traditions, as well as the cultural contexts that shape them,” she said.
Dr. Glass said though all three came from wildly distinct backgrounds, lived very different lives and had distinct voices, all showed an unwavering commitment to advancing the cause of social justice. As such, for today’s Black youth, they are still valuable teachers.
“All three figures offer useful methods for today’s activists,” she said. “Malcolm X’s incisive critique of racial injustice, James Baldwin’s rigorous analysis of structural inequality, and Dr. King’s faith-based, love-driven strategies provide models for young activists who continue the struggle for sociopolitical equality.”
Dr. Glass said the course has been quite popular. This term marks the third time she has taught the course, and it is nearly full. She said she plans to offer it again soon.
The course seeks to foster a deeper appreciation of African American literary, cultural, and political traditions whose roots extend to the eighteenth century, she said. “In addition, as students read and write about these authors, I want them to hone their critical thinking and writing skills.”
And part of that critical thinking is applying the writers’ experiences, analyses and conclusions to today’s issues.
“While progress has been made, young African Americans still face disparities in the criminal justice system, education, and employment,” said Dr. Glass. “I think recent protests show that today’s youth are politically engaged and committed to challenging these inequalities.”
Dr. Glass is an associate professor of English, specializing in nineteenth-century African American literature. She received her bachelor’s degree in English from UCLA, and her MA and PhD in literature from the University of California at San Diego. She has published on the topics of race, gender, spirituality, and nation.
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