Scholar relates ideas on black power, civil rights

On Wednesday, Sept. 26, Hasan Kwame Jeffries, assistant professor at Ohio State University, visited Geneseo to meet with small groups of students and to deliver a speech, "Making Sense of the Madness: Decoding the Many Responses to Black Power."

Geneseo associate professor of history Emilye Crosby accompanied Jeffries throughout his time at Geneseo, which she described as a "marathon" beginning at 8 a.m. and lasting well into the afternoon.

Prior to his speech, Jeffries met with 26 students in Milne Library to discuss his career path, focusing primarily on the eight years he spent at Duke University while earning a Ph.D. in history. Jeffries, who grew up in Brooklyn and attended the Bronx High School of Science, spoke on how he spent two years researching his dissertation topic and then two additional years writing the 350-page work. His study focused on civil rights in Lowndes County, Alabama.

Jeffries emphasized many times throughout the hour-long chat that while studying law and medicine may be financially lucrative, his becoming a member of academia was a trade-off of "money for time." He brought plenty of humor to the conversation, noting that he can easily carry his work with him to his family as well as Miami Beach, as he only teaches in a classroom setting ten weeks of the year.

Jeffries stated that he got involved with history, specifically black history, after he became curious in high school history classes. He recalled thinking, "There's gotta be more than King and Rosa Parks and Crispus Attucks." He also expressed a desire to "research what is socially relevant" and described how he has recently been working to help government officials as well as locals of New Orleans rebuild the city in a "just and equitable way."

At 3 p.m., Crosby introduced Jeffries in Newton 214 where he delivered his speech. The lecture hall was standing-room only. Jeffries began the speech with a discussion of civil rights figure James Meredith's one-man "March Against Fear" in 1966 and black activist Stokely Carmichael's first use of the term "black power" when he, upon being released from his 27th arrest, proclaimed, "I ain't going to jail no more, from now on we want black power."

Jeffries went on to discuss the discrepancy between the actual goal of Carmichael and that of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which was to encourage black self-determination, in contrast to the reaction of many whites and black conservatives to the idea of "black power": fear of reverse racial violence.

Jeffries last visited Geneseo three years ago. His visit was jointly sponsored by the Africana/Black Studies Program, the Access Opportunity Program, the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services and the history department.