My research focuses on African American institutions and community building projects to mitigate, alleviate, and/or circumvent Jim Crow oppression in the South. My work is primarily guided by these questions: What did African Americans do to (re)claim and (re)define identity, gender, and community; how did African American men navigate intersectionality—race, class, gender, heterosexuality; how do African American women and men cooperate in these institutions and how do interracial gender politics play out; how did intersectionality impact community building projects; how are African American institutions interconnected; and how did African American institutions resist Southern oppression while creating independent spaces of resistance, renewal, and identity?
Specifically, my research examines southern African American men (and African American women will be added more fully in the manuscript) in fraternal organizations as they attempted to balance internalized oppression and resistance through competing identities of being southern, men, Black, middle class, Christian, and fraternalists. My work argues African American fraternal organizations were a linchpin in community building projects utilizing the web of networks and initiatic identity to counter Southern Whites’ oppression, compete against other forms of Black masculinity deemed unwanted, as well as create independent community projects that met the need of its members and the community.
My dissertation argues that African American men, especially through fraternal orders, were instrumental in community building projects. I have theorized the African American community worked under several interlocking matrices that I call the web of networks. These networks function in concert with one another adopting and adapting resources, ideas, and activism. This broadens the study of African American community life. The first chapter details the physical, legal, and judicial assault African American fraternal groups were confronted with in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and how African Americans resisted using a masculine/gender and fraternal framework. The second chapter outlines fraternal Southern Whites’ attempts to denigrate and delegitimize African American fraternal orders after they were unsuccessful using other means.
African American fraternalists responded using their web of networks—churches, fraternal orders, business leaders, and activist groups—producing a community agenda to refute these claims highlighting race, gender, sexuality, class norms and other positive accomplishments the community had produced. The third chapter details the shortcomings of this strategy and how it produced intra-racial social status and a one size fits all class norms. African American fraternal orders policed the race, class, and gender of the African American community especially members and potential new members. They used the public sphere to set the agenda for the rest of the community.
The fourth chapter presents how instrumental African American fraternalism was in creating community businesses such as insurance agencies, banks, newspapers, and multipurpose temples used as professional office space. The fifth and final chapter elucidates the community building agenda of African American fraternalists. Examples of community building include the creation of widows and orphans’ homes, delinquent homes, and hospitals. African American fraternalists also served as public health agents, built educational institutions, and financially supported education and mental institutions in partnership with African American women in the Order of Eastern Star.
My publication plans for my dissertation includes a manuscript, a documentary film, and a grant funded digital humanities project. I am adding new chapters— Prince Hall Affiliated Freemasonry and war (War of 1898, World War I, and World War II), women (especially the Order of Eastern Star), Civil Rights agenda, transnationalism/African Diaspora (Caribbean, Haiti, and Liberia), more southern states (Louisiana, South Carolina, Florida, and Virginia) and previously unexplored community building projects.
A chapter in an edited volume book on Womanism is forthcoming on the Order of Eastern Star. A feature length documentary examining African American fraternalism in the South will be produced as a companion to the manuscript and will seek NEH grant funding to produce it.. Lastly, I will seek grant funding to create a digital humanities project seeking to house African American fraternal orders artifacts and be a resource for scholars. African American fraternalism is multifaceted and layered with gender, class, leadership, activism, civil rights, entrepreneurship, and spatiality. A research agenda predicated on African American fraternalism is ripe with years of research, and I plan on continuing this topic vigorously throughout my life.
My next project is an examination of Hip Hop culture of the 1980s and 1990s in the South, exploring topics of race, class, gender, place, and age. Southern Hip Hop was distinctive from the East and West Coast, and I argue incorporated its Southern and African Diasporic roots. For example, Southern rappers told stories from beginning to end similar to griots. One of the functions of a griot was to tell the story of monarchs and how they came to power using song and rhymes. Some of the South’s biggest hits were stories of coming into ghetto royalty such as Eightball & MJG’s “Mr. Big” and Scarface’s “Money and The Power.” This era could easily be dubbed the New Jack Era and one of the epicenters of the Hip Hop movement. But the New Jack era was seen as being localized to the East and West Coasts and depicted in such films as New Jack City and Boyz N the Hood. However, there was no national depiction of the way the South created its New Jack except through the music. In that music is a unique form of Black masculinity and gender, construction of race and identity, and youth. The historical creation of the “Dirty South’s” Hip Hop culture is my next project.
My ambitions include producing digital humanities projects—documentary films, documentary photography, oral histories and folklore audio projects, and augmented reality. The MFA in Documentary Expressions is adding to my storytelling using a variety of mediums—film, photography, and audio. My thesis project is examines the Black Southern aesthetic and Black Lives Matter. My current digital humanities project is seeking grant funding from NEH where my team is examining Negro Streets—Beale Street in Memphis, Auburn Ave. in Atlanta, and Parrish Street in Durham.
The Black Southerner is an audio podcast being launched in January 2020 in search of the Black South—music, food, history, people, places, and all things southern. The first series focuses on hoodoo and when COVID 19 is under control will be a documentary film series. I will teach and offer these documentary expressions storytelling in my classes to equip students with an arsenal of storytelling mediums.
As an advocate of social action and inclusion, I served on a panel discussing workplace diversity at AidAtlanta, an HIV nonprofit in Atlanta. In addition, I worked with Boys Incorporated in Memphis in a daylong symposium on African American boys and success in the local community. The event was called “Bringing Your A Game” and I talked with social workers and other service providers on how to serve African American boys. In that same vein, I spoke to teachers as part of their in-service workshop on dealing with disadvantaged African American youth in the Shelby County school system. At VCU, I participated in the community lecture series discussing African American gendered media representation in the “post-racial” era. Lastly, I participated in three Martin Luther King Jr Day talks—two I organized in Memphis with the first one tackling if Obama was the fulfillment of the “Dream” and the other was a viewing the documentary 13th followed by a discussion. Finally, I was an invited guest to discuss Black Masculinities in the 21stcentury for the Elegba Society. I am committed to service to the university and the community.