At AMP’s November meeting, speaker Dr. Trudier Harris, university distinguished research professor, English, at the University of Alabama, presented a compelling and detailed talk on black lives in the United States. Harris has taught and lectured on African-American literature and folklore in the United States and around the world. Formerly the J. Carlyle Sitterson distinguished professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she has written and edited 26 books. Her memoir, “Summer Snow: Reflections from a Black Daughter of the South,” was published in 2003.
Harris’ topic title was “Do Black Lives Matter? Absolutely… NOT.” She talked about the African-American experience in the Americas from enslavement through sharecropping, convict leasing and the civil rights movement. She asked listeners to consider the difference between rhetoric and history. “History is African lives taken indiscriminately. Rhetoric is that black lives matter,” she said. “There are very few places where you can see black lives matter.”
Using literature and history, Harris drew a detailed picture of the reality of black lives. She read from a poem about the Middle Passage, discussed a short story about a young sharecropper’s daughter, and analyzed the “wake-up call” of the Atlanta child murders using the novel “Leaving Atlanta” by Tayari Jones. Harris recommended the novel “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi, a family saga of seven generations.
Harris also talked about more recent events, such as the killings of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. “The horror of black life in America has been captured in many ways,” she said, “and the search for value in black lives is elusive.”
For more information about Harris and her work, see her faculty page at https://english.ua.edu/people/trudier-harris/.