Presented by Before Columbus Foundation

Hearing Room 4: 1:45—3:00pm

Is the production of art and culture ever a threat to national security? For the leadership of the FBI, the answer over much of the last century has been a resounding “yes!” As a result, the US government has waged a devastating 100-year war against free thought and expression, particularly among African-Americans. The use of surveillance to gain and maintain power, as salient an issue as ever in contemporary America, will be discussed by some of the leading scholars in this field.

WILLIAM J. MAXWELL teaches courses in twentieth-century American and African American literatures at Washington University. His scholarly research addresses the ties among African American writing, political history, and transatlantic culture. Maxwell’s third book, F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover's Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature, draws on nearly 14,000 pages of newly released FBI files to expose the Bureau’s intimate policing practices of African American literature over five decades, starting in 1919. While the official aim behind the Bureau’s reading project was to anticipate political unrest, FBI surveillance ironically came to influence the creation and public reception of African American literature over the course of the twentieth century.      

SETH ROSENFELD is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco and author of the best-selling books Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to PowerSubversives traces the FBI's secret involvement with three iconic figures at Berkeley during the 1960s: the ambitious neophyte politician Ronald Reagan, the fierce but fragile radical Mario Savio, and the liberal University of California president Clark Kerr.

FRANK B. WILDERSON III is a writer, poet, and critical theorist. He has been a dramaturge for Lincoln Center Theater and the Market Theater (Johannesburg). He is the recipient of The National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, The Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship for Experienced Researchers, and The American Book Award. His books include Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid, and Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms. He is a professor at UC Irvine in the Departments of African American Studies and Drama and the Culture and Theory Program.

JUSTIN DESMANGLES (moderator) is Chairman of the board of directors of the Before Columbus Foundation. He is the creator of the critically acclaimed radio program, New Day Jazz, now in its 15th year. His poetry and journalism have appeared in AmerarcanaBlack Renaissance Noire (NYU), Drumvoices Revue (SIUE), and Konch. His most recent publications are Passion Provocation & Prophecy, with Jack Hirschman, and Black Hollywood Unchained, edited by Ishmael Reed.