Black Geographies

Schedule and Program“Black matters are spatial matters” (Katherine McKittrick, 2006). Practices of Black life, resistance, and survival are inseparable from the production of space. Decades of work within and beyond the discipline have centered Black Geographies frameworks in re/considering humanness, cities, regional blocs, social movements, faith, identities, and structural inequalities. Black-oriented epistemologies operate in resistance to reductionary claims on Black spaces, places, theories, and methods.

Timely to the 2018 AAG Meeting in New Orleans, Development Drowned and Reborn: The Blues and Bourbon Restorations in Post-Katrina New Orleans (2017) by the late Clyde Woods reminds us of the long-standing, innovative work of Black life and resilience prominently weaved into the fabric of New Orleans and incorporates the movement for Black freedom in and beyond the region. In the spirit of Clyde Woods, contributions to the Black Geographies theme will address the meaningful role of Black communities and individuals as they advance  the production of geographic knowledge and space-making practices. Likewise, contributions will encourage the critical reflection on the issues, processes, intrinsic qualities, and interconnections that shape Black lives and geographies on local, national, continental, and international scales.

Theme Committee

LaToya Eaves (Co-Chair), Assistant Professor, Global Studies and Human Geography, Women's and Gender Studies, Middle Tennessee State University
Aretina Hamilton (Co-Chair), Doctoral Candidate, Department of Geography, University of Kentucky
Matthew Cook, Assistant Professor: Cultural Geography and Historic Preservation, Eastern Michigan University
Priscilla McCutcheon, Assistant Professor of Pan African Studies and Geography/Geosciences, University of Louisville
Willie Wright, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, Florida State University
Sharlene Mollett, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and Centre for Critical Development Studies, University of Toronto
Perry Carter, Associate Professor, Human Geography, Texas Tech University


The following sessions have been identified by the Theme Committee for special consideration. 


DJ Scholarship: A Methodology for Sonic Liberation Work
5:20 PM - 7:00 PM
Napoleon C3, Sheraton 3rd Floor

The Black Geographies Specialty Group is proud to host Lynnée Denise for our inaugural plenary session - "DJ Scholarship: A Methodology for Sonic Liberation Work."

DJ Lynnée Denise will discuss the elements of DJ Scholarship, a term she coined to explain DJ culture as a mix-mode research practice, both performative and subversive in its ability to shape and define social experiences, shifting the public perception of the role of a DJ from being purveyor of party music to an archivist and information specialist. The talk will include a screening of her latest film project Electric Ring Shout. The film offers elements of the DJ mix tape, provides sonic and visual contextualization of the rhythmic pulse, known as "The One,” and explores music migration and diasporic dialogue as embodied through dance and movement.

Lynnée Denise is an artist and scholar who was developed as a DJ by her parent’s record collection. Her work is inspired by underground cultural movements, the 1980s, migration studies, theories of escape, and electronic music of the African Diaspora. She’s the product of the Historically Black Fisk University with a MA from the historically radical San Francisco State University Ethnic Studies Department. DJ Lynnée Denise is a Visiting Artist at the California State University Los Angeles Pan African Studies Department.


Special Sessions

Forty Years Later: Harold Rose’s Geographies of Despair and Contentious Sites of Belonging
10:00 AM - 11:40 AM
Napoleon C3, Sheraton 3rd Floor

The issue of police brutality and state sanctioned violence has served as a dominant theme in the formation of American cities. Some of the earliest occurrences of police violence coincided with political gains for African Americans during the era of Reconstruction. As freed people cultivated black geographies, mob violence, aided by local police, ensured that their freedom was precarious (Alexander 2012). Two of the earliest cases occurred in Memphis, Tennessee and New Orleans, Louisiana, where was violence initiated by white mobs and aided by local police in response to anxiety surrounding black progression. Consequently, the rise of violence perpetuated towards black civilians became a reoccurring theme in American history. As Beckett and Murakawa (2012) have noted, there is an emergence of a shadow carceral state “that operates in more low-profile, pedestrian ways that increasingly punish marginalized groups, especially the economically disadvantaged, undocumented populations, and Black and Latino people.” 

Geographers have detailed how this specific form of violence is rooted within the landscape. During his 1978 presidential address entitled “Geographies of Despair,” former AAG President Harold Rose challenged geographers to produce research that illustrated the spatiality and complexity of African American landscapes. More recently, Rashad Shabazz’s (2015) study of the South Side Chicago demonstrated how African Americans, the city reproduced carcerality through its architecture, policing, surveillance and urban planning in African American communities. Ultimately, the place-based nature of state sanctioned violence and other exclusionary practices are fundamental in elucidating how and why “Geographies of Despair” continue to exist. 


50th Anniversary of the MLK Assassination: Revisiting the Memory and Continuing Urgency of the African American Freedom Struggle
3:20 PM - 5:00 PM
Borgne Room, Sheraton, 3rd Floor

April 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of noted civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Despite the transformative role that the American Civil Rights Movement played in the USA and globally and the acknowledgement of King as an important social theorist as well as activist, the geography community has until recently had little to say about his writings, his legacies, and the wider African American struggle for freedom and survivability. This session offers a corrective to this neglect and joins past and ongoing efforts to advance the analytical and political importance of civil rights within a discipline that claims a commitment to diversity, inclusion, and social justice. This session provides a space for reappraising how MLK’s legacy is remembered and forgotten within popular and academic thought while also de-centering King and the singular way that he dominates discussions of the civil rights movement and how his life and death have been used all too conveniently to mark the beginning and end of this movement. Invited contributors engage in a critical rewriting of the memory and continuing urgency of the African American freedom struggle. Some contributors enrich, complicate, and even challenge prevailing framings of King’s historical reputation that have effectively de-radicalized him. Others reflect on of the legacies of the MLK assassination and other racist violence, using the session as an opportunity to come to terms with and analyze the persistence, patterns, and consequences of violence against people of color. Importantly, contributors explore the diverse agendas, struggles, geographies, and voices of the black civil rights struggle often eclipsed by the public fixation with King (e.g., SNCC, Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ida B. Wells) and the political efficacy of commemorating, preserving, archiving, and actively engaging these historical figures and moments. The hope is that this session can lead to a broader and more critical reappraisal of Dr. King and the African American Freedom Movement but also lead to critical discussions of how a rewriting of memory can inform ongoing struggles against racism and future political mobilization led by lay and academic communities.


A Conversation on Black Spatial Imaginaries with George Lipsitz
5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Napoleon C3, Sheraton 3rd Floor 

A conversation with the Author of How Racism Takes Place and The Possessive Investment in Whiteness.


Changing Face of Harlem: Documentary Screening
10:00 AM - 11:40 AM
Napoleon B3, Sheraton 3rd Floor 

Background & History

Changing Face of Harlem is a one-hour documentary that examines the revitalization of Harlem told through the deeply personal stories of its residents, small business owners, politicians, developers, and clergy. Identified as the birthplace of the Black Renaissance, Changing Face of Harlem takes a critical look at Harlem’s history, early development, and its present transformation. The film began production in the year 2000 and was shot over a period of ten years.

The Issue

20 years ago, according to the press, Harlem was a crime-ridden ghetto full of hoodlums and drugs. For non-residents, it was unheard of to venture uptown. Tourist maps of New York City ended at 96th street. Though recognized internationally as “The Black Mecca,” the historic neighborhood was overlooked for decades. Longtime residents weathered the storm despite the lack of city services and building landlord abandonment. Bank practices of redlining in the 1980′s prevented many residents from purchasing turn of the century brownstones within their own blocks.

Recently however, Harlem has matured into a prosperous locale for commercial and corporate interests. As New York City exhausts its scarce amount of centrally located prime real estate, it has marketed Harlem as an ideal investment. With this influx of new investment has come a younger, more professional, and affluent class of residents. Harlem residents have a mixed range of opinions about the future of their community. Some are fearful of what lies ahead and look towards the past for the best of its years. Others foresee a brighter future and happier days for a better Harlem. The consensus in the community is a concern and necessity for cultural preservation. The film hopes to use Harlem as lens through which to view urban communities of color nationwide that face similar struggles. Changing Face of Harlem highlights how a community deals with the challenge of maintaining identity while accepting change.

The Story

Three central characters serve as a thread throughout the film providing personal insight into the changes. These characters illustrate the disparity in opinions on the future direction of their community. Frank, affectionately known as the “mayor of 114th street,” has lived on the same block since the 1940′s and has been the manager of a building on 114th street since 1999. His building is a part of the Tenant Interim Lease program (TILL) where the tenants work towards ownership of the building. Frank’s dream is for the building to become a co-op.

As a child Tekima never imagined she would one day have a business on 125th street, the heart of the Harlem community. As a florist located in Mart 125 she exceeded her expectations. Mart 125, located across from the Apollo Theater on 125th street, opened in 1986 as an incentive for local street vendors to move off the street, establish their own businesses and sell their products in an indoor micro-managed market. Tekima was one of the last fighting vendors at Mart 125 before it closed in November of 2001.

Asadah, an educator who teaches youth in East Harlem, has the dream of opening, “Read My Mind Café.” Asadah describes Read My Mind as a bookstore, cyber-café, and nutrition center to be located on the corner of Strivers’ Row and Fredrick Douglass Boulevard. With an optimistic attitude she describes her store as a gathering place for the upcoming artists of Harlem. 

Clyde Woods' Development Drowned and Reborn: The Blues and Bourbon Restorations in Post-Katrina New Orleans
2:00 PM - 3:40 PM
Maurepas, Sheraton, 3rd Floor
Clyde Woods, posthumously completed and edited by Jordan Camp and Laura Pulido, Development Drowned and Reborn: The Blues and Bourbon Restoration in Post-Katrina New Orleans was published by the University of Georgia Press, Geographies of Justice series in 2017. 

Woods' final book examines the history of New Orleans and explains in unflinching detail how and why Black lives were considered disposable. 

Development Drowned and Reborn is a “Blues geography” of New Orleans, one that compels readers to return to the history of the Black freedom struggle there to reckon with its unfinished business. Reading contemporary policies of abandonment against the grain, Clyde Woods explores how Hurricane Katrina brought long-standing structures of domination into view. In so doing, Woods delineates the roots of neoliberalism in the region and a history of resistance. 

Written in dialogue with social movements, this book offers tools for comprehending the racist dynamics of U.S. culture and economy. Following his landmark study, Development Arrested, Woods turns to organic intellectuals, Blues musicians, and poor and working people to instruct readers in this future-oriented history of struggle. Through this unique optic, Woods delineates a history, methodology, and epistemology to grasp alternative visions of development. 

While Woods cannot be with us, we wanted to make sure his brilliant book got its due attention.


Cultural Geography Specialty Group Marquee Address by Michael Crutcher
5:20 PM - 7:00 PM
Borgne Room, Sheraton, 3rd Floor

Cultural Geography Specialty Group Marquee Address by Michael Crutcher, "Revisiting Treme, New Orleans most endangered neighborhood" 

Treme: Race and Place in a New Orleans Neighborhood (2010) was arguably the first book-length project (outside of architectural surveys) published about a New Orleans neighborhood outside of the French Quarter or Garden District. It was certainly the first to apply a spatial lens to the historical process of neighborhood change, racialization and cultural traditions in New Orleans. Eschewing pre-existing claims of Treme being the country’s first Black neighborhood or the birthplace of jazz, “Treme” critically examines the way the neighborhood’s undeniable link to Black cultural traditions are threatened by increasing changes in neighborhood composition. This talk revisits several aspects of my earlier work on Treme emphasizing the neighborhoods’ relationship between landscape and resistance. From there I update the state of the neighborhood, paying particular attention to recent developments in landscape and housing. The paper concludes, as the book, with the prospects for change in Treme’s culture and composition.

Please direct all theme-related queries to blackgeographies@aag.org. Theme participants are encouraged to share via social media using the hashtags #AAG2018 and #BlackGeographies.