The 12th Annual Black History Symposium

Africans and African-Americans: It's Complicated

Commemorating the Legacy of Walter Rodney, Ph.D.

Luther College | Decorah, Iowa 52101 | February 11-12, 2015

Description of Symposium

Africans and African-Americans: Its Complicated explores the fascinating and often contentious relationship among various groups of African-descended people in the US. When it comes to cultural differences, Africans and African-Americans are often perplexed by each other.  There are various opinions on this topic and the symposium is designed to open a local conversation on a subject that needs to be discussed across America.  

Africans and African-Americans: Its Complicated acknowledges a widening cultural rift between those of African descent born in the Americas and those born on the continent of Africa The symposium provides the opportunity for conversations that acknowledge similarities while bridging differences between African immigrants and Africans that have called America home for centuries.  The symposium explores the particulars of how this complicated history plays out on our campus.

The symposium begins with a Plenary Lecture on Wednesday, February 11, 2015. The lecture provides the backdrop for two Respondent Panels that explore historical and contemporary flashpoints in the African and African-American relationships on Luther’s campus.  

Black students from central and South America, and the Caribbean are also aware of the difficulty of navigating the intragroup tensions between people and nations throughout the African Diaspora. To honor the Caribbean perspective on Africans and African-Americans: Its Complicated, the symposium features Pan-Africanist historian Walter Rodney as its 2015 Black History Legacy Honoree.   Professor Rodney’s life and death highlight Pan Africanism and its efforts to engage Africans throughout the diaspora in the struggle for freedom, justice, and respect.

To highlight the cultural expressiveness of the African Diaspora, the Luther College Galleries will feature an exhibit by Dayo Laoye that visually explores athletics, race, gender, and embodiment.  

Gallery Exhibit and Reception

Dayo Laoye, speaker at Black History Symposium
Dayo Laoye, speaker at Black History Symposium

Dayo Laoye, an award-winning African artist and photographer who lives in Chicago will offer the exhibit and a Gallery Walk on February 12, 2015 at 4:30 p.m. Laoye’s work focuses on the African presence in America and the African Diaspora’s influence in the Americas.  His celebration of Yoruba culture in the American context pays tribute to the particular styles of African artists including weavers, carvers, painters, and potters while celebrating the cultural syncretism of music, dance, and spirituality that occurs when cultures mix.

Plenary Speaker

Michel Martin, speaker at Black History Symposium
Michel Martin, speaker at Black History Symposium

Michel Martin from National Public Radio (NPR) is the Symposium’s plenary speaker.  Michel has spent more than 25 years as a journalist — first in print with major newspapers and then in television. Tell Me More marked her debut as a full-time public radio show host. Martin has also served as contributor and substitute host for NPR newsmagazines and talk shows, including Talk of the Nation and News & Notes.

Martin joined NPR from ABC News, where she worked since 1992. She served as correspondent for Nightline from 1996 to 2006, reporting on such subjects as the Congressional budget battles, the U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, racial profiling and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. At ABC, she also contributed to numerous programs and specials, including the network's award-winning coverage of September 11, a documentary on the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas controversy, a critically acclaimed AIDS special and reports for the ongoing series "America in Black and White." Martin reported for the ABC newsmagazine Day One, winning an Emmy for her coverage of the international campaign to ban the use of landmines, and was a regular panelist on This Week with George Stephanopoulos. Before joining ABC, Martin covered state and local politics for the Washington Post and national politics and policy at the Wall Street Journal, where she was White House correspondent. She has also been a regular panelist on the PBS series Washington Week and a contributor to NOW with Bill Moyers.

Respondent Panel: Faculty and Alumni Tell The Luther Story

A panel of Faculty and Luther alumni including Ronney and Emerald Jane Hunter, Narren Brown, and professors Novian Whitsitt, and Martin Klammer will recount their experiences with the rift between Africans-in-America and African Americans. In the past, controversies based on the cultural divide and the aura of suspicion between these two groups affected the Luther campus. Faculty who helped navigate these tensions will describe the issues and discuss the images of African-Americans as unreliable and always complaining about racism and those of African countries depicted as poor, backward, and corrupt.  The focus of the panel is on how the Luther campus navigates resentments that can arise from cultural misunderstanding.

Special Screening of Bound: Africans vs. African-Americans.

Peres Owino
Peres Owino

Bound is a film documentary that explores the cultural tension that exists between Africans and African-Americans.  Kenyan-born director Peres Owino uses testimonials to expose the seldom-discussed ways that Africans and African Americans view each other. The film also looks at the cultures’ shared histories to foster mutual understanding. Bound was produced by Isaiah Washington and Tene Carter and won the Lena Sharpe Award for Persistence of Vision in 2014.

Legacy Honoree

The legacy honoree best exemplifies the theme of the symposium.  The 2015 legacy honoree represents the Caribbean diaspora’s contribution to social activism and the idea of Pan-Africanism, a perspective that promotes collective action among people victimized by slavery, colonialism, imperialism, patriarchy, and capitalist exploitation. 

Walter Anthony Rodney was born in Georgetown, Guyana on March 23, 1942. He was a scholar and public intellectual who is recognized as one of the Caribbean’s most influential scholars. He attended Queen’s College, the top male high school in Guyana, and in 1960 graduated first in his class, winning an open scholarship to the University of the West Indies (UWI). He pursued his undergraduate studies at UWI Mona Campus in Jamaica, where he graduated with honors in History in 1963. Rodney then attended the School of Oriental and African Studies in London where, at the age of 24, he received his Ph.D. in African History.

Dr. Rodney’s scholarship and activism became an effective voice for the under-represented and for those at the margins of society.  He was particularly interested in the struggles of the working class and worked with socialist and anti-Stalinist groups throughout his career.  His work challenged prevailing assumptions about African history and developed new models for analyzing the history of oppressed peoples.  Rodney was influenced by Marxist theory, the Black Power Movement in the U.S., and revolutionary thinkers of African and Caribbean backgrounds. In 1980, Dr. Rodney was assassinated in Georgetown, Guyana. The circumstances surrounding his murder are still being investigated.

Symposium Sponsors

Departments of Africana Studies and Art, the Luther College Galleries, the Luther College Diversity Center, and the Center for Ethics and Public Life.

Click to view the schedule.

For More Information Contact

Richard Mtisi, Ph.D., Department Chair, Africana Studies