African American Responses to Immigration Restriction and Deportation, 1903-1939


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This Race and Difference Colloquium (March 27, 2017) focuses on African American responses to and discourses around immigration restriction and deportation during the early 20th century. Too often, scholarship around nativism and immigration policy has presented an undifferentiated native-born stance, which is implicitly coded as white. However, it is clear African American writers and activists had unique perspectives on both mass international migration, as well as racialized legislation regulating it. Emily Pope-Obeda (JWJI Visiting Fellow) examines overlapping debates around “second-class citizenship” and non-citizenship, and seeks greater insight into the intersection of racial formation and immigration history in the United States. While many political figures of the era focused mainly on immigrants to the U.S. and the threat that they posed to the nation, the African American press from the era reveals a far more transnational approach to the question. Some of the cases which drew attention from African American authors included deportations to the U.S. from the Soviet Union for charges of racism, deportations from Liberia, deportations of Klan members from Canada, and “color-line” deportations from Australia. Pope-Obeda also analyzes African American coverage of restrictions and deportations of Afro-Caribbean migrants, and how such authors conceptualized of migration restriction as part of a broader landscape of racialized oppression. Through the use of newspapers, organizational records, literature, correspondence, and case files, this presentation explores the complex and often globally-oriented political landscape of immigration control envisioned by African Americans.

The James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference supports research, teaching, and public dialogue that examine race and intersecting dimensions of human difference including but not limited to class, gender, religion, and sexuality.

Published 2 months ago

Category Video  /  Lectures

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