Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

1-1-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D. in English

Department

English

First Advisor

Jaime L Harker

Second Advisor

Susan Grayzel

Third Advisor

Adetayo Alabi

Relational Format

dissertation/thesis

Abstract

“The Radical South” examines the art and writings of Civil-Rights-era social movements and locates U.S. based political structures in a hemispheric and global network. I reveal that the Civil Rights Movement, ethnic nationalism, and second-wave feminism were not separate entities; rather, the cultural work of activists was an intersectional effort that defied national strategies, such as non-violent protest and race-based separatism, that were often determined by their urban counterparts. Thus, I argue that new political aesthetics emerged from grassroots activism and set in motion ethnic and racial cultural expressions that embraced multiple, even conflicting, identities. As much as this art was placed within a local context, its political and artistic aesthetics were also inspired by global revolutionary movements in places such as Cuba and the Caribbean, Spain, and Ghana. Whether I am looking at experimental theater, consciousness-raising documents, or novels, I show how this flexible approach to political ideology better represented the pragmatic realities of everyday life, even if it also meant challenging their popular-front vision of solidarity. “The Radical South” moves chronologically through Freedom Summer and the 1960s to early eighties “third world” feminism. In my first chapter, the Free Southern Theater, an integrated theater group established in Mississippi in 1963, emerges as a major innovator of what I call visual jazz, which combined avant-garde theater with civil rights activism. In the second and third chapters, I look at novels by Julian Mayfield and Jose Yglesias, both of which insist on the specificities of local forms of oppression, community memory, and familial bonds against the more abstracting vision of a global Marxist struggle. In the final chapter, I demonstrate how Toni Cade Bambara’s 1980 novel The Salt Eaters by embracing the paradox of what I call conflictual solidarity, a process by which dissenting voices collect together to challenge the structures that unite them.

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