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Interchange – The Tragic Birth of Black Populism


Born out of necessity, out of self-protection and preservation, Black Populism’s story is equal parts inspiring and heartbreaking. Last week Thea Riofrancos joined us to try to distinguish Populism in terms of its political character–on the Left and on the Right. Today, we’ll take a look at the development and destruction of Black Populism in the post-bellum South, discovering the strategies, institutions, and alliances created by the short-lived movement.

We begin in the hopeful but brief period of Reconstruction — touring through the tumultuous historical landscape that created Black Populism. But as former slaves and white sharecroppers, both impoverished by the new system of subjugation, began resisting the landed white southern aristocracy, that aristocracy fought back: formerly Confederate Southern Democrats colluded with the party of Lincoln to cut a deal — the “Compromise of 1877,” that kept Republicans in the White House — in exchange for the end of Reconstruction. With the federal government in retreat, the plantation class sought to reestablish White supremacy in the South, terrorizing the black population, demolishing populist solidarity — and even through armed insurrection, taking back control of political power.

We focus on the movement itself as Omar Ali details some of the complicated circumstances and leaders behind Black Populism; then turning to the present, we explore the failures of the recent political past, the persistent cultural and economic injustices that Black Populism was built to overcome, and how the late 19th century movement can inform our perspectives on, and responses to, the most recent resurgence of White political power on the national stage.

Omar H. Ali, Dean of Lloyd International Honors College and Professor of Comparative African Diaspora History at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He’s the author of several books including In the Lion’s Mouth: Black Populism in the New South, 1886-1900 published by the University Press of Mississippi and most recently Malik Ambar: Power and Slavery Across the Indian Ocean put out by Oxford University Press. He’s also on the Board of Directors of IndependentVoting.org.

All by Archie Shepp
“The Cry of My People”
“The Chased”
“Come Sunday”

Do the Arts Survive Revolution?
In 2016 Netflix produced Four Seasons in Havana, a miniseries based on a quartet of crime novels published in the 1990s by Leonardo Padura. It’s a Cuban-Spanish co-production with original footage from Havana and and Cuban actors. What can a 1920s capitalist genre fiction tell us about Cuba under Castro? We’ll also discuss the films of director Tomas Gutierrez Alea and look at work by writer Alejo Carpentier–one of the world’s great novelists–a man with a foot on both sides of the 1959 Revolution.

Black Populism (UNC Greensboro)
African Americans and Independent Voting
The Reconstruction Amendments (13th, 14th, 15th)
The Compromise of 1877 (Wikipedia)
Populism Against the “Center” (Interchange)

Producer & Host: Doug Storm
Assistant Producer & Editor: Rob Schoon
Board Engineer: Jennifer Brooks
Executive Producer: Joe Crawford

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