The Collegium for African American Research marked the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington by holding its biennial conference in Atlanta, a bulwark of the civil rights movement and the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Junior. This volume has grown out of that conference. It acknowledges the defiant struggles and deferred dreams of African Americans while accepting the challenge offered by that anniversary to take stock, interrogating the Black experience across epochs and locations. At the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. It is a speech that continues to resonate because of King's articulation of the optimism of African-descended people in the midst of continuing exclusion from an American polity that they themselves had helped to construct. In his speech, King indicts America while affirming the resolve of African Americans to hold the republic to its “promissory note to which every American was to fall heir” but on which “America has defaulted […] insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check.” King demanded that his country “cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice.” King's rhetoric encapsulates two fundamental themes addressed by the 2013 Biennial Conference of the Collegium for African American Research (CAAR) and of the present volume: the persistent dashing of the dreams and aspirations of African-descended peoples for inclusion, equality, and justice around the world; and the equally relentless resolve of Blacks to fight for civil and human rights for themselves and others.
The civil rights movement in America and contemporaneous black struggles elsewhere have made significant gains, but important aspirations remain unrealized and some dreams newly born out of the freedom struggles of the 1950s and 1960s remain unfulfilled. Even in the twenty-first century, racialized discrimination and direct assaults on blackness continue to be pervasive, to the extent that, as Michelle Alexander famously noted, there has emerged “a new Jim Crow” (2010). The modern civil rights movement has assumed international proportions, but the United States is still its epicenter, continuing to expose the enduring legacies of slavery, of Jim Crow, of political, economic, and legal injustices.