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Lang named 2011 Langston Hughes Visiting Professor

When one looks at African-American social movements of the 20th century, the political motivations and leaders of those efforts naturally come to mind. Clarence Lang, the 2011 Langston Hughes Visiting Professor, works to look deeper at such movements, to find out how they were informed by the every day activities of working class African-Americans.

Clarence Lang

Lang, a professor of African-American studies and history at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, will discuss the topics during his public lecture “At the Margins of Black Freedom Studies: Working-Class Representation and the Blues Idiom” at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 24, at Alderson Auditorium in the Kansas Union.

“Social movements only get us so close to comprehending the element of the everyday in black working-class history,” Lang said. “I hope to switch gears and talk about the trajectory of my research and how we can get to the heart of the black working class.”

During his semester at KU, Lang will teach two classes for the Department of African and African-American Studies: Black Urban Communities and Class and Modern Black Freedom Struggle. The classes will be informed by his research. In his career he has studied movements such as the civil rights struggle, specifically those in the Midwest between the 1930s and 1970s. He authored the book “Grassroots at the Gateway: Class Politics and Black Freedom Struggle in St. Louis, 1936-1975,” published by the University of Michigan Press, and co-edited “Anticommunism and the African-American Freedom Movement: Another side of the Story,” published by Palgrave Macmillan.

It is often argued that such movements were led and shaped primarily by middle class leaders, but Lang argues the agendas are a reflection of the concerns of every day, working class citizens. Lang is looking at how the social character of black working class communities is born, through sources such as churches, lodges, barbershops and even gangs.

“Political activity is an important lens, but a limited one,” Lang said of understanding social movements. Lang has been a faculty member at Illinois since 2004, where he earned a doctorate in history. He holds a master’s in history from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

The Langston Hughes Visiting Professorship rotates among departments at KU. It was established in 1977 to bring prominent scholars to campus who have similar interests as Hughes. The late poet, historian and playwright lived in Lawrence as a child.

Hughes’ connection to Lawrence, Missouri and the Midwest and his advocacy for the African-American community made the professorship a natural fit, as well as an honor, Lang said. Hughes’ work is a good guide for his own scholarship, as he was a “poet laureate of the black working class in many respects,” Lang said.

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