Well done to Conall MacMichael, a PhD candidate in American history at Queen’s University Belfast, who was awarded the IAAS Postgraduate BAAS Conference Bursary.

This bursary helped to support Conall’s trip to the BAAS Postgraduate Conference at the University of Sussex in November 2014, where he delivered his excellent paper, ‘Remembering Dissent: The Memory of the Black Power Movement’.

Below, Conall reports on his experience:

‘The British Association of American Studies Postgraduate Conference, Protest: Resistance and Dissent in America, at the University of Sussex witnessed the coming together of a broad range of doctoral researchers and represented the exciting advanced research that is taking place across Ireland and the UK. The interdisciplinary nature of the conference stood out as one of the strengths of the event and in discussing the panels with other participants afterwards it was clear that the various themes and approaches discussed had inspired all attendees to re-evaluate certain aspects of their own work. 

My own paper Remembering Dissent: The Memory of the Black Power Movement explored the narrow frames in which Black Power has been remembered in popular culture. Black Power has been frequently portrayed as a reactionary movement born out of despair, obsessed with violence and was the preserve of ghetto dwelling young men. However, my research has suggested that Black Power actually enjoyed a far larger base of support in the black community than is assumed which has not been replicated in public understanding of that period. 

My panel included a paper on African American avengers by Darryl Barthe of the University of Sussex, and a paper on the ‘Reverse’ Freedom Rides by Rosemary Pearce of the University of Nottingham. Barthe’s paper demonstrated that violence has long been a mode of African American resistance and that it frequently occurred in the face of brutal local or state repression. Pearce’s paper highlighted a little known chapter of the famous Freedom Rides. Enraged by the bad press that the Freedom Rides were bringing upon their communities, White Citizen Council members offered free bus passes to local African Americans to travel north in order to highlight the hypocrisy of northern liberals. Both papers shed light on areas that have either been ignored or downplayed in the historiography of the Civil Rights movement.

Other panels discussed issues as varied as race and ethnicity, gender and sexual identities, the sounds and musicology of protest, and even the nature of environmental protest. A personal highlight was the panel on Rebel, Youth and Counter Culture mainly because it was so far from my own knowledge base and took me out of my comfort zone in exciting and challenging ways. The conference also benefited enormously from two excellent keynote speeches. Dr. Joe Street of Northumbria University spoke on the importance of understanding how Huey P. Newton’s incarceration impacted his mental health and how this affected the Black Panther Party going forward. Professor Will Kaufman of the University of Central Lancashire brought a close to the day with his musical presentation on the politicisation of Woody Guthrie.’