Beyond Basic Reading and Writing: The People’s House and the Political Literacy Education of the Student-Activists of the Black Liberation Front International, 1968-1975

  • Joy Karega Oberlin College
Keywords: political literacy, Black students, translingualism, critical reading, collaborative writing


In rhetoric and composition, much of the research on Black college students of the 1960’s and 1970’s has uncomplicatedly tied these students to basic writing historiography and left under-challenged the representational politics that positioned them as the products of open admissions and marked them as politically militant but underprepared and/or remedial in their literacy practices. Extending our purview beyond open admissions and basic writing, this article applies pressure to these disciplinary trends by turning to the extracurriculum and recovering the political literacies of the student-activists of the Black Liberation Front International (BLFI), a Black student organization at Michigan State University from 1968 to 1975. For Black students such as the BLFI activists, there were nonacademic political spaces that provided them with opportunities to learn and practice literacy for political aims. This article focuses on one of these sites of literacy education—a place the BLFI activists called The People’s House. Drawing upon archival research and oral history, the author recounts how the BLFI activists’ relationship with the Trinidadian intellectual C.L.R. James created the contexts for them to organize reading groups at The People’s House, where they developed a form of critical reading praxis that enhanced their abilities to engage reading as a political, rhetorical, and epistemic act. The collaborative writing the BLFI activists composed at The People’s House is also constructed as a site for translingual production, where they practiced how to use the linguistic and discursive resources they had available to them to attend to the rhetorical and material aspects of writing. 

Author Biography

Joy Karega, Oberlin College

Joy Karega is an assistant professor of Rhetoric and Composition at Oberlin College. Her research and teaching are in the areas of Black protest rhetorics and literacies, social justice writing, translingual composition, and composition theory and pedagogy for Writing Center and Peer Tutoring programs. Dr. Karega is currently completing a book-length manuscript entitled Servants of My People First: The Political Literacy Education of the Student-Activists of the Black Liberation Front International, 1968-1975.  She is also in the early stages of a research project on the political rhetorics and writings of Lucy Parsons, a Black woman in the nineteenth-century who was a prolific organizer, writer, and lecturer and played a pivotal role in anarchist and radical labor politics.