Keisha Blain presents "Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom"

Sunday May 27, 3:00PM

@ Red Emma's

Cosponsored by Not Without Black Women!


In 1932, Mittie Maude Lena Gordon spoke to a crowd of black Chicagoans at the old Jack Johnson boxing ring, rallying their support for emigration to West Africa. In 1937, Celia Jane Allen traveled to Jim Crow Mississippi to organize rural black workers around black nationalist causes. In the late 1940s, from her home in Kingston, Jamaica, Amy Jacques Garvey launched an extensive letter-writing campaign to defend the Greater Liberia Bill, which would relocate 13 million black Americans to West Africa.


Gordon, Allen, and Jacques Garvey—as well as Maymie De Mena, Ethel Collins, Amy Ashwood, and Ethel Waddell—are part of an overlooked and understudied group of black women who take center stage in Set the World on Fire, the first book to examine how black nationalist women engaged in national and global politics from the early twentieth century to the 1960s. Historians of the era generally portray the period between the Garvey movement of the 1920s and the Black Power movement of the 1960s as an era of declining black nationalist activism, but Keisha N. Blain reframes the Great Depression, World War II, and the early Cold War as significant eras of black nationalist—and particularly, black nationalist women's—ferment.

In Chicago, Harlem, and the Mississippi Delta, from Britain to Jamaica, these women built alliances with people of color around the globe, agitating for the rights and liberation of black people in the United States and across the African diaspora. As pragmatic activists, they employed multiple protest strategies and tactics, combined numerous religious and political ideologies, and forged unlikely alliances in their struggles for freedom. Drawing on a variety of previously untapped sources, including newspapers, government records, songs, and poetry, Set the World on Fire highlights the flexibility, adaptability, and experimentation of black women leaders who demanded equal recognition and participation in global civil society.


"Blain illuminates an oft-ignored period of black nationalist and internationalist activism in the U.S.: the Great Depression, World War II, and early Cold War. Her engrossing study shows that much of this activism was led by African-American and Afro-Caribbean women . . . Adding essential chapters to the story of this movement, Blain expands current understanding of the central roles played by female activists at home and overseas."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)


"Set the World on Fire is history at its very best. Keisha Blain has given us an unobstructed window into the minds of black nationalist women. Sharp voices and gripping stories reveal a philosophical flexibility paired with an inflexible challenge to global white supremacy."—Ibram X. Kendi, National Book Award-winning author of Stamped from the Beginning

"Keisha Blain has dug deeply into twentieth-century history to reveal the personal and political lives of African diaspora women determined to Set the World on Fire as they walked a fine line between leading and adhering to the black nationalist dictate of masculine leadership. Drawing upon a range of materials, including FBI files, personal letters, newspapers, and federal census records, Blain details every step of these women's organizing efforts and their pan-African visions."—Ula Taylor, author of The Promise of Patriarchy: Women and the Nation of Islam

"Set the World on Fire illuminates a dark though important area of history. Deftly written, it is also a signal contribution to African American studies and women's studies. It shines brightening light on a previously—and scandalously—neglected topic." -Gerald Horne, author of Facing the Rising Sun: African Americans, Japan, and the Rise of Afro-Asian Solidarity

More upcoming events

@ Red Emma's

A new crime novel from award-winning journalist and labor activist Bill Fletcher, Jr.!


In 1970, a sniper’s bullet shocks the sleepy Cape Cod village of Osterville. David Gomes, a young reporter for the Cape & Islands Gazette covers the story, thinking his reporting might lead to a job with a major metropolitan newspaper. With protests against the Viet Nam war and the rise of the Black Panthers roiling the public, the murder investigation becomes deeply personal when Gomes, a Cape Verdean American, encounters the smoldering racial antagonism between the descendants of Cape Verde and African-Americans, as well as the deep-seated hatred toward all people of color among some members of the white community.


Gomes soon learns that investigating a murder can put him in the cross-hairs of a cold-blooded killer. It’s a dangerous place for the young reporter as he peels away layers of family history in his quest to discover the motive behind a savage act of murder, and comes to understand a complicated, contradictory history of his own people.


Set within a Cape Verdean American community undergoing a transformation of its own consciousness, Fletcher’s crime novel dives deep into two timely questions: Is revenge ever a moral form of justice, and when does silence become complicity as criminal acts are committed before your own eyes?

@ Red Emma's

Join us for a special event with feminist and anticapitalist organizer, theorist, and historian Silvia Federici.

One of the organizers of the Wages for Housework campaign, and the author of the modern classic Caliban and the Witch, Silvia will be in Baltimore to present two new books—Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women and Re-enchanting the World: Feminism and the Politics of the Commons.

@ Red Emma's

Join us for our annual holiday card writing event plus the Certain Days 2019 Calendar launch party! We’ll be sending dozens of holiday cards and birthday cards to political prisoners in time for the end of the year – a time of year that can be particularly lonely for those on the inside. Please join us to send some love through the walls. 

The 2013 Lac-Mégantic crude oil train disaster killed 47 people and destroyed a entire Quebec town: this new book uncovers new details about what happened, how it happened, who was responsible, and why it can happen again.

Crude-by-rail traffic is an urgent issue at the intersection of climate change, workers rights, and public safety and it's been a big topic of debate in Baltimore for years. Earlier this year, the City Council passed a bill banning new crude oil terminals in the city, but crude oil trains continue to pose a danger to the city, particularly as we see the repeated failures of our infrastructure such as the most recent 26th St collapse

Co-sponsored by CCAN, Railroad Workers United, and Clean Water Action


Join us for a talk by Bernardo Vigil, worker-owner at Baltimore Bicycle Works, for a talk about his research into workplace democracy in Barcelona, exploring the strategies  small and mid-sized worker co-ops are using to build meaningful pathways toward self-management, participation, and cooperative leadership development.

Talk at 7pm, with a special co-op happy hour hosted by the Baltimore Roundtable for Economic Democracy—the nonextractive local loan fund run by worker co-ops, for worker co-ops—at 5PM.

@ Red Emma's

A special event with contributors:

Co-sponsored by the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS)

From well-known intellectuals such as Frederick Douglass and Nella Larsen to often-obscured thinkers such as Amina Baraka and Bernardo Ruiz Suárez, black theorists across the globe have engaged in sustained efforts to create insurgent and resilient forms of thought. New Perspectives on the Black Intellectual Tradition is a collection of twelve essays that explores these and other theorists and their contributions to diverse strains of political, social, and cultural thought. 

The book examines four central themes within the black intellectual tradition: black internationalism, religion and spirituality, racial politics and struggles for social justice, and black radicalism. The essays identify the emergence of black thought within multiple communities internationally, analyze how black thinkers shaped and were shaped by the historical moment in which they lived, interrogate the ways in which activists and intellectuals connected their theoretical frameworks across time and space, and assess how these strains of thought bolstered black consciousness and resistance worldwide. 

Defying traditional temporal and geographical boundaries, New Perspectives on the Black Intellectual Tradition illuminates the origins of and conduits for black ideas, redefines the relationship between black thought and social action, and challenges long-held assumptions about black perspectives on religion, race, and radicalism. The intellectuals profiled in the volume reshape and redefine the contours and boundaries of black thought, further illuminating the depth and diversity of the black intellectual tradition.