Early last week, courtesy a dear old classmate, a link flitted across my desk. (If a bunch of html can do that, I assure you it did.) The bare-bones Wordpress site, operated by Adam Bledsoe, contained just one post: a page called “Minneapolis Uprising Syllabus.”
One click produced a very big question: Had this moment gone straight to the lecture halls, in real-time?
City Pages contacted Bledsoe, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography, Environment & Society at the University of Minnesota, to find out whose minds would be shaped by this knowledge.
The professor – a local of the Twin Cities, who spent time "moving around basically every region of east of the Mississippi" throughout his education before returning home – was patient and gracious in his explanations, as we caught up to what academics know by instinct: assembling syllabi is nerve-wracking and difficult, especially when the process is wrapped up in around two weeks.
The Minneapolis Uprising Syllabus was born of a few pursuits coming together.
“I had already started some preliminary work on what I hope becomes a book on the history of Black political organizations in the Twin Cities. This syllabus is sort of a sped up version of the beginning bibliography I was planning to use for the book project,” said Bledsoe. “Once the protests started and I saw that people both within and outside Minnesota were trying to make sense of what was happening, I thought this nascent list of resources might be useful for others besides me.”
Bledsoe continued, explaining that building the syllabus now was also an accelerated mix of preparing to teach future students at the U of M about where they’re from, and a reaction to a conversation with a good friend from the South who’d said “‘It's hard for me to situate Minneapolis as a Black urban space. I don't have that much of a sense of how Blackness moves in a place like Minnesota.’”
“This really floored me because when I think about Minneapolis and the Twin Cities, Blackness is one of the foremost things that comes to my mind,” he recalled. “I realized that if my friend felt this way, there is a good chance many, if not most, people outside the state feel this way. It also made me wonder if there are other Minnesotans that aren't familiar with the presence and history of the Twin Cities' Black community. I thought the syllabus would be helpful for people who genuinely want to learn about Blackness in Minnesota and better understand how Black Minnesotans have influenced the world around them.”
And for how he’d demonstrate this to his friend? The students he has yet to meet? A faceless audience he had a hunch could use some knowledge?
The answer would be in assembling the right texts, a process which Bledsoe admits he found daunting and anxiety-inducing. “When you're trying to help give context to a truly transformative moment, the stakes seem even higher and makes text selection more difficult,” he said.
The syllabus weaves together documentaries like FREE CeCe! (directed by Jac Gares) with foundational works by some of Black Minnesota’s most prominent scholars – A Peculiar Imbalance: The Fall and Rise of Racial Equality in Minnesota, 1837–1869, by William Green of Augsburg University, and “The State of Black Women’s Economics in Minnesota,” by the U of M’s Dr. Brittany Lewis. Other resources he found thanks to help from Dr. Roy Kay (an English teacher at DeLaSalle High School), keyword searches based on historic events (St. Paul's Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters), and the policing-related resources available on MPD150’s website. It’s a resource pulled from everywhere, sprinkled with everything.
It’s apparent at first glance that this isn’t a Reading List. Scholarly articles, books, films, and documentaries – heck, even podcasts – are given equal weight here. “Everyone learns differently and deserves to have their style of learning honored,” says the professor, who built accessibility into this model. Most texts provide digital access right from the syllabus, and if they don’t link directly to the source, Bledsoe linked to booksellers up to the task. “I really hope that the syllabus acts as more than a simple list and can actually facilitate people's access to these resources.”
Though the syllabus isn’t being taught formally right now, Bledsoe plans to use parts for his Spring 2021 undergraduate class called “Black Geographies” at the U of M, which combines “larger themes from Black Studies and geographical studies of Blackness with empirical examples from Minnesota and other parts of the Black Diaspora.”
In the meantime, he hopes the rest of us can use it as a tool to think about the Black experience in the Twin Cities, and help create a better future. “If professors and teachers want to take parts of it for their classes, that's wonderful. If political organizers want to use sources from it to think through what has and hasn't worked politically in the Twin Cities and what our Black community is currently facing, that's even better,” he says.
“If nothing else comes from the syllabus, I want people to recognize that Black Minnesotans have been analyzing their conditions of existence while working to address and undo anti-Black racism for centuries. What we're seeing in the Twin Cities right now isn't random. In many ways, it's been a long time coming.”