Fear of a Black Nation

Fear of a Black Nation

Race, Sex, and Security in Sixties Montreal

By David Austin






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  • Casa de las Americas Prize in Caribbean Literature in English or Creole, 2014 (Winner)
  • Independent Publisher Book Award - Best Regional Non-Fiction (Canada East), 2014 (Runner-up)

In the 1960s, for at least a brief moment, Montreal became what seemed an unlikely centre of Black Power and the Caribbean left. In October 1968 the Congress of Black Writers at McGill University brought together well-known Black thinkers and activists from Canada, the United States, Africa, and the Caribbean–people like C.L.R. James, Stokely Carmichael, Miriam Makeba, Rocky Jones, and Walter Rodney. Within months of the Congress, a Black-led protest at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia) exploded on the front pages of newspapers across the country–raising state security fears about Montreal as the new hotbed of international Black radical politics.

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Austin’s analysis of blackness and its ever-disruptive relationship to the country’s two dominant nationalities (British and French) provides indispensable insights and incitements for those of us who live and struggle in “the great white north”. An indictment of Canadian white supremacy and state racism, certainly, the book also points towards the practices of solidarity and freedom that have animated the movements of the past and that could yet be implicated in the creation of a vastly better future.

Ted Rutland, Race & Class

In Fear of a Black Nation, David Austin reveals how the global currents of sixties protest converged on Montreal–while demonstrating, in turn, how the organizing of a small group of Montreal-based West Indian and Black Canadian intellectuals and activists reverberated far beyond the city. Brilliantly conceived, meticulously researched, trenchantly argued, and elegantly written, Fear of a Black Nation upends our understanding of the history of Black internationalism and places Austin among the foremost chroniclers of the history of left radicalism in the Caribbean and North America.

– Peter James Hudson, Assistant Professor of History, Vanderbilt University

Fear of a Black Nation is a powerful reclaiming of the history of radical Black organizing in 1960s Montreal and an insightful analysis of its global ramifications … This book makes a major contribution to the fields of Black history and political studies; it also challenges conventional and left race-blind readings of the histories of Quebec and Canada.

– Sunera Thobani, Associate Professor of Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice, University of British Columbia

An extremely important and timely book–exhaustively researched, expertly executed, and beautifully written. Fear of a Black Nation solidifies David Austin’s place as one of the most important Black writers and intellectuals in North America.

– Barrington Walker, Associate Professor of History, Queen’s University, and author of Race on Trial

David Austin thoroughly analyzes the issues of power, gender, race, and politics that were at play at the time of, and after, the 1968 Congress of Black Writers. The radical left narrative of the Caribbean intersected with Black radical politics in Montreal, and life was forever changed by the rhetoric, the call for sweeping change, and a Pan-African sensibility. Such were the teachings at the Congress…from the likes of Rocky Jones of Nova Scotia, Stokely Carmichael of Trinidad and the Black Power Movement in the United States, C.L.R. James of Trinidad, Walter Rodney of Guyana, and others who would be on a list of who’s who of the Caribbean left. Fear of a Black Nation is a must-read for anyone interested in closing gaps in modern Canadian history.

– Althea Prince, Professor of Sociology, Ryerson University, and author of Being Black

A brilliant analysis of the Black Canadian experience, David Austin’s Fear of a Black Nation challenges everything we think we know about Black Canada and the police state. Drawing on intensive and extensive research that spans several continents, and using RCMP dossiers, Austin tells the story of Black activism in Montreal, and shows us how this activism changed history for Black Canadians, Caribbeans, and Black people worldwide. Without a doubt, it is ground-breaking work.

– Afua Cooper, James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies, Dalhousie University

In this superb book, Austin shows us how “the past reverberates in the present.” From the historical fact of slavery in Canada to national security state paranoia towards Black dissent in the 1970s, Fear of a Black Nation artfully weaves a rich tapestry connecting Black struggles for freedom and dignity, the geohistorical significance of Montreal and Black/Caribbean left thought, and the politics of race, gender, class, and nation. Canada, and, indeed, the world, is not yet free from “the burden of race”–this work offers important insights for struggles against the dehumanizing effects of racism and colonialism, and points toward new horizons of possibility for human emancipation.

– Aziz Choudry, Assistant Professor of Integrated Studies in Education, McGill University

At the heart of this big-hearted book is Austin’s insistence on history, or as he puts it, the “lived experience of Blacks,” against silence and the abstractions or chimeras of ideology. Readers will learn much about Canada’s black history here, but they will also learn about why it matters to everyone.

– Karen Dubinsky, Professor of Global Development Studies/History, Queen’s University

In this path-breaking work, Austin takes us deep into the fascinating world of race, security, and Montreal’s 1960s. When we emerge, it is no longer possible to talk about Canada or Quebec in the same way as before. Fear of a Black Nation is a crucially important book.

– Sean Mills, Assistant Professor of History, University of Toronto, and author of The Empire Within


Chapter 1 A New Beginning, and the Afterlife
Chapter 2 Still Searching for the Black Atlantic
Chapter 3 Old Ghosts and the Myth of Two Solitudes
Chapter 4 Nègres Blancs, Nègres Noirs
Chapter 5 Kindred Souls and Duppy States
Chapter 6 Être et Noir - Being and Blackness: Memory and the Congress
Chapter 7 Days to Remember: The Sir George Williams Narratives
Chapter 8 Fear of a Black Planet
Chapter 9 Still a Problem