Fear of a Black Nation

Fear of a Black Nation

Race, Sex, and Security in Sixties Montreal

Second edition

By David Austin


Shop Local


  • Casa de las Americas Prize in Caribbean Literature in English or Creole, 2014 (Winner)

In the 1960s, Montreal was a hotbed of radical politics that attracted Black and Caribbean figures such as C.L.R. James, Walter Rodney, Mariam Makeba, Stokely Carmichael, Rocky Jones, and Édouard Glissant. It was also a place where the ideas of Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, and Malcolm X circulated alongside those of Karl Marx, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir. During this period of global upheaval and heightened Canadian and Quebec nationalism, Montreal became a central site of Black and Caribbean radical politics.

Situating Canada within the Black radical tradition and its Caribbean radical counterpart, Fear of a Black Nation paints a history of Montreal and the Black activists who lived in, sojourned in, or visited the city and agitated for change. Drawing on Saidiya Hartman’s conception of slavery’s afterlife and what David Austin describes as biosexuality – a deeply embedded fear of Black self-organization and interracial solidarity – Fear of a Black Nation argues that the policing and surveillance of Black lives today is tied to the racial, including sexual, codes and practices and the discipline and punishment associated with slavery.

As meditation on Black radical politics and state security surveillance and repression, Fear of a Black Nation combines theoretical and philosophical inquiry with literary, oral, and archival sources to reflect on Black political organizing. In reflecting on Black self-organization and historic events such as the Congress of Black Writers and the Sir George Williams Affair, the book ultimately poses the question: what can past freedom struggles teach us about the struggle for freedom today?

Featuring two new interviews with the author and a new preface, this expanded second edition enriches the political and theoretical conversation on Black organising and movement building in Canada and internationally. As the Black Lives Matter and abolition movements today popularize calls to disarm and defund the police and to abolish prisons, Fear of a Black Nation provides an invaluable reflection on the policing of Black activism and a compelling political analysis of social movements and freedom struggles that is more relevant now than ever.

More by this Author


“Ten years later Fear of a Black Nation packs an even heavier punch in its impact and relevance to our post–George Floyd world. An audacious tour de force that firmly places Montreal on the map of the Black radical tradition in our hemisphere, David Austin’s seminal work transcends borders and challenges us to rethink the impact of an earlier era on our contemporary lives. It is a gift to those of us interested in the interconnection between theory, practice, and our work towards freedom.”

– Michèle Stephenson, filmmaker, episode director of Black Life: Untold Stories

“This is a classic, a must-read for anyone wanting to know about the past and ongoing Black experience in Montreal. But more than this, David Austin’s astute and generous analysis guides us through the intellectual and activist work that must be done for freedom to become more than a collective aspiration. This impressive book reminds us of how crucial border-crossing engagements continue to be for Black and anti-colonial struggles.”

– Beverley Mullings, professor, Department of Geography and Planning, Queen’s University

“David Austin’s Fear of a Black Nation is a remarkable study that locates Montreal as not the missing piece of the Black diaspora but a central component and pivotal venue in the Black Power renaissance of the 1960s. In the best Black radical tradition, Austin enthusiastically utilizes philosophical insights, novels, Black feminist theory, and critical race theory to not merely bring the histories and personalities to life but also to attempt to explain their successes and failures in the struggle against racial domination. This second edition, with a new introduction and revealing interviews with the author, is both a convincing historical narrative of twentieth-century Black Canadian history and a prospectus and guide for the new movements that are welling to the surface in the era of Black Lives Matter.”

– Brian Meeks, professor, Department of Africana Studies, Brown University

Fear of a Black Nation is no ordinary history. Working at the crossroads of history, theory, philosophy, and literature, David Austin updates his now classic study of the Black and Caribbean radical tradition in the ‘composite island’ that is Montreal. Its challenge to the white-washing of the city’s history is even more important today given Quebec’s war on woke.” 

– Steven High, professor, Department of History, Concordia University

“David Austin’s brilliant and game-changing Fear of a Black Nation ensures that we will never forget to include Canada in histories of the African diaspora. This new edition includes Austin’s generative reflections on the life of the text and reminds us that, in the tradition of the very best that Black Studies has to offer, he is an activist-scholar propelled by a vision of liberation and a quest for a better world.”

– Monique Bedasse, associate professor, Department of History, New York University

“David Austin’s Fear of a Black Nation makes a major contribution to work on internationalist political organising in ‘the global sixties.’ Locating Montreal as a key hub of radical Black politics in this period, he draws attention to important but neglected aspects of the political trajectories of key figures such as C.L.R. James, Miriam Makeba, and Walter Rodney. In doing so, he provides an account of interrelated solidarities in the face of significant racialized state repression that speaks in powerful ways to our political present.” 

– Dr. David Featherstone, author of Solidarity: Hidden Histories and Geographies of Internationalism

Fear of a Black Nation is an outstanding philosophical meditation on, by, for, and with the ‘emancipated but unfree.’ Austin takes the clay that he gathers through exemplary scholarship and conjures life from it. The result is an urgent, generous summons to grapple seriously with the injustice we face today, to understand how it is linked to the injustice faced by others, and to work towards change. The point, after all, is to change the world.”

– Bryan Mukandi, senior research fellow, School of Languages and Cultures, University of Queensland

“David Austin brings to life the ideas and political labour that have helped shape the Black Radical Tradition in Canada. Fear of a Black Nation remains an urgent read for those of us who believe that a critical understanding of the past is an important tool for creating a better tomorrow.”

– Scott Rutherford, assistant professor, Department of Global Development Studies, Queen’s University

Fear of a Black Nation is a superb book by the finest Black Canadian intellectual historian of his generation, David Austin. Within it, as in all his work, the critical location of Canada in studies of twentieth-century Black radicalism is made with incredible discernment, and in this book’s wake it will never be forgotten.”

– Aaron Kamugisha, professor, Department of Africana Studies, Smith College

“David Austin’s Fear of a Black Nation is an impressive achievement: original, important, and timely. Theoretically sophisticated yet accessible, this book fills a void in the study of left and radical movements and Quebec, Canadian, Caribbean, African American, and Black diaspora politics.”

– Richard Iton, (1961-2013), author of In Search of the Black Fantastic

“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 extensive research that spans several continents, Austin tells the story of Black activism in Montreal, showing us how this activism changed history for Black people worldwide. Without a doubt, it is ground-breaking work.”

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

“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, Department of History, Queen's University, and author of Race on Trial

“Austin’s welcoming and rigorous archive and theoretical acumen reconstitute Montreal as a key nodal coordinate charting a Black Radical Atlantic/Analytic. To evoke Kwame Ture’s oft-repeated formula on the dialectic of the singular and universal: as long as David Austin’s comprehensive and engaged analytic is studied and treated as seriously as the world, humanity will not be diminished one iota.”

– Jeremy Matthew Glick, Department of English, Hunter College, City University of New York

“In Fear of a Black Nation, David Austin homes in on 1960s Montreal as a significant time and place of militant action and intellectual collaboration between a diverse group of Black Anglophone writers and activists who emphasized the creative potential of Black unity and the need to build a new society free of racial and class oppression. Focusing on two events that took place in the city’s major universities–the student occupation of Sir George Williams University and the Congress of Black Writers, held in McGill in 1968–Austin shows the value of ‘unsilencing’ the Black past. Fear of a Black Nation is deeply historically informed, arguing that moments like these are part of a continuous thread of struggle present from slavery, in underground railroad communities, through pan-Africanism and beyond. One of the book’s many strengths lies in its address to the strands of Canadian nationalism that sidestep the politics of race as it shapes people’s lives, and to which Black internationalism provides a crucial historical corrective.”

– Fionnghuala Sweeney, reader in American and Black Atlantic Literatures, School of Literature, Language & Linguistics, Newcastle University

“In this second edition of Fear of a Black Nation, we are reminded of the continued relevance of David Austin’s decisive and distinctive contribution to documenting and theorizing the long and global history of Black diasporic politics. Meticulously analyzing the extraordinary and quotidian Black struggles in Canada against racism and the state’s security apparatus, Austin’s masterful account is essential for understanding and upending the cojoined structures and ideologies of white supremacy, hetero-patriarchy, colonialism, and capitalist imperialism.”

– Zophia Edwards, assistant professor, Department of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University

“In Fear of a Black Nation, David Austin grants us precious resources to seriously examine race, sex, and security in sixties Montreal. In contrast to public pronouncements delivered by people who swoop into places to speak about cities, islands, and nations that they know little about, Austin assiduously draws attention to informal and unofficial spheres of organization, social life, and struggles for political legitimacy as well as public and official forms of political life. Over and over again, he demonstrates the political, philosophical, and pedagogical insights to be found in independent bookstores, Black reading groups, community radio stations, student organizations, libraries, and archives, and in  intergenerational conversations with walking repositories of history and ideas.”

– Daniel McNeil, professor and Queen’s national scholar chair in Black Studies, Queen’s University, and author of Thinking While Black: Translating the Politics and Popular Culture of a Rebel Generation

“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, professor, Department of Asian Studies, University of British Columbia

“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, Department of Sociology, Toronto Metropolitan University, and author of Being Black

“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, professor, Department of African American Studies and History, UCLA

“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, Department 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, Department of History, University of Toronto, and author of The Empire Within

“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, (1966-2021), assistant professor of Integrated Studies in Education, McGill University


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