Reckoning with the Black Radical Tradition: A Conference in Honor of Jack O'Dell

Saturday, January 13, 2024

University of Washington, Seattle


Program and schedule to be announced


About the Conference

Jack O’Dell (1923-2019) was a visionary intellectual and an astute organizer who helped shape the course of the Black freedom movement in the second half of the twentieth century. Though driven out of the spotlight by anticommunism, O’Dell worked creatively and tirelessly to advance the Black Radical Tradition through labor activism, piercing analysis, and political mobilization. He passed away on October 31, 2019, shortly before the pandemic. On January 13, 2024, activists, scholars, and others will convene at the University of Washington in Seattle to present on and discuss the Black Radical Tradition in honor of Jack O’Dell’s life and work.

    Particularly at a moment when campaigns against Critical Race Theory and “wokeism” are proliferating across the United States, this major conference on Black radicalism will serve as a rallying cry to think critically and to move forward collectively toward racial justice. A public commemoration of Jack O’Dell—who spearheaded voter registration drives, edited Freedomways (for many, a guiding light of the Black freedom movement), and strove always to place politics globally and historically—will be sure to energize and mobilize.

    The one-day conference, consciously scheduled for the Saturday before MLK Day to attract a wide range of participants, will begin with a series of roundtables and panels featuring junior scholars and younger activists. In the late afternoon, we will convene plenary sessions with prominent scholars and veteran activists who will reflect on the complex origins and the ongoing relevance of the Black Radical Tradition. The last session will focus exclusively on Jack O’Dell, whose unparalleled legacy and widespread reputation drove a stellar array of applications for the conference.

    To learn more about Jack O'Dell, please see "Capitalism, Colonialism, and the Long Arc of Black Struggle: Reading Jack O’Dell" by Nikhil Pal Singh. 


    Conference Participants

    Confirmed participants include:

    • Luther Adams - Free Man of Color (University of Washington, Tacoma)
    • Bianca Beauchemin (York University)
    • Phil Bereano (University of Washington, emeritus)
    • Dan Berger (University of Washington, Bothell)
    • Gene Bruskin, trade unionist, activist, and playwright
    • Peter Cole (Western Illinois University)
    • Daniel Cumming (John Hopkins University)
    • Bianca Dang (University of Washington, Seattle)
    • Charlie Demers, comedian and activist
    • Cindy Domingo, veteran activist and organizer
    • Crystal Feimster (Yale University)
    • Roderick Ferguson (Yale University)
    • Karen Ferguson (Simon Fraser University)
    • Larry Gossett, former King County Council member
    • Rosalinda Guillen, veteran activist and organizer
    • Rick Harwood, veteran activist and organizer
    • Michael Honey (University of Washington, Tacoma, emeritus)
    • Moon-Ho Jung (University of Washington, Seattle)
    • Blair Kelley (University of North Carolina, Chapell Hill)
    • Arun Kundnani, author
    • Robin D.G. Kelley (UCLA)
    • Denise Lynn (University of Southern Indiana)
    • Sharon Maeda, veteran activist and organizer
    • Javier Muñoz (UCLA)
    • John Munro (University of Birmingham, UK)
    • Tejasvi Nagaraja (Cornell University)
    • Matthew Nichter (Rollins College)
    • Frances O'Shaughnessy (University of Washington, Seattle)
    • Erin Pineda (Smith College)
    • Gabriel Prawl, President, A. Philip Randolph Institute, Seattle Chapter
    • Marc Robinson (California State University, San Bernardino)
    • Ian Rocksborough-Smith (University of the Fraser Valley)
    • April Sims, President, Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO
    • Nikhil Pal Singh (New York University)
    • Clarence Thomas, ILWU activist
    • Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (Princeton)
    • Maurice Weeks, activist and organizer 

    This conference is organized by the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies, Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest, and the Simpson Center for the Humanities, with support from the Department of History, the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity, the University Honors Program, the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, and the A. Philip Randolph Institute, Seattle Chapter.


    Jack O'Dell and the Black Radical Tradition Reading Group

    In anticipation of the conference, the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies is hosting a reading group focused on the writings of Jack O'Dell. Reading group sessions will be held monthly from 6:30pm-8:00pm on the following dates:

    • Tuesday, October 17, 2023
    • Tuesday, November 14, 2023
    • Tuesday, December 19, 2023

    Reading group meetings will be held in-person at locations from South/Central Seattle to Tacoma, Washington. Exact locations will be announced. Light meals will be provided.

    The first twenty people to register for the reading group will receive a free physical copy of the book, Climbin’ Jacob’s Ladder: The Black Freedom Movement Writings of Jack O’Dell. PDF files of readings will also be provided. 

    Join the Reading Group by filling out the registration form here. 



    Please email the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies at