Atlanta Sessions at the 2018 American Studies Association

This year’s American Studies Association annual meeting takes place in Atlanta from November 8–11.

The conference, to be held at the Westin Peachtree Plaza Atlanta, includes several sessions that interrogate Atlanta’s cultures, its places, and issues facing the city.

Noting that W. E. B. Du Bois wrote The Souls of Black Folk while working at Atlanta University, the meeting’s call for proposals invokes Du Bois’s representation of Atlanta as “as a city at a crossroads: it could bow to the seductive but alienating ideals of racial capitalism, or it could . . . ‘realize the broadest possibilities of life.’” The Atlanta Studies editorial staff presents this list of sessions that respond to this call, surfacing stories of historically black neighborhoods, student activists, immigrants, hip hop artists, cemeteries, and more across the city.

The American Studies Association has graciously offered Atlanta Studies readers free single session passes to attend these exciting talks. To attend a session for free, simply register using this Google form.

“We Were Here before DACA, We’ll Be Here after DACA”: Latina/os in Atlanta and Their Quest for Academic Justice in the 21st-Century 

Thursday, November 8, 4:00 to 5:45pm, Westin Peachtree, Seventh, Augusta 3

Site Resources Committee

Immigrant activists continue to pressure the U.S. Congress to pass a clean DREAM Act, giving Dreamers a pathway to legal status. Dreamers are youth who immigrated to the U.S., often with their adult parents, and lack legal immigration status. In light of the recent termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program by the Trump administration, nearly 800,000 DACA recipients fear deportation and downward mobility. Undocumented Latina/o youth living in the South, including Atlanta, are no strangers to immigration threats and deportation even after President Obama enacted DACA. local and state governments in the South legalized draconian anti-immigrant policies and restrictions. In 2010, the University System of Georgia barred admissions to undocumented students to its top tier state educational institutions and from accessing in-state tuition. Alabama, the following year, passed H.B. 56. The law ordered local and state police officials to interrogate any person’s immigration status upon suspicion. Immigrant activists, students, and community leaders immediately organized challenges to these anti-immigrant policies. For example, Freedom University emerged to offer college-level courses and mentorship to undocumented students in response to the 2010 USG admission policy. We also witnessed Jessica Colotl become a prominent voice for undocumented youth after she was detained by immigration officials for a minor traffic violation at a local metro Atlanta university. This panel will bring activists, students, and non-profit advocates into conversation with American Studies scholars to discuss how Latina/os are coping with and challenging anti-immigrant policies across metro Atlanta. Academic scholarship employs the Nuevo South to describe the recent influx of Latina/o immigrants to the South, including Atlanta. The panelists will highlight how Latina/os are reimaging the Nuevo South through civic engagement, student leadership, and non-profit organizations.

Chair: Rodolfo Aguilar, Kennesaw State University


  • Laura Emiko Soltis, Freedom University
  • Sanchez Gutierrez, Freedom University
  • Jessica Colotl, Community Organizer

Student Activism in the Age of Trump, #MeToo, and #BlackLivesMatter: Atlanta Student Activists in Conversation 

Friday, November 9, 8:00 to 9:45am, Westin Peachtree, Sixth, Chastain C

The past few years have been marked by a rise in activism on college and university campuses. Black Lives Matter has been a presence on many college campuses where students have argued for black studies courses, increases in the hiring of black faculty members, and against the killing of black people by the police. However, most of the attention has been on predominantly white institutions, largely ignoring historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). HBCUs have been central to campus activism for decades. Students at schools such as Howard University, Shaw University, Fisk University, Bennett College, and North Carolina A&T launched the sit-in movement and formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Student activists at HBCUs continue this radical tradition in the era of Black Lives Matter. This legacy is also being continued by undocumented student activists at Freedom University, a school in the tradition of the freedom schools of the civil rights movement. This roundtable discussion aims to highlight these voices. 

The participants are Atlanta-based student activists from Spelman College, an historically black women’s college whose students have a long history of political organizing, and Freedom University, a freedom school that offers financially accessible education for undocumented students. These activists have worked on campaigns relating to food accessibility and sexual violence, police brutality and immigration policy. 

This roundtable discussion, chaired by CUNY Lehman College professor Mary Phillips, will be participatory and engaging. The participants will discuss the challenges they’ve faced and the strategies they’ve utilized as student activists. They will link politics on campus to the political climate in Atlanta and the United States. This format will allow for the activists from Spelman and Freedom University to engage with one another, as well as with the attendees of the ASA annual meeting. 

Student activists at Freedom University and Spelman College are on the front lines of the fight against white supremacy, a battle whose violence is clearly taking place on college and university campuses, as evidenced by the white supremacist violence on and near the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in August 2017. Student activists have often faced state violence and political repression, as shown by the murders that took place at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg in February 1968 and at Jackson State in May 1970. As students of color, undocumented students, queer students, women, and other students face violent repression on campus from government and vigilante forces, we at the ASA have a duty to listen to and engage with students at Spelman College and Freedom University who are organizing around anti-racist feminist politics.

Chair: Mary Phillips, CUNY Lehman College


  • Clarissa Brooks, Spelman College
  • Mary-Pat Hector, Spelman College

“When the Heroes Eventually Die”: A Critical Listening of OutKast’s Aquemini on its 20th Anniversary

Friday, November 9, 4:00 to 5:45pm, Westin Peachtree, Seventh, Augusta E

Atlanta Hip Hop super group OutKast (Antwan “Big Boi” Patton and André “3000” Benjamin) released their third studio album Aquemini in September 1998. The album received much critical acclaim, including the coveted “Five Mics” rating from The Source magazine. The album showcased the duo’s conceptual and sonic growth, moving away from the Atlanta-centric focus of their previous albums Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik and ATLiens into an experimental space of reckoning with their southernness, their blackness, and their musical chops. The panel’s title, “When the Heroes Eventually Die,” is phrasing from the album’s title song. A thoughtful and at times heartbreaking interrogation of themselves and their communities, the “Aquemini”song speaks to the strength of Patton and Benjamin’s bond as friends and rhyming partners as well as the need to push back against creative and social-cultural stagnation. Aquemini highlights both Patton and Benjamin’s efforts to simultaneously remember their previous endeavors while shedding former renderings of their lyrical styles and identities. They worked in sync – an effort signified by the album’s title, a merging of the duo’s astrological signs – to build a sonic and cultural world different from anything created before in Hip Hop.

his roundtable, a mix of scholars, journalists, and writers, seek to both celebrate and engage the Aquemini album for its 20th anniversary. Through critical dialogue blended with a close listening of the album, our panel interrogates both Aquemini’s lasting shelf-life and the album’s continued relevance as an epitome of Hip Hop storytelling, world-building, and the need for continued creative experimentation by artists in the post-Civil Rights Deep South. Each panelist will open with brief remarks followed by a moderated conversation and open-floor discussion with panel attendants.

Chair: Regina N. Bradley (Kennesaw State University)


  • Kiese M. Laymon (University of Mississippi)
  • Maurice Garland (Vox Teen Communications)
  • Rodney Carmichael (NPR)

Queerness and Race in Atlanta

Saturday, November 10, 4:00 to 5:45pm, Westin Peachtree, Seventh, Augusta 2

Chair: Eva Hageman, University of Maryland–College Park

Individual Papers (full abstracts for each available here):

  • “Gay Atlanta in Black and White: Coalition Organizing and the Limits of Legal Liberalism,” Lucas Hilderbrand, University of California–Irvine
  • “Hay Que Divertirse Un Rato: Mexican Bands and Bailes in Metro Atlanta, 1980s–1990s,” Iliana Yamileth Rodriguez, Yale University
  • “Implementing the Civil Rights Industrial Complex: Atlanta, the Domestication of Civil Rights, and the Practice of Southern Neoliberalism,” Aisha K. Finch, University of California–Los Angeles
  • “Vienners at Odum’s: Deaundra Peek and the Atlanta Televisual Drag Scene,” Margaret T. McGehee, Emory University

F.I.L.A. and Atlanta’s Evolution as a Hip Hop City

Saturday, November 10, 4:00 to 5:45pm, Westin Peachtree, Seventh, Augusta C

Site Resources Committee

In a 2014 interview Andre “3000” Benjamin, one half of the pioneering southern Hip Hop duo OutKast, explained balancing out the need to carry their hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, on their back while using their southernness to create a free space to express themselves. Benjamin reflects: 

“[Atlanta]’s one of those places where, because we didn’t grow up in New York, because we didn’t grow up  on the West Coast, we had time to sink both of those things in. Because no one expected anything from the South, except, you know, maybe fast, booty-shake club music. The door was wide open, so we had an open palette. . .I think Atlanta’s almost like a freedom land because we had no ties to anything. It was just open, like, open field.”

Indeed, OutKast’s first album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik is an ode to Atlanta, a homage to the landmarks, challenges, and realities of being young, southern, and Black in the post-Civil Rights American South. Produced by Atlanta production team Organized Noize, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was a sonic and lyrical experiment in articulating contemporary southern Blackness with Atlanta as both the foundation and backdrop for their music. OutKast’s rise to prominence in Hip Hop paralleled Atlanta’s own rise to power as an international city. A significant part of that rise was Atlanta’s growing reputation as a hub of (southern) Hip Hop. 

This roundtable, “F.I.L.A.: the Evolution of a Hip Hop City,” takes its name from the 2004 rap song “F.I.L.A.” (Forever I Love Atlanta) by Atlanta native Lil Scrappy. The song, a homage to those who were originally from Atlanta, can be read as a response to the city’s rapid growth and arrival of throngs of transient residents drawn to Atlanta in the late 1990s and early 2000s. As the city evolved so did its rap scene. For example, in addition to Organized Noize’s signature blend of funk, gospel, and blues heard on OutKast and rap group Goodie Mob’s albums in the 1990s, there was also the rise of Trap rap, Crunk, and the Snap Era in the early and mid-2000s. Like Atlanta’s consistent (and intentional) revision of its image because of its hyper-awareness of its rapid growth, Atlanta’s Hip Hop was also in constant revision of its sound.

This panel brings together journalists, artists, and scholars to provide a multi-dimensional and interdisciplinary approach to understanding how Atlanta’s Hip Hop culture reflects the complexities of Atlanta as a hub of social-cultural production. Each panelist will open with brief remarks followed by a moderated conversation and open-floor discussion with roundtable attendants.

Chair: Jack Hamilton, University of Virginia


  • Jack Hamilton, University of Virginia
  • Regina N. Bradley, Kennesaw State University
  • Christina Lee, Music and Culture Journalist

Mapping Sweet Auburn: Geo-Locating Atlanta’s Spaces of Black Crisis and Emergence Through Digital Humanities Making

Saturday, November 10, 12:00 to 1:45pm, Westin Peachtree, Seventh, Augusta A

Digital Humanities Caucus

This professional development session pairs discussion of panelists’ careers at the intersection of American studies and the digital humanities with a workshop to build a mobile phone-based walking tour of Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn neighborhood, a geographical location integral to Atlanta’s history of black emergence, resistance, and negotiation of power and degradation. Our session highlights the diverse realities of digital humanities work and channels the geographical specificity of cultural and institutional formations of black crisis and resistance in Atlanta into the production of a tool for local activism. Participants will practice methods and models for collaboration enabling them to undertake projects melding digital humanities tools and American studies scholarship in their own communities.

Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn neighborhood emerged in the twentieth century as “the richest Negro street in the world” (Fortune 1956) as black Atlantans sought safety through coalescence after the violence of the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot. A center of black capitalism—home to Atlanta’s first black-owned life insurance company, radio station, and a number of newspapers, businesses, churches, and social clubs—Sweet Auburn sustained a uniquely persistent black middle and upper class despite tremendous obstacles. Urban renewal and post-desegregation disinvestment led to degradation and outmigration. Today, Atlanta’s cross-racial business and political elite draws on a rhetoric of economic development and tourism to rehabilitate the neighborhood. Meanwhile, activist groups work to facilitate the emergence of a Sweet Auburn neighborhood that addresses continuing crises of homelessness and disinvestment, while drawing on the neighborhood’s history to emphasize how race is refracted across the contemporary cityscape.

This session gathers American Studies Association attendees to help create a mobile tour of the Sweet Auburn neighborhood for Civil Bikes, an activist group that leads bike and walking tours critically engaging the city’s civil rights geographies. The tour will expand Civil Bikes’s capacity to engage Atlantans and visitors to the city in conversations around race, power, and the history of the Sweet Auburn neighborhood. Building the tour during the session will afford participants a hands-on experience in digital humanities making. Session attendees will use their laptops and mobile phones to build a mobile tour of the neighborhood using the Open Tour Builder application drawing on data curated by session panelists drawing on Civil Bikes’s walking tour of Sweet Auburn. Open Tour Builder is an open source software platform developed by the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship for building interactive geospatial tours incorporating multimedia content that are optimized for mobile devices. Building a mobile version of Civil Bikes’s Sweet Auburn tour will offer participants a collective experience of digital humanities making.

The session’s panelists occupy varied positions at the intersection of American Studies and Digital Humanities. Including tenured and tenure-track faculty, librarians, digital scholarship staff, and activists, the panelists will briefly discuss how they have come to the collaborative digital scholarly production featured in this session through diverse professional tracks.

Chair: Jesse P. Karlsberg, Emory University


  • Nedra Deadwyler, Civil Bikes
  • Lauren Klein, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Katie Rawson, University of Pennsylvania
  • Brennan Collins, Georgia State University

Sorrow of a City: The (After)Life of the Atlanta Child Murders

Sunday, November 11, 8:00 to 9:45am, Clark Atlanta Museum (223 Brawley Drive SW), Clark Atlanta Museum

Taking its title and most of its cues from Maurice J. Hobson’s influential monograph The Legend of the Black Mecca: Politics and Class in the Making of Modern Atlanta (2017), this roundtable session features Atlanta based scholars, archivists, and curators to consider the (after)life of the Atlanta Child Murders through its archival memory and the expressive culture it influenced. Recalling the two-year period between 1979-1981 when at least 28 mostly poor black boys were found dead and discarded in the city’s outdoors, the roundtable explores the intra-racial class and political tensions of this period and examines its current role in shaping contemporary storytelling about black American experience. 

Chair: Michelle S. Hite, Spelman College


  • Maurice J. Hobson, Georgia State University
  • Holly Smith, Spelman College
  • Tiffany Atwater Lee, Robert Woodruff Library
  • Calinda Lee, Atlanta History Center
  • Maurita Poole, Clark Atlanta University

Tour: South-View Cemetery

Sunday, November 11, 10:00 to 11:45am, Clark Atlanta University Art Museum (223 Brawley Drive SW), Clark Atlanta Museum

Tour of the South-View Cemetery