Model of Courage: Adolph L. Reed Jr.03-04-2021
The Hannah Arendt Center had the pleasure of hosting Adolph L. Reed Jr. for the first formal zoom of the “Courage To Be” lecture series of the 2020-2021 academic year. The “Courage To Be” lecture series is a program of courses centered around the notion of ‘courage;’ whether in the political, existential and spiritual, or mundane spheres of being. On the evening of February 17, 2021, the students enrolled in the “Courage To Be” courses logged onto zoom to engage in a conversation Professor Reed. He spoke on the topic of courage and how we can analyze and try to acknowledge where it plays roles in our lives, especially pertaining to current politics amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Professor Adolph L. Reed Jr. is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. Over the years he has written, edited and collaborated on countless books and articles regarding the ideas of race, politics and culture. Currently, he is working on two new books tentatively titled; Reflections of the Jim Crow South, a Non Memoir and When Compromises Come Home to Roost to be released in 2022. When Compromises Come Home to Roost is a book project that was started in the beginning of the Obama administration intending to focus on Obama Mania and why people should’ve known better than to resort to a herd like mentality like as we observed. The book eventually took a turn to become an account of the decline and transformation of the left in the United States since the end of World War II.
Reed started his lecture speaking about his early childhood and how courage came into his own life during the McCarthy era. Throughout his youth and life he has seen himself as someone who lacks courage rather than someone who possesses it. In his lecture, Professor Reed explained how as a child growing up in the south, he saw courage every day, but none of it registered with him as courage because it was just life and he was just a kid who didn’t know anything else. After indulging the Bard community with a short picture of his youth, Reed begins to describe his own experiences with courage in general. Explaining that in several near death situations he didn’t feel any emotions at all, that every emotional and physical sense was numbed in the moment and it was only after the fact that he felt any emotions. He used the example of a man saving someone from a subway on the tracks to describe this better.
His lecture reviewed ways in which courage plays a role as a collective project. When acting together for a cause everyone is passionate about, courage can come from that shared collective power. He continued to illuminate that the general understanding of collective action may not be successful every time, or on the first shot. But, eventually it makes sense to assume that popular mobilization and asserted collective action makes its way and paves a path for the future. To better illustrate this general understanding of collective action, Reed uses three specific instances that have stood out to him over the years in terms of courage as a collective project. The first being a cafeteria strike at the University of Chapel Hill in 1969. A group of faculty members paid a portion of their salary to organize and create an independent union that fought and won for their working rights. The second was in the early 1990’s in Decador, Illinois when a combination of strikes and lockouts from Bridgestone Company and multiple other corporations occurred. Their slogan was “just one day longer,” and eventually they were defeated. Reed went on to explain that this example showed clearly that if you want to do collective action and power successfully, you must know and be aware that you are going to lose more than you win. The last example of collective action Reed described was the 2016 Taj Mahal Strike in Atlantic City. In this strike the odds were clearly stacked against them but out of this strike came a universal expression that they weren’t doing it for their own sake and dignity. However, they also understood that if ICON had been able to get away with taking away their healthcare and wages without a fight it would’ve been the end of the regime that workers had been able to win since the beginning of the 2000’s.
In each of these instances, Reed describes that he didn’t realize until after the fact that these were true demonstrations of courage as a collective project, and that people can come together in solidarity to create conscious action. As Reed describes this he leaves us with a quote he brings with him everywhere he goes and believes to accurately describe where courage comes from: “Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one,” (Solidarity Forever, 00:00:35-00:00:40).