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Ph.D. Candidate Appointed Mellon Dissertation Fellow

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Ph.D. Candidate Appointed Mellon Dissertation Fellow

Ph.D. Candidate Appointed Mellon Dissertation Fellow

The Department of Philosophy would like to congratulate appointed Mellon Dissertation Fellow, Edward O’Bryan, Ph.D. Candidate!


Title of Dissertation: Black American Existentialism: From Liberation to Abolition.  

Committee: Kathryn Sophia Belle (Chair), Robert Bernasconi, Sarah Clark Miller, Jennifer Boittin 


Black Americans who lived through chattel slavery, the abolition of slavery, and the horrors of lynching presented a myriad of ways to think about freedom, equality, alienation, and empowerment. Prolific Black writers like Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells-Barnett exposed contradictions in American society’s views on freedom and equality. Their works underscore the vibrant philosophical objections Black Americans raised with regard to the dominant white society’s views on freedom, equality, oppression, and the alienation of persons through slavery and racism. My dissertation project is motived by the way these thinkers raised practical and theoretical challenges against, and fundamentally changed, the dominant Western views of freedom and equality. Three questions motivate this project: How did those enslaved during American chattel slavery, and their descendants, approach Western concepts like freedom and agency? Were their approaches to freedom fundamentally different from the pro-slavery society? And what lessons can we learn about empowerment from their struggles against oppression? My dissertation aims to answer these questions by utilizing the work of Angela Davis and her existential reading of Frederick Douglass. Further, I demonstrate how both Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells Barnett understand freedom as the process of empowering individuals and communities against the alienations of slavery and its aftermath. Each of these figures outlines the horrors of slave life, the anguish of living under the constant threat of racialized violence, and the importance of resisting these realities. By outlining hypocrisy, inconsistency, and prejudice, these figures both demonstrate how dominant concepts can be altered and utilized in favor of oppressed populations.


To read more about the Mellon Foundation Grant, please click here.