Making African America

A Virtual Symposium on Immigration and the Changing Dynamics of Blackness


The Making African America symposium brought together fifty-three scholars, journalists, activists, curators, filmmakers and writers to discuss how immigration has shaped and is continuing to reshape what it means to be black in the United States. 

Watch the Symposium

Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III gives opening remarks at the Making African America symposium.

The above media is provided by YouTube (Privacy Policy, Terms of Service)

Symposium Schedule 


3:30 p.m. EST

Remembering Ira Berlin and Welcome Remarks

  • Kevin Young, National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • Bonnie Thornton Dill, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Lonnie G. Bunch III, Smithsonian Institution
  • INTRODUCTIONS: Julie Greene, University of Maryland, College Park


Dis-Locations, Dis-Possessions—On Borders, Walls, Nations

  • Carole Boyce Davies, Cornell University 

5:00 p.m. EST

Session 1: African American/American African Encounters 

Introducing the methods and theories employed by scholars to understand the African diaspora, this session will explore both historical and contemporary migrations. Panelists will also consider the relationships and encounters between African Americans and African diasporic immigrants.

  • Msia Kibona Clark, Howard University
  • Joshua Guild, Princeton University
  • Nancy R. Mirabal, University of Maryland, College Park
  • CHAIR: Julie Greene, University of Maryland, College Park

4:30 p.m. EST

Session 2: Transnational Ties and Conceptions of Home

The meanings and experiences of “home” are often complex and complicated. This panel will investigate homes and homelands through discussions of return migrations, dual residences, historical memory, familial ties, cultural production, and changing technologies of communication.

  • Nemata Blyden, George Washington University
  • Violet Showers Johnson, Texas A&M University
  • Paul José López Oro, Smith College
  • CHAIR: Merle Collins, University of Maryland, College Park

6:00 p.m. EST

Session 3: Struggles for Civil and Labor Rights

Struggles for justice have shaped the relationship of Black migrants and African Americans for generations. This panel considers the contributions of Black diasporic organizers and activists in the long history for civil rights and labor rights.

  • Glenn Chambers, Michigan State University
  • Fumilayo Showers, University of Connecticut
  • Kaysha Corinealdi, Emerson College
  • CHAIR: Quincy Mills, University of Maryland, College Park

3:30 p.m. EST

Session 4: Artistic Encounters: Literature, Music and Art History

Examining the diaspora through the lens of cultural production and retention offers dynamic examples of the meanings and legacies of migration. This session will explore how cultural productions in literature, music, and art both reflect and contribute to the complexity of encounters between African Americans and black immigrants during the 20th century.

  • Mukoma Wa Ngugi, Cornell University
  • Dagmawi Woubshet, University of Pennsylvania
  • Silvio Torres-Saillant, Syracuse University
  • Jason McGraw, Indiana University
  • CHAIR: Zita Nunes, University of Maryland, College Park

5:00 p.m. EST

Session 5: Global Geographies and Constructions of Blackness

This session will address how black immigrants and their interactions with African Americans have forged new and more global experiences of blackness over the course of the 20th century.

  • Lara Putnam, University of Pittsburgh
  • J. Marlena Edwards, Pennsylvania State University
  • Minkah Makalani, The University of Texas at Austin
  • Erik McDuffie, University of Illinois
  • CHAIR: Samir Meghelli, Anacostia Community Museum

4:30 p.m. EST

Session 6: Curating Blackness in Museums and Cultural Spaces

Although measures of diversity name “black” as a single category, some museums and cultural institutions focus on the research, collection, preservation, and display of black diversity. This panel will explore what it means historically, and in a contemporary context, to present diverse black stories, whether for “traditional” museum audiences, predominantly black visitors, or in digital spaces.

  • Deborah L. Mack, National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • María Elena Ortiz, Perez Art Museum Miami
  • Aleia Brown, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Diala Touré, Appraisals of Value
  • MODERATOR: Ariana A. Curtis National Museum of African American History and Culture

4:30 p.m. EST

Session 7: Mediating Blackness: A Journalist's Roundtable

Although black migrations within and into the United States are nothing new, articulations of black diversity are receiving a surge in media attention. Black Americans are increasingly naming their transnational, multiethnic, and multilingual realities, among other identities. The journalists on this panel will explore the use of collective terminologies such as African American and black, and discuss how the multiplicity of news media, both written and social, is responding to diverse black perspectives.

  • Isma’il Kushkush, Freelance Journalist
  • Carl-Philippe Juste, Miami Herald Media Company
  • Felice León, The Root
  • Jeneé Osterheldt, The Boston Globe
  • MODERATOR: Natalie Hopkinson, Howard University

6:00 p.m. EST

Session 8: Movement of a People: Framing Black Migration on Film

Film can be a powerful visual medium of expression and commentary. This panel, part of the Creatively Speaking film series, will use short films to show various aspects of multicultural black American experiences, including migration pathways, the search for roots, and mixed feelings of both alienation and belonging.

  • Cassandra Bromfield, co-creator/talent, Into My Life
  • Ellie Foumbi, filmmaker, No Traveler Returns
  • Kavery Kaul, filmmaker, The Bengali: A Work in Progress Trailer
  • MODERATOR: Michelle Materre, Creatively Speaking


Learn More About These Films

  • Standing at the Scratch Line, by Julie Dash, 2016 (11 minutes)
    The year 2016 marks a century since the beginning of the first Great Migration of African American families to the Philadelphia area at the start of World War I. Dash captures the stories of a people seeking refuge and freedom in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Working with Mother Bethel AME in Philadelphia, and Mother Emmanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina, Dash creates a cinematic poem about returning to sacred spaces of departure and arrival.
  • No Traveler Returns, by Ellie Foumbi, 2018 (12 minutes)
    Migrating to the United States as a young black male can be a difficult process. For a young African immigrant, the adjustment can at times be overwhelming. This beautifully shot black- and-white film tells the story of one young man’s struggle to adapt to life in America, which eventually pushes him toward an existential crisis.
  • The Bengali: A Work in Progress, by Kavery Kaul, 2020 (8-minute trailer)
    An untold story of ties between South Asians and African Americans in the United States. In the early 1900s, an Indian Muslim man marries an African American Christian woman. A granddaughter of this vibrant cultural tangle travels to Bengali, India, in search of family a world apart—a remarkable quest of hope and fear, as she tackles deep divides of culture.
  • Into My Life, by Cassandra Bromfield with Grace Remington, Sarah Keeling, and Ivana Hucíková, 2018 (15 minutes)
    Since 1965, an African American mother-daughter filmmaking duo has chronicled their lives on 8-mm film. Into My Life pays tribute to their drive for self-preservation and self- representation, highlighting the memories, identities, and relationships housed within their archive. From Puerto Rico to Lindsay Park in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the women experience vast changes to the places they have made their home.

1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. EST

Community Day: Telling Tales of the Diaspora

This community day engages visitors in exploring what diaspora is and what it means to them. Dr. Jessica Harris will discuss her recent book, Vintage Postcards from the African World: In the Dignity of their Work and the Joy of their Play. During this presentation, selected postcards will come to life through theatrical scenes written and directed by playwright Gabrielle Fulton Ponder.

4:30 p.m. EST

Session 9: Advancing Blackness in Activism and Justice

Preceded and influenced by the work and legacies of Claudia Jones, Shirley Chisholm, Maida Springer Kemp, Kwame Ture, and more, contemporary black immigrant organizers and advocates build on decades worth of political strategy and analysis to advance racial justice. This panel discussion will explore contemporary sites of and insights on mobilizing and advocacy, from the perspective of black immigrant organizers and advocates. 

  • Malachi Hernandez, Massachusetts State House
  • Gregory “Ronnie” James, UndocuBlack Network
  • DeJoiry McKenzie-Simmons, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
  • Nakia Woods, HOPE Collaborative
  • MODERATOR: Nana Afua Brantuo, Justice for Muslims Collective

6:00 p.m. EST

Session 10: I, Too, Sing America: Writing Blackness in Poetry and Fiction

This panel discussion brings together renowned authors whose cultural roots span the African diaspora. They will discuss their use of the written word as a medium to communicate black immigrant experiences, including the complexity of encounters with other black Americans in the United States.

  • Dinaw Mengestu, author
  • Edwidge Danticat, author
  • Elizabeth Acevedo, poet and author
  • MODERATOR: Joanne Hyppolite, National Museum of African American History and Culture

Information & Resources

Poster for African Liberation Day

Program Booklet

A detailed symposium program for attendees with sessions descriptions, speakers and more.
Explore More
Pinback button for the Shirley Chisholm presidential campaign, ca. 1972

Additional Resources

A brief introduction to foundational works in the fields of African American Studies, African diaspora studies, and the history of black immigration in the United States.
Explore More


A diverse set of resources, organized by conference panel, with which attendees can further engage with symposium participants.
Explore More

Making African America: The Arts

Explore five works of art from the museum's collection that highlight U.S.-based black artists who looked to Africa and the black diaspora for sources of cultural pride and heritage.
Explore More

Making African America: Politics

Explore five political artifacts from the museum's collection, which help reveal the demographic changes that have transformed the social, cultural, and political significance of blackness in the United States.
Explore More

Podcast Episodes

A curated list of engaging and informative podcasts on immigration and the changing dynamics of blackness.
Explore More

Community Day: Telling Tales Of The Diaspora

Jessica B. Harris discusses her recent book, "Vintage Postcards from the African World" with Kelly Navies, Oral History Museum Specialist.
Explore More

Share Your Story

Join the Making African America Virtual Symposium conversation by sharing your story related to immigration through the Museum’s online community collection.

Tells us your journey, family’s journey, or simply share holiday traditions and unique recipes. We want to know how your personal history connects to the larger black diaspora or how you experience being black in America. To share your story with us, create an online account and upload an image and a brief entry using the tags Immigration, Diaspora, and Family. Visit our submission guidelines for tips on how to share a great community story. For more information on the Community Curation Platform, visit the Center for the Digitization and Curation of African American History

Presenting Partners

About the Center for Global Migration Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park
The Center for Global Migration Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park works to advance teaching and interdisciplinary research around issues of migration and immigration. Working in collaboration with numerous academic departments, community organizations, and institutions in Washington, D.C., the Center is pioneering new ways of producing and sharing knowledge about the processes of migration.

About the National Museum of African American History and Culture
Since opening September 24, 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture has welcomed over 7 million visitors. Occupying a prominent location next to the Washington Monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the nearly 400,000-square-foot museum is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural destination devoted exclusively to exploring, documenting, and showcasing the African American story and its impact on American and world history. For more information about the museum, visit, follow @NMAAHC on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram—or call Smithsonian information at (202) 633-1000.

Please contact us with questions about the Making African America virtual symposium.

African-American history might best be viewed as a series of great migrations, during which immigrants—at first forced and then free—transformed an alien place into a home, becoming deeply rooted in a land that once was foreign, even despised. After each migration, the newcomers created new understandings of the African-American experience and new definitions of blackness.

Ira Berlin

Explore the Collection

Discover signature objects from the Museum's collection
Costume dress and belt for Dorothy in The Wiz on Broadway, 1975

Costume dress and belt for Dorothy in The Wiz on Broadway, 1975

Designed by Geoffrey Holder (1930 - 2014)
View Object
"Ethiopia," ca. 1921

"Ethiopia," ca. 1921

Created by Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (1877–1968)
View Object

"Free Huey!" 1970

Recorded by Stokely Carmichael and published by Black Forum Records
View Object
Costume dress and belt for Dorothy in The Wiz on Broadway, 1975
"Ethiopia," ca. 1921

This symposium and program is generously supported by