On September 11, 2016, Ph.D. Candidate Cheryl Dong presented her paper, “Black Power GIs” at the Black Arts Movement Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. The paper derived from her work on her Master’s thesis in history, which looked at the involvement of African American enlisted soldiers in creating black power ideology during the Vietnam War, particularly during the formative years of 1966-1968. Cheryl Dong’s paper explored the crucial role that black soldiers played in imparting third-world consciousness and forming alliances with third world regimes in the Black Panther Party. The paper also argued that black soldiers’ confrontation with military discipline, particularly in the Long Binh Jail Rebellion of 1968 helped pave the way for later black power critiques of imprisonment.
The Black Arts Movement Conference was the first national conference attended by Cheryl Dong and she took the opportunity to forge important connections with activists, artists, and academics in the Black Arts Movement. The conference also spurred her to think more reflexively about her dissertation work, which will be on martyrdom and the Black Panther Party. For many Black Panther veterans attending the conference, the movement never ended, only evolved and expanded to involve cultural as well as political activism.
Former Black Panthers at the conference, like Tarika Lewis, Avotcja, and Charlotte “Mama C” O’Neal, expressed their belief that their work as artists and cultural ambassadors for the Black Arts Movement was an extension of their earlier Panther activism. The activists’ view of history as a living, breathing tradition, their skepticism of academic history, and their reliance on African American memory work belied the alienation from American society that plague communities of color.
The conference was also a chance for Cheryl Dong to explore many of the museums, historic sites, and cultural institutions relating to African American history in the city of New Orleans. She attended the opening of an exhibit, “From Mouss’or to Tignon: The Evolution of the Headdress” at the McKenna Museum of African-American Art. The photography exhibit looked at how African American women are reclaiming the headdress as a symbol of empowerment and political declaration against the widely accepted stigma of natural hair.
Cheryl Dong’s presentation at the Black Arts Movement Conference is only one of several professional presentations that she will undertake in the next year. She has recently had a poster presentation accepted at the National Council of Public History’s 2017 conference. Her presentation will detail her collaborative work with the Khayrallah Center on a travelling exhibit about Lebanese-American history.