Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Africana Studies

First Advisor

Guthrie P. Ramsey


This dissertation investigates the narrative strategies and performative devices of African-American politics in the post-civil rights era. My inquiry focuses on demagoguery--a term dating from classical antiquity--in order to implicate it in African-American political discourses, in particular those of Tavis Smiley's former State of the Black Union, 2000-2010. Indeed, I posit that Smiley's former annual event is an important site for thinking about modern black demagoguery and the aestheticization of black politics. Through close readings and original transcriptions of Louis Farrakhan (b. 1933), Cornel West (b. 1953), and Michael Eric Dyson (b. 1958), I show that the inevitable practice of demagoguery--what the dissertation theorizes as the "allegorical," "epideictic," and "polytropic" modes of emplotment--now threatens to undermine the political opportunities afforded by the success of the modern civil rights movement, even though it sustains the illusion, today, of an autochthonous black public sphere.