Center Talk: Paul Von Blum Abroad, Talks Racism At Home


July 8, 2015 – Racial injustice isn’t just a concern on the home front.  In spring 2015, Paul Von Blum, Sr. Lecturer in Communications and African American Studies, and a Bunche Center affiliated faculty member, took the discussion overseas.  Von Blum was invited by Masaryk University in the Czech Republic to talk about racism in the U.S., the Civil Rights Movement, and the legal implications of racial discrimination.  The lectures were a truncated version of a popular course he has taught previously at UCLA, “Racism and the Law.”

This trip marked the second time Von Blum has spoken in the Czech Republic, previously going in 2013 on a State Department sponsored trip to discuss similar issues of race and injustice.  Von Blum is an internationally recognized speaker on race and social justice issues who has both an academic and personal connection to the subject.  While he has taught at the University of California since 1968, Von Blum is also the author of numerous books and articles on art, culture, education, and politics, including his memoir, A Life at the Margins: Keeping the Political Vision.  That book chronicles almost 50 years of political activism, starting with his civil rights work in the South in the early 1960s, and making intricate connections between his personal biography and larger social forces.  He is also author of the recently released book, Paul Robeson for Beginners, and the upcoming The Civil Rights Movement for Beginners.

Masaryk University is located in Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic.  And while that might seem like an unlikely place for discussions about American civil rights, Von Blum found that the large class of upper level law students immediately connected to the subject, particularly when he made connections with Czech discrimination against the local Roma (Gypsy) population.

“They knew about discrimination in the United States, but what they didn’t understand was the extent of the discrimination and that it is institutionalized,” Von Blum said.

In addition to teaching at Masaryk, while in Brno, Von Blum was also invited by Info USA, an affiliate of the U.S. Embassy in the Czech Republic, to discuss discriminatory incarceration practices, nonviolence as a means of protest, and #BlackLivesMatter in a large public lecture.