A Dialogue with Nelson Peery
Nelson Peery answers questions on his memoir, "Black Fire: The Making of an American Revolutionary"

Presented by Speakers for a New America
Call 800-691-6888 or
email info@speakersforanewamerica.com


Dear Friends,

I first met Nelson Peery in 1981, and over the intervening years developed a deep appreciation for his passion, honesty, and profoundly creative intellect. His insights added fuel my own intellectual journey, and served to connect me to the broad moral cause to which he continues to dedicate his life. So it is with great pleasure that I introduce this pamphlet, A Dialogue with Nelson Peery.

As a university based social science teacher, I constantly look for ways to enhance the learning experience of students. For example, I combine materials reflecting contemporary social science research with writings by the founders of sociology, namely Karl Marx, Max Weber and Emile Durkheim. I also use film and literature to illustrate social science principles, and give students the opportunity to perform statistical analysis of quantitative data. I have found that each of these approaches can help bring social science to life in the classroom.

What follows this introduction is yet another attempt to enhance student experience during a class I taught during the fall, 2003 semester at Cornell University. In this class students were given the option of earning extra credit by forming reading groups and writing essays about two of Nelson's books, namely Black Fire and The Future is up to Us. They were further required to ask Nelson one written question per report. The questions were posed over an Internet based list serve, and Nelson's response was to be included in each student essay.

Several things motivated me to set up this learning exercise. First, Nelson brings a unique generational perspective to social questions. He is a member of the cohort that came of age during the Great Depression, and then went off to fight in the war against fascism. He did all of this in the context of a segregated military, and after the war returned to a country still shackled by racial apartheid. Since these formative years Nelson remained active in the intellectual and practical struggle to transform America to a more just and humane community. Second, Nelson is a social visionary whose intellectual lineage flows directly from the classic sociological writings of Marx. Very few modern day Marxist intellectuals sustain Nelson's level of social engagement, or can match his firm belief in the prospect for a better world.

While I do not think that many of my students share Nelson's vision for a post-capitalist future, I am confident that they were fully stimulated by his writings and by his lively voice. I feel proud of the efforts made by my students, and believe that they came to share my appreciation for the unique spirit of Nelson Peery.

Tom Hirschl
Professor of Development Sociology
Cornell University
January, 2004