This paper examines Angela Davis's 1969 Lectures on Liberation and her critique of Jean-Paul Sartre's views regarding freedom and enslaved agency. Across four sections, the paper etches out Davis's response to what she calls Sartre's ‘notorious statement’ through her own existential reading of Frederick Douglass's resistance to chattel slavery. Instead of interpreting Davis's existential insights through the work of Sartre or other Western continental philosophers, the paper engages Lewis Gordon, George Yancy, Frank Kirkland, and LaRose Parris to develop an alternative frame for assessing Davis's existential thinking. Embracing a diverse lineage of existential philosophy, the paper argues for Black-centered approaches to existential philosophy that resonate with, but are not reducible or indebted to, European existentialism.
Edward O'Byrn is an Assistant Professor of African American Studies at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. His research focuses on Black American philosophers as well as 20th century Western philosophy and he is currently in the early stages of a book project in Black existential philosophy.