Ferguson Syllabus

This syllabus focuses on the death of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the subsequent non-indictment of Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed him.  The syllabus was created for a first-year composition class by Evan Kindley, Visiting Instructor in the Department of Literature at Claremont McKenna College.  It is in part the result of crowd-sourced conversation that began on Facebook.

URBAN is thankful for the opportunity to share this syllabus.  In the spirit of providing the authentic context from which this syllabus was created, the email written by Mr. Kindley to his students is included.


Evan Kindley

Publication Date:



Dear all,

As those of you who were in class on Tuesday know, I’ve decided to make one final slight change to the syllabus. In light of the response to the non-indictment of Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO, I thought it would be a good time to revisit James Baldwin. A lot of Baldwin’s writings from the sixties and seventies are still, sadly, relevant (and he’s been mentioned and quoted frequently in literary journalism about Ferguson so far), but this one, which was first published in The Progressive in December 1962 and reprinted in longer form in Baldwin’s 1963 book “The Fire Next Time,” is especially apt:

James Baldwin:  A Letter to My Nephew

Please read this (it’s short) and we’ll discuss it on Tuesday.

I also wanted to send a few contemporary responses to the Ferguson situation which we can talk about in the context of both Baldwin’s essay and the reading we’ve been doing all semester. Here are three of the most interesting, provocative pieces I’ve seen, all published within the last week:

Jelani Cobb in The New Yorker:  Chronicle of a Riot Foretold

Roxane Gay in The Toast:  Only Words

Jamelle Bouie in Slate:  Michael Brown Wasn’t a Superhuman Demon

Those four essays (Baldwin, Cobb, Gay, and Bouie) are all required reading, and your Sunday response paper should be on one or more of those articles. But there’s been a lot of extraordinary and illuminating writing on Ferguson, and for those of you who are interested in reading more, here’s a list of recommended links.



New York Times explainer [good for covering the basic facts]:  What Happened in Ferguson?

Darren Wilson’s testimony:  State of Missouri v. Darren Wilson:  Grand Jury Volume V, September 16, 2014

Wilson testimony [annotated]:  Officer Darren Wilson’s Grand Jury Testimony in Ferguson, Mo., Shooting

Annotated transcript of grand jury decision:  Ferguson grand jury decision: between the lines of the St Louis County prosecutor’s announcement

Joel Anderson at BuzzFeed [reporting on protests]:  “The World Should See This”


Essays/Personal Reactions:

Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic [on Barack Obama’s reaction]:  Barack Obama, Ferguson, and the Evidence of Things Unsaid

Jazmine Hughes [on how black parents are dealing with Ferguson]:  What Black Parents Tell Their Sons About the Police

Bijan Stephen [response from a young writer, not much older than all of you]:  I Will Only Bleed Here

Aaron Bady [a critique of the media coverage]:  Verbs


Legal analyses of Wilson testimony and grand jury decision:

Dara Lind at Vox:  Darren Wilson’s grand jury: too much evidence, too little supervision

Jeffrey Toobin for The New Yorker:  How Not to Use a Grand Jury

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo:  Making Sense of Darren Wilson’s Story


There you are. This is only a drop in a very big bucket, of course; there’s been much more written and will continue to be in the weeks and months ahead. (By the way, I’d be open to people doing a final paper on the various reactions to, and media coverage of, Ferguson; come see me during office hours next week if you think you’d like to try that.)

We’ll talk on Tuesday about the reading for the rest of the week and beyond, but expect to read the title essay of Leslie Jamison’s “The Empathy Exams” for Thursday.

All best, and take care,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *