Everything You Need for an African American History Month Reading List

As you probably know, February is African American History Month, when we celebrate the countless contributions of African Americans to our country and recognize the struggles of generations past and present.  Titles that treat the many facets of African American culture and history have always been one of the strongest and most important components of UNC Press’s list.  Here are some recent and forthcoming books that teach us more about the significant lives, endeavors, triumphs, and trials of African Americans throughout history. You can see all our books in African American studies at the UNC Press website.

An exciting multidisciplinary edited volume that is currently available for pre-order is Beyond Blackface: African Americans and the Creation of American Popular Culture, 1890-1930, edited by W. Fitzhugh Brundage.  Thirteen scholars contribute essays that examine how African Americans who were confronted by white supremacy molded mass culture at a time when consumerism and technological advances were on the rise.

Though not a new title, Winthrop D. Jordan’s White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812 is a timeless and comprehensive history of race relations in early America.  This work has won many awards and is considered to be one of the most important, thorough, and insightful pieces of scholarship on the tumultuous relationship between white and black Americans.

Schooling the Freed People: Teaching, Learning, and the Struggle for Black Freedom, 1861-1876 by Ronald E. Butchart is an extensive, quantitative examination of free African Americans’ education after the Civil War era.  Butchart uses archival materials to reveal new information about the educators of Southern freedmen. For instance, one-third of the teachers were African American, and generally taught for longer than their white counterparts. Butchart uncovers more diversity among these educators than was previously thought to be the case, and he argues that evangelical teachings had less impact on the students than has been assumed in the past.
Kate Masur’s An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C. examines the complicated debates on social, political, and racial issues in Washington during the Reconstruction era.  The power struggle between the peoples’ voices and changing government power made the fight for racial equality impossible and turned the District of Columbia into a democratic experiment.

Rebecca Sharpless listens the voices of female African American domestic workers in Cooking in Other Women’s Kitchens: Domestic Workers in the South, 1865-1960Sharpless demonstrates how these women worked to provide for themselves and their families and even shaped southern food culture in the wake of the plantation era, all while facing the challenges of segregation and discrimination. The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story by Tiya Miles shares the rich history of the famous Diamond Hill Cherokee Plantation, where different races and stories intersected from the 1800s through the site’s renovation in the 1950s.

In  Way Up North in Louisville: African American Migration in the Urban South, 1930-1970, Luther Adams examines why so many African Americans migrated to urban centers in the South instead of the North or the West, as so many others did.  Remaining in the South was a way to retain a sense of history, place, and community, and to continually and gradually transform the attitude of a region that was more of a place that worked against the humanity of the entire African American community. Torchbearers of Democracy: African American Soldiers in the World War I Era by Chad L. Williams takes a closer look at the role of the African Americans who fought in WWI and the significance the ideals of democracy had for them.  Leigh Raiford analyzes how photographic imagery has been such a powerful tool for conveying social and political issues in Imprisoned in a Luminous Glare: Photography and the African American Freedom Struggle.  Photography creates an effective visual narrative that relays African Americans’ struggles for freedom and equality and that makes the issues perhaps more tangible than other media.

Anastasia C. Curwood explores the roles and gender dynamic of marriages within the African American middle class from 1918 to 1942 in Stormy Weather: Middle-Class African American Marriages between the Two World Wars.  Understanding these ideals is a significant part of the social history of an upwardly mobile group of African Americans. North of the Color Line: Migration and Black Resistance in Canada, 1870-1955 by Sarah-Jane Mathieu looks at the experiences of black railway workers who had emigrated to Canada yet saw themselves facing discrimination by white coworkers in a place where they had sought refuge from such treatment.  In turn, their unions became a force of racial uplift and civil rights activism.

Kim Cary Warren explores the challenges faced by both African Americans and Native Americans in pursuit of citizenship and equality by examining educational experiences in Kansas after the Civil War in The Quest for Citizenship: African American and Native American Education in Kansas, 1880-1935.  In Talk With You Like a Woman: African American Women, Justice, and Reform in New York, 1890-1935, Cheryl D. Hicks uses archival research to shed light on the struggles and discrimination that African American women in New York faced concerning labor, housing, and violence.

This year’s theme for African American History Month focuses on the role of African Americans in the Civil War.  Here are  couple of new spring titles that explore this topic: Barbara A. Gannon reveals that African American Civil War veterans were included and revered by their white comrades much more than initially thought in The Won Cause: Black and White Comradeship in the Grand Army of the Republic.  In Moments of Despair: Suicide, Divorce, and Debt in Civil War Era North Carolina, David Silkenat examines how the Civil War shaped differing views between blacks and whites concerning the morality of issues like suicide, divorce, and debt.  The consequences the era had on the races shaped moral attitudes in different ways.

Another forthcoming title available for pre-order is The African American Roots of Modernism from Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance, by James Smethurst.  The author argues that intellectual and artistic reactions to the Jim Crow period from the African American community made up the first major black arts movement that shaped modernity.  In The Works of James M. Whitfield: America and Other Writings by a Nineteenth-Century African American Poet, editors Robert S. Levine and Ivy G. Wilson revive the works of poet and abolitionist James M. Whitfield, whose work and efforts had great influence in the 1850s emigration movement.  Though his writings were less visible after his passing, they live on here with annotations and an introduction by the editors.

Here are a few titles that are now available in paperback–perfect for course adoption!  Chris Myers Asch’s The Senator and the Sharecropper: The Freedom Struggles of James O. Eastland and Fannie Lou Hamer shows two very different sides of the civil rights movement in Mississippi.  In Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890-1940, Amy Louise Wood unpacks the role of public violence in affirming white supremacy.  Two books discuss race relations in Philadelphia: James Wolfinger’s Philadelphia Divided: Race and Politics in the City of Brotherly Love looks at how class and workplace relations translated to political differences between races. In A Movement Without Marches: African American Women and the Politics of Poverty in Postwar Philadelphia, Lisa Levenstein focuses on the social and economic struggles that women faced in the postwar urban crisis.

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  3. Here’s a book you might want to consider adding to your list: Once Upon A Time In Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance radio play by D.C. Copeland. It weaves a fictional storyline through nearly forgotten and legendary accounts of black entertainers during the Harlem Renaissance. It won the Jaz Dorsey Fusion Award from the African American Playwrights Exchange (AAPEX).

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  5. Here’s a book you might want to consider adding to your list: Once Upon A Time In Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance radio play by D.C. Copeland. It weaves a fictional storyline through nearly forgotten and legendary accounts of black entertainers during the Harlem Renaissance. It won the Jaz Dorsey Fusion Award from the African American Playwrights Exchange (AAPEX).

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