The following sixteen books were chosen from 111 eligible submissions. Books are judged based on their scholarship and accessibility, with an eye toward identifying exceptional works that spark dialogue within and across social and racial groups. We also value books that reflect the core values of the Museum.
Insurrection: Rebellion, Civil Rights, and the Paradoxical State of Black Citizenship
Hawa Allan, W. W. Norton & Company
Allan’s distinctly literary voice underscores her paradigm-shifting reflections on the presence of fear and silence in history and their shadowy impact on the law. She draws revealing insight from her own experiences as one of the only black girls in her leafy Long Island suburb, as a black lawyer at a predominantly white firm during a visit from presidential candidate Barack Obama, and as a thinker about the use and misuse of appeals to law and order. Elegant and profound, deeply researched and intensely felt, Insurrection is necessary reading in our reckoning with structural racism, government power, and protest in the United States.
The Shattering: America in the 1960s
Kevin Boyle, W. W. Norton & Company
Covering the late 1950s through the early 1970s, The Shattering focuses on the period's fierce conflicts over race, sex, and war. The civil rights movement develops from the grassroots activism of Montgomery and the sit-ins, through the violence of Birmingham and the Edmund Pettus Bridge, to the frustrations of King's Chicago campaign, a rising Black nationalism, and the Nixon-era politics of busing and the Supreme Court. Kevin Boyle captures the inspiring and brutal events of this passionate time with a remarkable empathy that restores the humanity of those making this history.
Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality
Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Alfred A. Knopf
The first black woman to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court. She defended Martin Luther King in Birmingham, helped to argue in Brown vs. The Board of Education, and played a critical role in vanquishing Jim Crow laws throughout the South. The first black woman elected to the state Senate in New York, the first woman elected Manhattan Borough President, and the first black woman appointed to the federal judiciary. Civil Rights Queen captures the story of a remarkable American life.
An African American Dilemma: A History of School Integration and Civil Rights in the North
Zoë Burkholder, Oxford University Press
A sweeping historical analysis that covers the entire history of public education in the North, this work complicates our understanding of school integration by highlighting the diverse perspectives of Black students, parents, teachers, and community leaders all committed to improving public
Soundies and the Changing Image of Black Americans on Screen: One Dime at a Time
Susan Delson, Indiana University Press
In the 1940s, folks at bars and restaurants would gather around a Panoram movie machine to watch three-minute films called Soundies, precursors to today's music videos. Susan Delson takes a deeper look at these fascinating films by focusing on the role of Black performers in this little-known genre. She highlights the women performers, like Dorothy Dandridge, who helped shape Soundies, while offering an intimate look at icons of the age, such as Duke Ellington and Nat King Cole. Perfect for readers interested in film, American history, the World War II era, and Black entertainment history, Soundies and the Changing Image of Black Americans on Screen and its companion video website (susandelson.com) bring the important contributions of these Black artists into the spotlight once again.
The Other Side of Terror: Black Women and the Culture of US Empire
Erica R. Edwards, NYU Press
The Other Side of Terror offers an interdisciplinary Black feminist analysis of militarism, security, policing, diversity, representation, intersectionality, and resistance, while discussing a wide array of literary and cultural texts, from the unpublished work of Black radical feminist June Jordan to the memoirs of Condoleezza Rice to the television series Scandal. With clear, moving prose, Edwards chronicles Black feminist organizing and writing on “the other side of terror”, which tracked changes in racial power, transformed African American literature and Black studies, and predicted the crises of our current era with unsettling accuracy.
Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to the Second World War
Howard W. French, W. W. Norton & Company
Traditional accounts of the making of the modern world afford a place of primacy to European history. What if, instead, we put Africa and Africans at the very center of our thinking about the origins of modernity? In a sweeping narrative spanning more than six centuries, Howard W. French does just that, for Born in Blackness vitally reframes the story of medieval and emerging Africa, demonstrating how the economic ascendancy of Europe, the anchoring of democracy in the West, and the fulfillment of so-called Enlightenment ideals all grew out of Europe’s dehumanizing engagement with the “dark” continent. Born in Blackness is epic history on the grand scale. In the lofty tradition of bold, revisionist narratives, it reframes the story of gold and tobacco, sugar and cotton―and of the greatest “commodity” of them all, the twelve million people who were brought in chains from Africa to the “New World,” whose reclaimed lives shed a harsh light on our present world.
Fugitive Pedagogy: Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching
Jarvis R. Givens, Harvard University Press
A fresh portrayal of Carter G. Woodson -- groundbreaking historian, founder of Black History Month, and legendary educator under Jim Crow, one of the architects of the African American intellectual tradition. Black education was a subversive act from its inception, with African Americans pursuing education through clandestine means, often in defiance of law and custom, even under threat of violence. Developing what Givens calls a tradition of "fugitive pedagogy"—a theory and practice of Black education in America — the enslaved learned to read in spite of widespread prohibitions; newly emancipated people braved the dangers of integrating all-White schools and the hardships of building Black schools. Teachers developed covert instructional strategies, creative responses to the persistence of White opposition. From slavery through the Jim Crow era, Black people passed down this educational heritage. Woodson's and their faith in the subversive power of education will inspire teachers and learners today.
Divisions: A New History of Racism and Resistance in America's World War II Military
Thomas A. Guglielmo, Oxford University Press
The first comprehensive narrative of racism in America's World War II military and the resistance to it. Many Americans have long told themselves that its World War II military was a force of unalloyed good. While saving the world from Nazism, it also managed to unify a famously fractious American people. Divisions offers a decidedly different view. Prizewinning historian Thomas A. Guglielmo draws together more than a decade of extensive research to tell sweeping yet personal stories of race and the military; of high command and ordinary GIs; and of African Americans, white Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans. Guglielmo argues that the military built not one color line, but a complex tangle of them representing a sprawling structure of white supremacy. In response, freedom struggles arose, democratizing portions of the wartime military and setting the stage for postwar desegregation and the subsequent civil rights movements.
America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s
Elizabeth Hinton, W. W. Norton & Company
Black rebellion, America on Fire powerfully illustrates, was born in response to poverty and exclusion, but most immediately in reaction to police violence. The central lesson from these eruptions―that police violence invariably leads to community violence―continues to escape policymakers, who respond by further criminalizing entire groups instead of addressing underlying socioeconomic causes. The results are the hugely expanded policing and prison regimes that shape the lives of so many Americans today. Presenting a new framework for understanding our nation’s enduring strife, America on Fire is also a warning: rebellions will surely continue unless police are no longer called on to manage the consequences of dismal conditions beyond their control, and until an oppressive system is finally remade on the principles of justice and equality.
Surviving Southampton: African American Women and Resistance in Nat Turner's Community
Vanessa M. Holden, University of Illinois Press
The 1831 Southampton Rebellion led by Nat Turner involved an entire community. Holden rediscovers the women and children, free and enslaved, who lived in Southampton County before, during, and after the revolt. Mapping the region's multilayered human geography, Holden draws a fuller picture of the inhabitants, revealing not only their interactions with physical locations but also their social relationships in space and time. A bold challenge to traditional accounts, Surviving Southampton sheds new light on the places and people surrounding Americas most famous rebellion against slavery.
The Black Reproductive: Unfree Labor and Insurgent Motherhood
Sara Clarke Kaplan, University of Minnesota Press
The Black Reproductive convenes Black literary and cultural studies with feminist and queer theory to read twentieth- and twenty-first-century texts and images alongside their pre-emancipation counterparts. These provocative, unexpected couplings include how Toni Morrison’s depiction of infanticide regenders Orlando Patterson’s theory of social death, and how Mary Prince’s eighteenth-century fugitive slave narrative is resignified through the representational paradoxes of Gayl Jones’s blues novel Corregidora. Throughout, Kaplan offers new perspectives on Black motherhood and gendered labor, from debates over the relationship between President Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, to the demise of racist icon Aunt Jemima, to discussions of Black reproductive freedom and abortion.
All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley's Sack, A Black Family Keepsake
Tiya Miles, Penguin Random House
In 1850s South Carolina, an enslaved woman named Rose faced a crisis: the imminent sale of her daughter Ashley. Thinking quickly, she packed a cotton bag for her with a few items, and, soon after, the nine-year-old girl was separated from her mother and sold. Decades later, Ashley’s granddaughter Ruth embroidered this family history on the sack in spare, haunting language. Historian Tiya Miles carefully traces these women’s faint presence in archival records, and, where archives fall short, she turns to objects, art, and the environment to write a singular history of the experience of slavery, and the uncertain freedom afterward, in the United States. All That She Carried is a poignant story of resilience and love passed down against steep odds. It honors the creativity and resourcefulness of people who preserved family ties when official systems refused to do so, and it serves as a visionary illustration of how to reconstruct and recount their stories today.
The South: Jim Crow and Its Afterlives
Adolph L. Reed, Jr., Verso Books
The last generation of Americans with a living memory of Jim Crow will soon disappear. In The South, Reed takes up the urgent task of recounting the granular realities of life in the last decades of the Jim Crow South. Reed illuminates the multifaceted structures of the segregationist order. The South is more than a memoir or a history. Through Reed's personal history and political acumen, we see America’s apartheid system from the ground up, not just its legal framework or systems of power, but the way these systems structured the day-to-day interactions, lives, and ambitions of ordinary working people.
How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America
Clint Smith, Little, Brown and Company
Beginning in his hometown of New Orleans, Smith leads the reader on an unforgettable tour of monuments and landmarks—those that are honest about the past and those that are not—that offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in shaping our nation's collective history, and ourselves. A deeply researched and transporting exploration of the legacy of slavery and its imprint on centuries of American history, How the Word Is Passed illustrates how some of our country's most essential stories are hidden in plain view—whether in places we might drive by on our way to work, holidays such as Juneteenth, or entire neighborhoods like downtown Manhattan, where the brutal history of the trade in enslaved men, women, and children has been deeply imprinted.
Pushing Cool: Big Tobacco, Racial Marketing, and the Untold Story of the Menthol Cigarette
Keith Wailoo, The University of Chicago Press
Black smokers overwhelmingly prefer menthol brands such as Kool, Salem, and Newport. In Pushing Cool, Wailoo tells the intricate and poignant story of menthol cigarettes for the first time. He pulls back the curtain to reveal the hidden persuaders who shaped menthol buying habits and racial markets across America: the world of tobacco marketers, consultants, psychologists, and social scientists, as well as Black lawmakers and civic groups including the NAACP. In 2009, when Congress banned flavored cigarettes as criminal enticements to encourage youth smoking, menthol cigarettes were also slated to be banned. Through a detailed study of internal tobacco industry documents, Wailoo exposes why they weren’t and how they remain so popular with Black smokers.