Outstanding Academic Titles 2021: Black History Month

Enjoy these five selections from the Choice Reviews 2020 Outstanding Academic Titles list. This week we surface titles pertaining to Black History Month.

1. Vanguard: how Black women broke barriers, won the vote, and insisted on equality for all
Jones, Martha S. Basic Books, 2020

To coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, Jones (Johns Hopkins Univ.), a historian and legal scholar, spotlights over 200 years of Black women’s political history and their struggle for the ballot in Vanguard. From her very own great-great-grandmother Susan Davis’s stories of voting to Stacy Abrams, Jones rigorously details how Black women created a movement and their own “spaces from which they began to tell their own stories of what it meant to call for women’s rights.” Hidden behind the banner of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention and the white feminist women’s suffrage crusade were multitudes of Black women pushing for liberation in churches, organizations, military stations, clubs, benevolent societies, and institutions of higher learning. Women such as Maria Stewart, Jarena Lee, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Anna Julia Cooper, Hallie Quinn Brown, Mary McLeod Bethune, Pauli Murray, Fannie Lou Hamer, Shirley Chisholm, and Kamala Harris all dealt with the brutal sting of racism and sexism, yet, linked by their shared history, leaned on one another to move forward. View on Amazon


2. Re-membering and surviving: African American fiction of the Vietnam War
Hanshaw, Shirley A. J. Michigan State, 2021

With the exception of Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War, ed. by Wallace Terry (CH, Dec’84), scholarship on African American writing on the Vietnam War is in short supply. In Re-membering and Survival Hanshaw (emer., Mississippi State Univ.)​ unveils a veritable archive of African American writing on the subject and provides a road map of genres from fiction to memoir, from poetry to drama, and from film to music (for the first time). Hanshaw focuses on the thematic patterns and aesthetic strategies of four novels, John Williams’s Captain Blackman (1972), A. R. Flowers’s De Mojo Blues (1986), Wesley Brown’s Tragic Magic (1978), and George Davis’s Coming Home (1972), which deal with, respectively, the reenlisted man, the conscientious objector, the dishonorably discharged veteran, and the deserter. Hanshaw situates these texts in their specific social political contexts and the traditions of (African) American literature. View on Amazon


3. The meaning of soul: Black music and resilience since the 1960s
Lordi, Emily J. Duke, 2020

The Meaning of Soul is a revisionist analysis of 1960s and 1970s soul and of the present-day post-soul era. Lordi (English, Vanderbilt Univ.) theorizes soul as a “logic” for enacting resilience by displaying “the redemptive possibilities of black suffering” (p. 46). This capacious definition moves well beyond the typically masculinist codification of soul as message-oriented, secularized gospel. Lordi’s theory of soul logic re-places women’s and queer voices in its history and illustrates a way to link the heterogeneous voices of that era. A vital chapter on the historiography of journalistic, literary, and academic writings launches the rationale for her approach, which she validates with extraordinary interpretations of recordings and live performances from a wide range of artists. Core chapters focus on performative techniques typically marginalized in treatments of soul: falsetto, false endings, ad libs, and covers of white songs. The book closes with a consideration of the current soul revival—what Lordi calls “Afropresentist” art—as the “unfulfilled future of a radical past” (p. 154). View on Amazon


4. Documents of the Harlem Renaissance
ed. by Thomas J. Davis and Brenda M. Brock ABC-CLIO, 2021

An exemplary reference guide to the Harlem Renaissance, as both a cultural landmark and human rights movement, this trove of documents presents publications and research integral to Black advancement. The introductory timeline compiles events ranging from the end of slavery in 1865 to the preliminaries of WW II, stressing the significance of WW I to the rise of “the New Negro.” Balanced gender study incorporates the opinions of female authorities, such as Zora Neale Hurston, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Mary Church Terrell, along with the lesser-known figures such as Susie Yergan. The editors also portray intraracial concerns of color jealousy, violence, and women’s rights with academic candor. Key to the volume’s value, a serious, dignified tone grounds this signal minority history in national pride in democracy, equality, and justice for non-white citizens. The meticulous bibliography encourages further perusal of the Harlem Renaissance and its impact on Black migration, citizenship, learning, and capitalism. Indexing inserts major details from such notable phenomena as the Color Bar Bill (1926), the Rosewood massacre (1923), the Niggerati, Jim Crow, and anti-lynching.
View on Amazon


5The Black cabinet: African-Americans, politics, and the age of Roosevelt
Watts, Jill. Grove Atlantic, 2020

In what may be among the most honored nonfiction books published in 2020, Watts (history, California State Univ., San Marcos) transports the reader back to an age (1930s–40s) when discrimination and segregation were a grim reality. Watts tells the story of the Federal Council of Negro Affairs—informally the “Black cabinet”—a group of African Americans, led by the indefatigable Mary McLeod Bethune, who pressed President Franklin Roosevelt to build into the New Deal, and later WW II policies, reforms designed to give full citizenship to the neglected and oppressed Black minority. Elegant in its prose and vivid in its depiction of key characters, The Black Cabinet captures the challenges faced by these would-be reformers, and tells a story of high idealism mixed with raw pragmatism.View on Amazon.


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