Outstanding Academic Titles 2023: Black History Month

Enjoy these five selections from the Choice Reviews 2023 Outstanding Academic Titles list. This week we highlight, Outstanding Academic Titles from the past year pertaining to Black history. A hearty congratulations to the winning authors, editors and publishers!

1. Black artists in America: from the Great Depression to civil rights
Jenkins, Earnestine. Yale, 2021

African American and African diasporic art history is in an interesting phase, one marked by expansion and deepening of archival research and analysis backed by institutional commitment. One recent example is the project from Dixon Gallery and Gardens (Memphis, Tennessee), under director Kevin Sharp, in association with Yale University Press. These two institutions plan three linked exhibitions/publications exploring the African American experience in the visual arts from 1930 to 2000. This first volume, and the exhibition it catalogued, is a strong beginning and foundation. Jenkins (African American art history, Univ. of Michigan) opens the catalogue with an overview of Black artists who worked during that era and—despite virulent, systemic racism—how they managed to thrive and produce. The other two chapters offer a fascinating cross-section of two artistic careers: Augusta Savage, who lived and worked in Paris during an overlooked period in which she explored both African themes and the Black female body; and Walter Augustus Simon, who was less known than Savage, taught all over the US, and managed to craft in one career an entire departments’ worth of knowledge as artist, art educator, and art historian. View on Amazon


2. Half American: the epic story of African Americans fighting World War II at home and abroad
Delmont, Matthew F. Viking, 2022

This well-written, scholarly history considers the “Double V” campaign African Americans waged during WW II—one “V” for victory against the Axis powers abroad, the other for success against domestic racism. Beginning with African Americans’ interest in the Italo-Ethiopian War and the Spanish Civil War, Delmont (Dartmouth College) chronicles their participation in WW II and ends with their immediate postwar struggle to achieve full citizenship rights and recognition consonant with their wartime sacrifices. And sacrifices there were, whether on the battlefront (e.g., the non-acceptance of Black volunteers, segregated training centers in hostile white communities, placement in non-combat units, disparagement by white officers) or on the home front (e.g., underemployment in burgeoning war industries, refusal to advance Black workers into semi-skilled/skilled positions, discriminatory housing). Examples of the structural racism encountered and fought against by both male and female leaders abound, such as A. Philip Randolph and Ella Baker, as well as by ordinary people in foxholes, factories, and neighborhoods. View on Amazon


3. The Unfinished business of unsettled things: art from an African American South
ed. by Bernard L. Herman North Carolina, 2022

Herman’s decision to begin The Unfinished Business of Unsettled Things with 22 plates featuring works of art is interesting, unusual, and in fact ethical. Comprising six concise but weighty essays, the volume challenges “the old nomenclature of folk, outsider, vernacular, grass roots, and self-taught” and instead questions the need for categories that ultimately “stake and police cultural production” (pp. 1–2). Given the general interest in the global contemporary, Herman’s introduction is a necessary interruption of art history and should be incorporated in methods classes and introductory surveys. The writing varies according to the disciplines of the multiple contributors, but each brings passion and commitment to the subject of artists deemed “outsider” or “found” even as Herman initiates the conversation by confounding the very concept of “found.” He notes that the designation “betrays a particular consolidation of cultural authenticity” and negates the artist’s agency (p. 7). This well-written, lavishly illustrated volume will be valuable for a wide audience. View on Amazon


4. Serving herself: the life and times of Althea Gibson
Brown, Ashley. Oxford, 20232

Brown (Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison) has revised her 2017 dissertation on Althea Gibson into a highly readable book. Gibson was a natural athlete who excelled in multiple sports and became the first African American (man or woman) tennis winner at the Wimbledon, French Open, and Forest Hills tournaments during the 1950s. In addition to facing racism, she also encountered sexism and questions about her sexuality before she was married. She was scrutinized at a preposterous level and was subjected to criticism in the press and elsewhere for every imagined breach of convention. Brown provides excellent documentation. Her method of interweaving Gibson’s life story with contemporary events that were occurring in the fight for civil rights is especially enlightening. Only amateur players could play in the major tournaments during Gibson’s time, so she never received the level of remuneration for her tennis prowess that professional women players could obtain once the so-called Open Era began a decade later (c. 1968). Gibson’s later career endeavors included performing as a singer, public speaker, professional golfer, and instructor. This stellar biography stands as a tribute to the bravery and perseverance of a pioneer. View on Amazon


5Performing racial uplift: E. Azalia Hackley and African American activism in the postbellum to pre-Harlem era
Karpf, Juanita. University Press of Mississippi, 2022

This book provides a compelling explanation of the value of tears as a needed expression of emotion for personal and societal transformation. Community educator, activist, and minister Perry crafts a selective multidisciplinary survey of weeping, woven with his own lived experience of learning to embrace tears as an embodiment of emotion and a fundamental aspect of individual and collective well-being. Depicting himself as an “evangelist for crying,” Perry recounts his decision to learn the art of shedding tears. Opening chapters explore the physiological basis for crying. Perry summarizes key works in chapter 2, beginning with Darwin’s The Emotional Expression of Man and Animals and tracing selected studies through the present. Readers will benefit from the cited science of this chapter, as well as the breadth of disciplines and their treatment of grief covered in subsequent chapters. Considerations of race, gender, class, and sexuality figure strongly in Perry’s exploration. While he cites numerous causes of modern ills that engender tears, and that push some to suppress them, he also includes numerous stories and citations of personal experiences where the expression of tears transformed both the one crying and those observing the crier. “Cry like your tears matter, because they do,” Perry advises, concluding a book that makes the case well. View on Amazon


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