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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


African American Women Confront the West: 1600-2000 edited by Quintard Taylor & Shirley Ann Wilson Moore ( University of Oklahoma Press ) African American women in the West have long been stereotyped as socially and historically marginal, existing in isolation from other women in the West and from their counterparts in the East and South. Quintard Taylor and Shirley Ann Wilson Moore disprove this stereotype, arguing that African American women in the West played active, though sometimes unacknowledged, roles in shaping the political, ideological, and social currents that influenced the United States over the past three centuries. African American Women Confront the West is the first major historical anthology on the topic. It is edited by Quintard Taylor, Professor of American History at the University of Washington , Seattle and Shirley Ann Wilson Moore, Professor of History at California State University , Sacramento .

Contributors by period include:

  1. The Spanish-Mexican Period: Dedra S. McDonald
  2. The Antebellum West: Lynn M. Hudson, Barbara Y. Welke
  3. The Post-Civil War Era: Susan Bragg, Peggy Riley, Ronald G. Coleman
  4. The Early Twentieth Century: Susan Armitage, Quintard Taylor, Moya Bl. Hansen, Alicia I. Rodriguez/Estrada
  5. World War II: Gretchen Lemke-Santangelo, Claytee D. White
  6. The Civil Rights Era: Merline Pitre, Cheryl Brown Henderson, Linda Williams Reese, Jane Rhodes

These contributors explore the life experiences of African American women in the West, the myriad ways in which African American women have influenced the experiences of the diverse peoples of the region, and their legacy in rural and urban communities from Montana to Texas and California to Kansas . The contributors make use of individual and collective biographies, first-person narratives, and interviews that explore what it has meant to be an African American woman, from the era of Spanish colonial rule in eighteenth-century New Mexico into the black power era of the 1960s and 1970s and beyond.

African American Women Confront the West makes an important contribution to a Women’s Studies or African-American Studies class.
Jim Crow New York: A Documentary History of Race and Citizenship, 1777-1877 by David Nathaniel Gellman (Editor), David Quigley (Editor) (New York University Press) In 1821, New York 's political leaders met for over two months to rewrite the state's constitution. The new document secured the right to vote for the great mass of white men while denying all but the wealthiest African-American men access to the polls.

Jim Crow New York introduces students and scholars alike to this watershed event in American political life. New York , perhaps the single most influential state in nineteenth-century America , defined democracy in explicitly racial terms at the dawn of an era of unprecedented popular participation. This action crystallized for generations the paradoxes of free black citizenship, not only in the North but throughout the nation: African Americans living in New York would no longer be slaves. But would they be citizens?

 With so many document collections aimed at teaching scholars and students about slavery and race relations in the nineteenth-century South, it is refreshing and enlightening to read a collection that reminds us of the northern side of the story.—Michael Vorenberg, author of Final Freedom

 David N. Gellman, Assistant Professor of History at DePauw University, and David Quigley, Assistant Professor of History at Boston College, provide readers with both scholarly analysis and access to a series of extraordinary documents, including extensive excerpts from the resonant speeches made at New York's 1821 constitutional convention and additional documents which recover a diversity of voices, from lawmakers to African-American community leaders, from newspaper editors to activists. Jim Crow New York is further enhanced by extensive introductory essays and headnotes, maps, illustrations, and a detailed bibliographic essay.

For those of us who are white Southerners carrying around guilt for what we and our forefathers did and didn’t do, it’s valuable to hear “the rest of the story.” This book can also help white Yankees who want to take responsibility and come clean of our militant ignorance about the past.

The Origins of African American Literature: 1680-1865 by Dickson D. Bruce (University Press of Virginia) From the earliest texts of the colonial period to works contemporary with Emancipation, African American literature has been a dialogue across color lines, and a medium through which black writers have been able to exert considerable authority on both sides of that racial demarcation.
Dickson D. Bruce argues that contrary to prevailing perceptions of African American voices as silenced and excluded from American history, those voices were loud and clear. Within the context of the wider culture, these writers offered powerful, widely read, and widely appreciated commentaries on American ideals and ambitions. The Origins of African American Literature provides strong evidence to demonstrate just how much writers engaged in a surprising number of dialogues with society as a whole.
Along with an extensive discussion of major authors and texts, including Phillis Wheatley's poetry, Frederick Douglass's Narrative, Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, and Martin Delany's Blake, Bruce explores less-prominent works and writers as well, thereby grounding African American writing in its changing historical settings. The Origins of African American Literature is an invaluable revelation of the emergence and sources of the specifically African American literary tradition and the forces that helped shape it

In His Own Voice: The Dramatic and Other Uncollected Works of Paul Laurence Dunbar by Paul Laurence Dunbar, edited by Herbert Woodward Martin, Ronald Primeau (Ohio University Press)

Laurence Dunbar, to be published by Ohio University Press on April 2, 2002, brings together Dunbar's previously unpublished and uncollected short stories, essays, and poems. The collection also establishes Dunbar's reputation as a dramatist who mastered standard English conventions and used dialect in musical comedy for ironic effects.

Dunbar, introduced to the American public by William Dean Howells, who reviewed Dunbar for Harper's magazine in 1896, was the first African American poet to achieve national and international fame. While there have been many valuable editions of his works over time, gaps have developed when manuscripts were lost or access to uncollected works became difficult.

In His Own Voice collects more than seventy‑five works in six genres. Featured are the previously unpublished play Herrick, a comedy of manners, and two one‑act plays, largely ignored for a century, that demonstrate Dunbar's subversion of the minstrel tradition. This generous expansion of the canon also includes a short story never before published, along with six other short stories. Fifteen essays and a number of poems round out the collection.

Poet Herbert Woodward Martin, renowned for his live portrayal of Dunbar, and scholar Ronald Primeau provide a literary and historical context for these stories, essays, poems, and plays, firmly securing the reputation of an important American voice.

"Had Dunbar even lived half as long as Du Bois (born four years earlier than Dunbar, in 1868, but died in 1963), we can only imagine how different would have been the shape of the Harlem Renaissance and indeed the shape of African American literature itself," observes Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in the foreword. "Martin and Primeau's edition of Dunbar's uncollected works allows us to experience an undiscovered Dunbar, a writer of great range, wit, subtlety, and irony

As it was, Dunbar was an important forerunner to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and the second Renaissance of black poets in the 1960s. As the son of former slaves "his was a voice of protest against injustice," note the editors. However, Dunbar embarrassed himself with the minstrel‑like lyrics to some musical comedies‑lyrics that later kept critics silent who might have illuminated the ways in which Dunbar subverted racist conventions and mastered the conventions of British comedy.

Dunbar's reputation has rested on his poems, partly because manuscripts of what are suspected to be his best plays have been lost. Caught between free and plantation traditions, Dunbar struggled to deal with an audience that was both black and white; he was trapped between attempts to express his culture and to be mainstream.

"By making these [previously uncollected] works available in one place, this collection will contribute to long‑standing debates, enlarge the Dunbar canon, and provide fresh evidence that he mastered certain genres and literary conventions in order to comment ironically on them," write

Martin and Primeau. "The works in this volume show how he broke ground for many writers to come."


by Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson

Harcourt Brace

$18.00, hardcover, an accordion book with flaps, color pictures, reading level 4-8,


An accordion book with flaps, A STREET CALLED HOME opens on the tumultuous street life of Mount Vernon. Look inside the flaps to see and learn about the businesses that trive on the Street. There is the ragman, the iceman, the brownyskin man and many others. This is a Street view of a Black Ghetto in the 1940s. As it appeared in Columbus, Ohio. A STREET CALLED HOME was a self-sufficient street. It knew how to survive. This ideal vision of the black shantytown. People were alive with business and making a living. People wove in and out with their horses, and carts and trucks, Street cries were full of news and wares for sale. people bartered and bought and sold. People played and danced. Everything you needed to live you could find there on the street.

History / Americas / Arts & Photography / Social Sciences / African Americans

Black Culture and the New Deal: The Quest for Civil Rights in the Roosevelt Era by Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff (The University of North Carolina Press)

In the 1930s, the Roosevelt administration – unwilling to antagonize a powerful southern congressional bloc – refused to endorse legislation that sought to improve political, economic, and social conditions for African Americans. Instead, the administration recognized African Americans by offering federal support to notable black intellectuals, celebrities, and artists.
As historian Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff, assistant professor of history at the University of South Carolina shows in Black Culture and the New Deal, programs within the Federal Arts Projects and several war agencies gave voice to notable African Americans such as Lena Horne, Joe Louis, Duke Ellington, and Richard Wright, as well as lesser-known figures. State arts projects were an important avenue for black cultural advancement. Sklaroff argues that these New Deal programs represent a key moment in the history of American race relations, as the cultural arena provided black men and women with employment opportunities and new outlets for political expression. Equally important, she contends that these cultural programs were not merely an attempt to appease a black constituency but were also part of the New Deal's larger goal of promoting a multiracial nation. Yet, while federal projects ushered in creativity and unprecedented possibilities, they were subject to censorship, bigotry, and political machinations. This book recounts that history.
Sklaroff in the introduction to Black Culture and the New Deal says that four years after Franklin Roosevelt's death, Eleanor Roosevelt remem­bered her frustrations when racial issues, such as the anti-lynching bill and the abolition of the poll tax, reached her husband's desk. "Although Franklin was in favor of both measures, they never became ‘must’ legisla­tion. When I would protest, he would simply say: ‘First things come first, and I can't alienate certain votes I need for measures that are more impor­tant at the moment by pushing any measure that would entail a fight.’"

Excerpt: Initially conceived under the Works Progress Administration's (WPA) Federal Arts Project (FAP) and then continued under wartime agencies such as the Office of War Information ƭ Zx#% (ˬR^, kA,KD״[4վ '+I.P G6zs=c=/K7gP*{wso~[ }ioMuϩkZwݯ`9?Dͯ!8M~v߱*8WovUNKAoANM:핆tz{Oy ![9; Project (FWP), the plays of the Fed­eral Theatre Project (FTP), the endorsement of black celebrities, and the production of wartime films and radio shows, liberal administrators demonstrated a sustained commitment to addressing the concerns of black Americans when political pragmatism prevented official support for structural legislation.

In Black Culture and the New Deal, four major themes illuminate the significance of government-sponsored cultural development in the history of the Roosevelt era and the struggle for African American civil rights. First, programs under the WPA and other wartime agencies served as important locations for black cultural advancement at a time when black minstrel images still domi­nated commercial culture and popular music, radio, and film industries segregated, demeaned, or excluded African Americans. Second, debates within these cultural projects illustrate the importance of what the FTP Negro Unit director Carlton Moss termed ‘cultural emancipation’ to the civil rights struggle during this period: groups such as the National As­sociation for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) deemed cul­tural autonomy and representational agency vital in the quest for racial equality. Third, government-sponsored cultural development reflected a pattern that would repeat itself during the Depression and World War II and that would provide continuity between the 1930s and 1940s, solidify­ing the |st1:place w:st="on"> Roosevelt administration's reliance on art and media projects as viable forms of racial policy into the postwar era. Lastly, Sklaroff’s focus on the politics of cultural development serves as an alternative model for examining civil rights, shifting attention to the cultural arena and its place in the African American freedom struggle. Black Culture and the New Deal provides less obvious signs of success and failure and an equally important framework for understanding how black and white Americans wrestled with the racial issues that most concerned them in addition to the compromises they often made in challenging the status quo. The sig­nificance of these interracial negotiations lies in the fact that racial change was subtle, often incremental; what became advantageous for some people was`sometimes damaging for others.

Black Culture and the New Deal chronicles the relationship between two groups. On the one hand, liberal white administrators during the New Deal developed artistic programs to recognize the talents and contribu­tions of African Americans, enveloping black men and women with the mantle of federal programs as no presidential administration had ever considered or attempted. On the other hand, black Americans who partici­pated in this federal enterprise capitalized on the political power of culture in their fight for respect, recognition, and – most significantly – an equal form of American citizenship. If cultural programs came to assume a central role in forwarding New Deal racial progressivism, it was because many white men and women believed that the treatment of black Americans was not just important but critical to the nation's future as an inclusive democracy.

The advancement of black cultural politics did not solely occur within isolated developments, such as the Harlem Renaissance or the Black Arts Movement, but rather as an ongoing dialogue in tandem with calls for structural political change. The notion of the cultural as the political was explicitly promoted in the 1920s, when Harlem Renaissance artists developed an imagery that broke from the Anglo-American literary cannon and champi­oned a ‘New Negro.’ Scholars have long evaluated the political character of the Harlem Renaissance and its impact within the larger civil rights movement. Regardless of the scope of its political impact, the Harlem Renaissance served as a foun­dation for the artistic developments that emerged during the Roosevelt era.

Similar to the Harlem Renaissance, the FAP and wartime media projects witnessed the kind of interracial cultural exchange that both fueled and circumscribed African American cultural expression. The interracial rela­tionships fostered during the New Deal era, however, were not inherently exploitative. Sklaroff argues that the interracial dynamics that under girded New Deal cultural pro­duction was not always to the detriment of African Americans. In addition to continuing the kind of interracial alliances formed during the Renaissance, New Deal programs also carried on the practice of utilizing culture as a political weapon. During the Roosevelt era, black political mobilization did not negate the need for artistic cultiva­tion; on the contrary, activism made positive developments in the cultural arena all the more critical.

For many black leaders, the ‘cultural self-determination’ woven throughout federal art and media projects was a pivotal step in combating discrimination. In the 1930s and 1940s, the culture of segregation – minstrel images, ex­clusion from historical narratives, and other commercialized distortions of blackness – needed eliminating in the same way that discrimination in other areas was under attack. Although African Americans recognized that a more positive racial imagery or black control of cultural represen­tation could not substitute for the political and economic rights which they so ardently sought, they also understood culture as central in procuring civil rights.

Black Culture and the New Deal offers a new interpretation of the New Deal era not only in conceptualizing federal race policy but in recognizing the interconnectedness of culture and politics in the 1930s and 1940s. Historians have long evaluated the transformative character of the New Deal; this study turns to the government's cultural arena, explaining how the Roosevelt admin­istration was the first to implement a wide-scale federal arts program that aimed to acknowledge black Americans publicly as a voting constituency.

Black Culture and the New Deal outlines a process that is not without contemporary resonance. The cultivation of a cultural policy implemented during the De­pression and the Second World War featured prominently in the postwar era, while the passage of widespread civil rights legislation lagged behind until the mid-1960s. Although the focus of this book remains on the pre-war period, the development process – sifting and discarding, revising and reinterpreting – laid the groundwork for federal initiatives after World War II, when cultural figures such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington assumed important roles in the State Department's goodwill tours, and when images of American racial democracy spread across the globe. As the modern civil rights movement gained momentum, the cultural arena remained a vital source for promoting liberal integrationism.

Sklaroff makes an important contribution by complicating our understanding of the end of the Harlem Renais­sance. Black Culture and the New Deal demon­strates how art both served and undermined opposition to the dominant politi­cal culture. – Jeffrey T. Sammons, New York University

Against the backdrop of the New Deal and World War II, Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff provides a striking analysis of the federal government's ambivalent and highly contested attempts to advance and contain racial equality through official cultural programs and policy. This is an excellent study of the origins of the modern quest for civil rights and the role of the New Deal in promoting them. – Lewis Erenberg, author of The Greatest Fight of Our Generation: Louis vs. Schmeling

With numerous illustrations, Black Culture and the New Deal offers a fresh perspective on the New Deal's racial progressivism and a new framework for understanding black culture and politics in the Roosevelt era and beyond.

Whether the official promotion of black entertainers and athletes continuing to deflect larger racial conflicts remains a heated topic, our familiarity with elevation of African American celebri­ties should not obscure the origins of this policy initiative. However much a pervasive imagery of black inclusion now obscures America's troubled racial history, readers need to know the specific historical meaning federal programs held for both white and black Americans in the 1930s and 1940s.

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