2022 Finalists for the Pauli Murray Book Prize in Black Intellectual History

The African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS) is pleased to announce the finalists for the fifth annual Pauli Murray Book Prize for the best book in Black intellectual history. Named after lawyer, author, and women’s rights activist-intellectual Pauli Murray, this prize recognizes the best book concerning Black intellectual history (broadly conceived) published between January 1, 2021 and December 31, 2021 by a member of AAIHS. The winner of the 2022 Pauli Murray Book Prize will receive $1,000, a featured week-long roundtable on the book in Black Perspectives, and a featured interview published in Black Perspectives.  The award winner will be announced at the 2022 AAIHS Conference, which will be held virtually from March 11-12, 2022. Here are the five finalists selected by this year’s fellowship committee.


Tamika Nunley, At the Threshold of Liberty: Women, Slavery, and Shifting Identities in Washington, D.C. (University of North Carolina Press)

Understanding how slavery, race, and gender shaped 19th century activism in the capital of the United States, Tamika Nunley’s At the Threshold of Liberty excavates the critically important work of Black women in Washington, D.C., during a perilous time in the nation’s history. This is not merely a history that brings to light those who were invisible in the narrative before. Nunley’s work should push more historians to realize that these women must be included in the larger, standard narrative. With stories drawn from meticulous research of letters, memoirs, abolitionist papers, and more, Nunley transforms the narrative of 19th century American history into one determined by both free and enslaved Black women. At the Threshold of Liberty forces the reader to rethink the assumptions they may have had before about Black history in antebellum America. 


Jarvis Givens, Fugitive Pedagogy: Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching (Harvard University Press) 

Carter G. Woodson’s status as the “Father of Black History” includes his constant battle to push Black teachers to think deeply about how they taught Black children during the height of Jim Crow segregation. Jarvis Givens, in Fugitive Pedagogy, puts on display the tireless efforts of Woodson and other Black teachers struggling to craft Black minds in an anti-Black world. Stopping what Woodson famously referred to as “the mis-education of the Negro” meant fighting via the tools of pedagogy, teaching, and inspiring other teachers to do the same. The role of teaching and pedagogy is an important one in Black intellectual history, and Givens’ book makes clear that we should continue to think about these links in the twenty-first century. 


Karen Cook Bell, Running From Bondage: Enslaved Women and Their Remarkable Fight for Freedom in Revolutionary America (Cambridge University Press)

Karen Cook Bell’s masterful study, Running From Bondage, reminds us of the upheaval of the Revolutionary era in America. For many enslaved Africans, it was their best—and often—only chance in their lives to escape to freedom. Running from Bondage is focused on the Black women who ran away during this era. Comprising roughly one-third of all Africans escaping bondage, these women helped to forge new ideas of freedom, democracy, and self-determination during the American Revolution. Their presence as both former slaves and as people pushing for new ideas of citizenship made them valuable parts of a Revolutionary generation too often only seen through the prism of white men. Centering what she refers to as “Black founding mothers,” Karen Cook Bell’s book centers Black women at the center of Revolutionary-era America.


Kristin Waters, Maria Stewart and the Roots of Black Political Thought (University Press of Mississippi)

Maria Stewart’s importance to Black intellectual history is emphasized in Kristin Waters’ important work, Maria Stewart and the Roots of Black Political Thought. Not only one of the early Black Americans, but one of the early women regardless of race, to push American society as a political and intellectual force, Stewart’s work in the early 19th century remains important for intellectuals and activists alike reckoning with the violent anti-Black and anti-women traditions in American society. For her, rethinking the place of Black women in American society meant turning over the oppressive foundations of that society. Stewart offered no easy answers on these questions. Yet Waters’ book makes it obvious that anyone seeking answers to these problems today must start, and grapple with, the writings and legacy of Maria Stewart.


Kyle T. Mays, An Afro-Indigenous History of the United States (Beacon Press) 

Activists from Malcolm X to Dennis Banks to Angela Davis all understood the interconnectedness of Black Americans and indigenous peoples. Their histories were always intertwined. However, as Kyle T. Mays points out in An Afro-Indigenous History of the United States, these connections are often downplayed in mainstream accounts of Black and indigenous histories. Starting from the earliest interactions of African and indigenous peoples in the Americans and working his way to the present, Mays offers a new perspective on a history most of us assumed we knew. But by bringing them together, Mays freshens up both narratives. At the same time, he allows U.S. history to “re-introduce” itself, as it were, and the results are a startling, critical, and timely re-examination of American life and history.

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