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, 2022 and December 31, 2022 by a member of AAIHS. The winner of the 2023 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 2023 AAIHS Conference, which will be held from March 10-11, 2023. Here are the five finalists selected by this year’s fellowship committee.
Leslie M. Alexander, Fear of a Black Republic: Haiti and the Birth of Black Internationalism in the United States(University of Illinois Press)
The emergence of Haiti as a sovereign Black nation lit a beacon of hope for Black people throughout the African diaspora. Leslie M. Alexander’s study reveals the untold story of how free and enslaved Black people in the United States defended the young Caribbean nation from forces intent on maintaining slavery and white supremacy. Concentrating on Haiti’s place in the history of Black internationalism, Alexander illuminates the ways Haitian independence influenced Black thought and action in the United States. As she shows, Haiti embodied what whites feared most: Black revolution and Black victory. Thus inspired, Black activists in the United States embraced a common identity with Haiti’s people, forging the idea of a united struggle that merged the destinies of Haiti with their own striving for freedom.
A bold exploration of Black internationalism’s origins, Fear of a Black Republic links the Haitian revolution to the global Black pursuit of liberation, justice, and social equality.
Winston James, Claude McKay: The Making of a Black Bolshevik (Columbia University Press)
One of the foremost Black writers and intellectuals of his era, Claude McKay (1889–1948) was a central figure in Caribbean literature, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Black radical tradition. McKay’s life and writing were defined by his class consciousness and anticolonialism, shaped by his experiences growing up in colonial Jamaica as well as his early career as a writer in Harlem and then London. Dedicated to confronting both racism and capitalist exploitation, he was a critical observer of the Black condition throughout the African diaspora and became a committed Bolshevik.
Winston James offers a revelatory account of McKay’s political and intellectual trajectory from his upbringing in Jamaica through the early years of his literary career and radical activism. In 1912, McKay left Jamaica to study in the United States, never to return. James follows McKay’s time at the Tuskegee Institute and Kansas State University, as he discovered the harshness of American racism, and his move to Harlem, where he encountered the ferment of Black cultural and political movements and figures such as Hubert Harrison and Marcus Garvey. McKay left New York for London, where his commitment to revolutionary socialism deepened, culminating in his transformation from Fabian socialist to Bolshevik.
Drawing on a wide variety of sources, James offers a rich and detailed chronicle of McKay’s life, political evolution, and the historical, political, and intellectual contexts that shaped him.
Treva B. Lindsey, America, Goddam: Violence, Black Women, and the Struggle for Justice (University of California Press)
Echoing the energy of Nina Simone’s searing protest song that inspired the title, this book is a call to action in our collective journey toward just futures.
America, Goddam explores the combined force of anti-Blackness, misogyny, patriarchy, and capitalism in the lives of Black women and girls in the United States today.
Through personal accounts and hard-hitting analysis, Black feminist historian Treva B. Lindsey starkly assesses the forms and legacies of violence against Black women and girls, as well as their demands for justice for themselves and their communities. Combining history, theory, and memoir, America, Goddam renders visible the gender dynamics of anti-Black violence. Black women and girls occupy a unique status of vulnerability to harm and death, while the circumstances and traumas of this violence go underreported and understudied. America, Goddam allows readers to understand
- How Black women—who have been both victims of anti-Black violence as well as frontline participants—are rarely the focus of Black freedom movements.
- How Black women have led movements demanding justice for Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Toyin Salau, Riah Milton, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, and countless other Black women and girls whose lives have been curtailed by numerous forms of violence.
- How across generations and centuries, their refusal to remain silent about violence against them led to Black liberation through organizing and radical politics.
America, Goddam powerfully demonstrates that the struggle for justice begins with reckoning with the pervasiveness of violence against Black women and girls in the United States.
Melissa Ford, A Brick and a Bible: Black Women’s Radical Activism in the Midwest During the Great Depression (Southern Illinois University Press)
In this first study of Black radicalism in midwestern cities before the civil rights movement, Melissa Ford connects the activism of Black women who championed justice during the Great Depression to those involved in the Ferguson Uprising and the Black Lives Matter movement. A Brick and a Bible examines how African American working-class women, many of whom had just migrated to “the promised land” only to find hunger, cold, and unemployment, forged a region of revolutionary potential.
A Brick and a Bible theorizes a tradition of Midwestern Black radicalism, a praxis-based ideology informed by but divergent from American Communism. Midwestern Black radicalism that contests that interlocking systems of oppression directly relates the distinct racial, political, geographic, economic, and gendered characteristics that make up the American heartland. This volume illustrates how, at the risk of their careers, their reputations, and even their lives, African American working-class women in the Midwest used their position to shape a unique form of social activism.
Case studies of Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, and Cleveland—hotbeds of radical activism—follow African American women across the Midwest as they participated in the Ford Hunger March, organized the Funsten Nut Pickers’ strike, led the Sopkin Dressmakers’ strike, and supported the Unemployed Councils and the Scottsboro Boys’ defense. Ford profoundly reimagines how we remember and interpret these “ordinary” women doing extraordinary things across the heartland. Once overlooked, their activism shaped a radical tradition in midwestern cities that continues to be seen in cities like Ferguson and Minneapolis today.
Robert G. O’Meally, Antagonistic Cooperation: Jazz, Collage, Fiction, and the Shaping of African American Culture (Columbia University Press)
Ralph Ellison famously characterized ensemble jazz improvisation as “antagonistic cooperation.” Both collaborative and competitive, musicians play with and against one another to create art and community. In Antagonistic Cooperation, Robert G. O’Meally shows how this idea runs throughout twentieth-century African American culture to provide a new history of Black creativity and aesthetics.
From the collages of Romare Bearden and paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat to the fiction of Ralph Ellison and Toni Morrison to the music of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, O’Meally explores how the worlds of African American jazz, art, and literature have informed one another. He argues that these artists drew on the improvisatory nature of jazz and the techniques of collage not as a way to depict a fractured or broken sense of Blackness but rather to see the Black self as beautifully layered and complex. They developed a shared set of methods and motives driven by the belief that art must involve a sense of community. O’Meally’s readings of these artists and their work emphasize how they have not only contributed to understanding of Black history and culture but also provided hope for fulfilling the broken promises of American democracy.permission.