Black Perspectives Summer Books Preview, Part I

Amiri Baraka Mural, San Francisco, August 7, 2019 (Duncan C/Flickr)

There are a plethora of books being released this summer which will be of special interest to readers of this blog. Numerous works that pertain to Black intellectual history will come out during the summer, a time of the year that many academics savor as the best chance during the year to sit down and digest new works of scholarship (against the backdrop of summer teaching, researching, writing, and prep for the fall). This post is the first in a series of essays describing upcoming works of history important to Black intellectual history and Black history more broadly speaking. This list will not be cumulative or exhaustive. Instead, it is meant both to highlight works that have come out in April or are coming out in May, and also to encourage all of us to keep an eye out for additional works during those months. Later posts will detail the release of exciting new works in June, July, and August. 

The realm of Black art is an important part of Black intellectual history. Glenda Gilmore’s new book on the life and career of Romare Bearden, Romare Bearden in the Homeland of His Imagination: An Artist’s Reckoning With the South, promises to add valuable insight into the career of one of the landmark Black artists of the post-World War II era. Gilmore, author of previous works such as Gender and Jim Crow and Defying Dixie, continues to add to her work as one of the premier historians of the South by focusing her academic lens on Bearden. This promises to be a critically important work on Black life during the American century, as Bearden’s artwork spoke to the Black experience in America at that time. 

Another work from UNC Press already sparking discussion is Irvin J. Hunt’s Dreaming the Present: Time, Aesthetics, and the Black Cooperative Movement. Hunt’s argument is for a deeper consideration of how various Black activists and intellectuals considered mutual aid as an integral part of imagining new possibilities beyond the stale politics of the present. The use of such figures as W.E.B. Du Bois, Fannie Lou Hamer, George Schuyler, and Ella Baker promises to add further depth to how these figures are understood in both an intellectual and activist history context. More than that, however, Dreaming the Present will likely offer intellectual historians new methodological and theoretical frameworks by which to consider how intellectuals of the past dreamt and imagined possible futures. At the core of much of Black intellectual history, after all, is the consideration of a multitude of possible futures. 

Going further back in time, the Black Atlantic receives a strong new entry from Michael Lawrence Dickinson and his book, Almost Dead: Slavery and Social Rebirth in the Black Urban Atlantic, 1680-1807. Dickinson’s book will offer plenty of fodder for intellectual historians of the Black Atlantic and the Revolutionary era to consider how urban spaces provided room for peoples of African descent to create community and resist domination by European powers. For readers of Black Perspectives, where urban spaces have been discussed in an intellectual context, this book promises to create additional reasons to tackle the intellectual importance of urban spaces. 

Finally, two works on landmark nineteenth century Black activists round out our brief summer book list. Denmark Vesey’s Bible: The Thwarted Revolt That Put Slavery and Scripture on Trial by Jeremy Schipper uses the trial of Vesey for attempted slave revolt in 1822 South Carolina as a vehicle to talk about larger themes of religion, identity, and antebellum history. Published by Princeton University Press, Denmark Vesey’s Bible is another example—like Denmark Vesey’s Garden—of how the figure of Vesey looms large in American history, arguably larger than most historians realize or imagine. 

Finally, the importance of David Walker to Black intellectual and print culture history is captured in Marcy T. Dinius’ The Textual Effects of David Walker’s Appeal: Print-Based Activism Against Slavery, Racism, and Discrimination, 1829-1851, published by University of Pennsylvania Press. Dinius’ work not only captures the importance of Walker’s pamphlet, but expands our understanding of its intellectual legacy by looking at its impact of various Black activists in the antebellum period. Much of what we analyze and write about in regards to 20th century Black intellectual history has its origins in the 19th century, and David Walker’s Appeal is one of the ur-texts of Black intellectual life in America and beyond. That it has received this kind of treatment is a wonderful sign for the future of the field. 

More will be written in coming weeks about additional books being released during the summer that pertain, in some form or fashion, to Black intellectual history. It is hoped that this list of books will remind all of us of the joys of reading new texts and re-thinking themes and ideas that we’ve studied for so long. 

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Robert Greene II

Robert Greene II is an assistant professor of history at Claflin University and Senior Editor of Black Perspectives. He studies American history after 1945 with a focus on the American South, political history, and memory. Follow him on Twitter @robgreeneII.

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