Black Perspectives Summer Books Preview, Part II

Apartment building in a Black section of Chicago, 1947 (Library of Congress)

Yesterday, Black Perspectives published part I of a Summer Books preview, covering a select number of books published in April and May. Today, we shift our attention to the month of June, which also sees several critical works in the realm of Black intellectual history, and Black history more broadly speaking. These works include historians who have written extensively for Black Perspectives, and others who have already left an indelible mark on the history profession. All of the themes mentioned in this essay have been critical hallmarks of scholarship published on Black Perspectives. In addition, all of the works written about here share one commonality: expressing the continued importance of Black history to the larger tapestry of historical scholarship. 

Andy Horowitz’s Katrina: A History, 1915-2015 provides a fascinating history of New Orleans. Looking at the development of the region through multiple lenses—environmental, policy, and political—Horowitz’s book makes clear how important understanding the near-century leading up to Katrina’s horrific landfall in August 2005 clarifies the many man-made problems that made Katrina such a catastrophe. Thinking through the careful links of public policy, politics, and intellectual discourse helps historians to think about Black intellectual history from still more provocative and critical angles. More work on the ties between Black history and environmental history is also welcome, as this is a growing field of scholarly inquiry that will only gain urgency with the ongoing climate change crisis. Think, for example, of the winner of last year’s Pauli Murray book prize was Pauulu’s Diaspora, a magisterial work examining the links between Black internationalism and global fights for environmental justice. Here, however, the lens is applied to a historically rich and relevant region of North America. 

Friend of the Black Perspectives blog Holly Pinheiro’s book, The Families’ Civil War: Black Soldiers and the Fight for Racial Justice, comes out this June. It promises to alter how many—historians and those outside the academy alike—think about the role of the U.S. Colored Troops in American history during and after the Civil War. Although focused on Black residents of Philadelphia, one hopes that The Families’ Civil War will spark additional research by numerous scholars into what USCT soldiers did to advance the cause of Black citizenship throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Already, Dr. Pinheiro has published several pieces at Black Perspectives that open a window into his thinking and research for this project. 

The politics of memory come to the fore in Daniel T. Fleming’s Living the Dream: The Contested History of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Released in June by the University of North Carolina Press, Living the Dream pushes historians to think harder about how Dr. King’s life has been turned into a symbol that means different things to different groups of people. Already, writers at Black Perspectives have considered how the legacy of Dr. King has been used for a variety of political, intellectual, and cultural purposes. Living the Dream continues the scholarly examination of how Black Americans and Black-led movements—reviled and ostracized in their own time—are sanitized and made “safe” for public memory. 

The edited collection, A Movement in Every Direction: A Great Migration Critical Reader, promises to push new interpretations and understandings of the Great Migration of Black Americans from South to North. Spearheaded by editors Jessica Bell Brown and Ryan N. Dennis, A Movement in Every Direction includes new essays, along with classic texts about the Migration, as well as photographs and other ephemera that exemplify the Great Migration and its impact on American society.  So much of modern Black intellectual history in the United States only makes sense if one takes into account the Great Migration and its lingering legacy. A Movement in Every Direction certainly reminds us all of how we live in a nation—and world—shaped by the movement of Black Americans from south to north. 

All of these, and many other books being released this June, are cause for celebration within the academic community. Themes of power, memory, politics, and so much more link these works together. Black intellectual history not only provides a large tent under which to write, research, and debate, but its connections to the wider fields of Black, American, and global histories are impossible to ignore. 

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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.