In last week’s post, we featured articles from the OHR archive that use oral history to help readers consider issues related to anti-racism. Today we recommend books reviewed in past issues that will further our exploration of white privilege, civil rights, and systemic racism.
In this second installment of our recommended reading list, editorial interns Sidney Davies and Lauren Conner have compiled book reviews from the OHR archive that use oral history to address topics related to racism, privilege, civil rights, activism, and African American history in general. We at OHR hope that the resources provided in last week’s post and this one can amplify the voices and history of African Americans, and help educate those who are committed to ending discrimination and injustice. Oral history gives a voice to those who are often voiceless, and provides the opportunity to share firsthand experiences. Included below are links to the reviews, which Routledge has taken from behind the paywall, as well as links to the publishers of the books themselves which are available for purchase.
A Taste of Brown Sugar examines Black women’s experiences in the porn industry since the 1980s. Miller-Young has an incredible ability to weave together theory, experience, and research to create a cohesive and detailed picture of what life looked like for these women. Miller-Young gives underrepresented and unheard women a chance to voice not only their fight with discrimination, but also an emotional picture of their lives, sexuality, and experiences as women of color. Read Mario Alvarez’s review at OHR.
Drawing on pre-existing oral histories and interviews with migrant women, Lisa Krissoff Boehm chronicles the experiences of African American women who were a part of the second Great Migration that spanned from the 1940s to the 1960s. These interviews show the struggles facing these women: the different forms of racism in the North, job scarcity, and the eternal struggle of balancing work and home. Read Thomas W. Copeland’s review here.
White Men Challenging Racism: 35 Personal Stories is a collection of interviews with 35 white men conducted by the co-editors, which detail the narrators’ efforts to identify and overcome their own internalized racism. The interviewees range in age, location, experience, orientation, and occupation, giving a diverse perspective from within the ranks of white men. Not only does the book provide first person perspectives on how to address racism within oneself, all author royalties were donated to anti-racism foundations. Read OHR‘s review of the collection by Pamela Grundy.
Nancy Grant’s book is the first to focus specifically on the relationship between the TVA and African Americans. The TVA may have declared its support of Black communities and its desire to fight racism, but the reality of the authority’s actions was far different. The TVA enforced the pre-existing racial status quo, further solidifying racist policies and institutions. The actions of the TVA reflect a broader problem with institutions and government policies historically overlooking or intentionally ignoring African American communities and enforcing systematic racism. Read Susan Hamburger’s review here.
Martha Biondi focuses on protests taking place in colleges nationwide in the late 1960s and early 1970s in her book The Black Revolution on Campus. Biondi blends interviews with research on higher education, showing just how crucial Black student activists were in reforming higher education nationwide and carving out a place for the Black community within the walls of colleges everywhere. Biondi’s book addresses one aspect of a larger problem: the continuing lack of diversity in higher education and academia. Read Anna F. Kaplan’s review for OHR here.
Charles F. Robinson II and Lonnie R. Williams, eds. Remembrances in Black: Personal Perspectives of the African American Experience at the University of Arkansas, 1940s-2000s (University of Arkansas Press, 2010).
Remembrances in Black tells the stories of Black students’ experiences at the University of Arkansas over a 50 year period, starting with George W. B. Haley in 1949, to Quantrell Willis in 1999. The narratives compiled by the editors weave a tapestry of pride and shame, opposition and accomplishment. Told chronologically, the changes, or lack thereof, over the decades paint a picture of Black experiences in academia. Read OHR‘s review, written by Guy Lancaster.
Based on interviews, newspaper articles, and FBI documents, Blood Justice focuses on the lynching of one man, Mack Charles Parker. While Smead focuses more on the white perspective on the lynching, his work is another contribution to the literature surrounding mob violence. You can read Spencie Love’s review here.
A collection of interviews with Black women from the segregated South, this book shows the realities of life, relationships, work, and activism for these women. Brown and Valk highlight both the public and private lives and struggles of Black women during the Jim Crow era. The book is organized into larger topics such as sexuality, family dynamics, and gender with a broad array of women being interviewed. Read Kitty Oliver’s review here.
Anthropologist John Langston Gwaltney interviewed 41 African Americans in an attempt to define “core Black culture.” Eugene Pfaff Jr.’s review on OHR poses several questions about Gwaltney’s methodological approach , but highlights the impact of many of the interviews and the picture they paint about the ‘Black silent majority.’ Gwaltney captured the spirit and world view of his respondents in a fascinating collection of stories and experiences. Read Eugene Pfaff Jr.’s review at OHR here.
Ritterhouse draws on oral histories and autobiographical accounts in her study of how racial differences and discrimination were taught to children in the Jim Crow era. The social subtleties and elaborate etiquette created around race originated in slavery, and continued on as a way of enforcing white superiority. Allen Kent Powell, the author of the review for Ritterhouse’s study, notes the heartbreak of parents trying to explain to their children why they can’t do what other children can, and why they are treated so poorly. Ritterhouse’s study emphasizes the role parental influence and training takes in creating and maintaining social differences and racism. Check out Powell’s review here.
Steve Estes’s award-winning I am a Man! explores the role of gender in the Civil Rights Movement, and examines key figures and ideas that shaped the gender politics during this tumultuous time. Much of the language used in civil rights rhetoric was highly gendered towards a masculine perspective, and Estes dissects the positive and negative repercussions of that, as well as how it influenced individuals’ interaction with the Civil Rights Movement. Read Horacio Roque Ramirez’s review of I am a Man!
Beth Roy collected interviews from both Black and white individuals who were involved in the desegregation of Central Rock High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Roy makes the effort to understand the perspectives of those who were against desegregation, as she believes to truly overcome racism, one must understand the emotions of racist individuals. The full review is available at OHR.
Generations on Fire is a collection of interviews of civil rights activists from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Jeff Kisseloff explores these individuals’ motivations and experiences, painting a picture of what it was like standing against the majority during such tumultuous times. The new wave of activists and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement might find it both comforting and inspiring to read the experiences of the activists that came before. Read the full review here.
Lemann’s book is a groundbreaking work that studies not only the Great Migration, but the roots of poverty in sharecropper culture and how the migration brought national attention to racial issues. Robert Slayton praises Lemann in his review of The Promised Land, pointing out that Lemann’s work causes the reader to think in new ways about old issues, which will hopefully lead to new solutions and new ideas. Read Slayton’s full review at OHR here.
This reading list was compiled by OHR editorial assistants Lauren Connors (History major, Kean University) and Sydney Davies (History major, West Chester University) working remotely as summer interns.
Featured image by Janneken Smucker.