Many notable African Americans hailed from Memphis, including Veronica Coleman, Tennessee’s first black U.S. Attorney General. In her book Notable Black Memphians, Miriam DeCosta-Willis (a notable African American herself as the first faculty member of Memphis State University) provides a biographical and historical study which traces the evolution of a major Southern city through the lives of black men and women who overcame social and economic barriers to create artistic works, found institutions, and obtain leadership positions that enabled them to shape their community.
Moving to the East Coast, Building a Healthy Black Harlem has been praised by the journal Afro-Americans in New York: Life and History for being “a valuable contribution to our knowledge of a place and time better known for its famous writers and artists than for the quotidian struggles of its workers facing racism and the structural economic trap of high rents and low wages … Wilson’s book is an impressive achievement that updates social history with fresh material and perspectives and makes important interventions in the literature on African American urbanization.”
Black history also makes it mark in the performing arts. Black Medea is an anthology of six adaptations of the Euripidean tragedy by contemporary American playwrights that present Medea as a black Medea. For example, Jim Magnuson’s African Medea sets the play in Angola in the early nineteenth century with Medea as an African princess and Jason as a Portuguese soldier. Placing six adaptations side by side and interviewing the playwrights in order to gain their insights into their work allows the reader to see how an ancient Greek tragedy has been used by contemporary American artists to frame and understand African American history. This book is in the Cambria Contemporary Global Performing Arts Series headed by John Clum (Duke University).
Black history is to be found in literary works as well. Black Women as Custodians of History sheds much light on black history through the examination of texts by African American and Afro-Cuban women from four different literary genres (autobiographical slave narrative, contemporary novel on slavery, testimonial narrative, and poetry). The book shows that in the womens’ revisions of national history, their writings also demonstrate the pervasive role of racial and gender categories in the creation of a discourse of national identity, while promoting a historiography constructed within flexible borders that need to be negotiated constantly. This book is in the Cambria Studies in Slavery: Past and Present book series headed by Ana Lucia Araujo (Howard University).
Dr. Araujo herself has just published another excellent, essential book for Black History Month. African Heritage and Memories of Slavery in Brazil and the South Atlantic World is an unprecedented study that makes a very important contribution to the understanding of the place of African heritage and slavery in the official history and public memory of Brazil and Angola. This new must-have book illuminates the history of African tangible and intangible heritages and its links with the public memory of slavery in Brazil and Angola.
Books like these are critical to black studies. Celebrate #BlackHistoryMonth by spreading the word about these important studies and making sure that these books are available at your library (if they are not, let your librarian know). From now until April 20, 2015, there is a 35% discount on all hardbound books–use coupon code CAMBRIA188.