Margaret Walker Alexander Series in African American Studies

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

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Margaret Walker Alexander Series in African American Studies

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Black Folklore and the Politics of Racial Representation

Shirley Moody-Turner

Before the innovative work of Zora Neale Hurston, folklorists from the Hampton Institute collected, studied, and wrote about African American folklore. Like Hurston, these folklorists worked within but also beyond the bounds of white mainstream institutions. They often called into question the meaning of the very folklore projects in which they were engaged.

Shirley Moody-Turner analyzes this output, along with the contributions of a disparate group of African American authors and scholars. She explores how black authors and folklorists were active participants--rather than passive observers--in conversations about the politics of representing black folklore. Examining literary texts, folklore documents, cultural performances, legal discourse, and political rhetoric, Black Folklore and the Politics of Racial Representation demonstrates how folklore studies became a battleground across which issues of racial identity and difference were asserted and debated at the turn of the twentieth century. The study is framed by two questions of historical and continuing import. What role have representations of black folklore played in constructing racial identity? And, how have those ideas impacted the way African Americans think about and creatively engage black traditions?

Moody-Turner renders established historical facts in a new light and context, taking figures we thought we knew--such as Charles Chesnutt, Anna Julia Cooper, and Paul Laurence Dunbar--and recasting their place in African American intellectual and cultural history.

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Borders of Equality

The NAACP and the Baltimore Civil Rights Struggle, 1914-1970

Lee Sartain

As a border city Baltimore made an ideal arena to push for change during the civil rights movement. It was a city in which all forms of segregation and racism appeared vulnerable to attack by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's methods. If successful in Baltimore, the rest of the nation might follow with progressive and integrationist reforms. The Baltimore branch of the NAACP was one of the first chapters in the nation and was the largest branch in the nation by 1946. The branch undertook various forms of civil rights activity from 1914 through the 1940s that later were mainstays of the 1960s movement. Nonviolent protest, youth activism, economic boycotts, marches on state capitols, campaigns for voter registration, and pursuit of anti-lynching cases all had test runs.

Remarkably, Baltimore's NAACP had the same branch president for thirty-five years starting in 1935, a woman, Lillie M. Jackson. Her work highlights gender issues and the social and political transitions among the changing civil rights groups. In Borders of Equality, Lee Sartain evaluates her leadership amid challenges from radicalized youth groups and the Black Power Movement. Baltimore was an urban industrial center that shared many characteristics with the North, and African Americans could vote there. The city absorbed a large number of black economic migrants from the South, and it exhibited racial patterns that made it more familiar to Southerners. It was one of the first places to begin desegregating its schools in September 1954 after the Brown decision, and one of the first to indicate to the nation that race was not simply a problem for the Deep South. Baltimore's history and geography make it a perfect case study to examine the NAACP and various phases of the civil rights struggle in the twentieth century

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City Son

Andrew W. Cooper's Impact on Modern-Day Brooklyn

Wayne Dawkins

In 1966, a year after the Voting Rights Act began liberating millions of southern blacks, New Yorkers challenged a political system that weakened their voting power. Andrew W. Cooper (1927-2002), a beer company employee, sued state officials in a case called Cooper vs. Power. In 1968, the courts agreed that black citizens were denied the right to elect an authentic representative of their community. The 12th Congressional District was redrawn. Shirley Chisholm, a member of Cooper's political club, ran for the new seat and made history as the first black woman elected to Congress.

Cooper became a journalist, a political columnist, then founder of Trans Urban News Service and the City Sun, a feisty Brooklyn-based weekly that published from 1984 to 1996. Whether the stories were about Mayor Koch or Rev. Al Sharpton, Howard Beach or Crown Heights, Tawana Brawley's dubious rape allegations, the Daily News Four trial, or Spike Lee's filmmaking career, Cooper's City Sun commanded attention and moved officials and readers to action.

Cooper's leadership also gave Brooklyn--particularly predominantly black central Brooklyn--an identity. It is no accident that in the twenty-first century the borough crackles with energy. Cooper fought tirelessly for the community's vitality when it was virtually abandoned by the civic and business establishments in the mid-to-late twentieth century. In addition, scores of journalists trained by Cooper are keeping his spirit alive.

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Hoo-Doo Cowboys and Bronze Buckaroos

Conceptions of the African American West

Michael K. Johnson

Hoo-Doo Cowboys and Bronze Buckaroos undertakes an interdisciplinary exploration of the African American West through close readings of texts from a variety of media. This approach allows for both an in-depth analysis of individual texts and a discussion of material often left out or underrepresented in studies focused only on traditional literary material. The book engages heretofore unexamined writing by Rose Gordon, who wrote for local Montana newspapers rather than for a national audience; memoirs and letters of musicians, performers, and singers (such as W. C. Handy and Taylor Gordon), who lived in or wrote about touring the American West; the novels and films of Oscar Micheaux; black-cast westerns starring Herb Jeffries; largely unappreciated and unexamined episodes from the "golden age of western television" that feature African American actors; film and television westerns that use science fiction settings to imagine a "postracial" or "postsoul" frontier; Percival Everett's fiction addressing contemporary black western experience; and movies as recent as Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained.

Despite recent interest in the history of the African American West, we know very little about how the African American past in the West has been depicted in a full range of imaginative forms. Hoo-Doo Cowboys and Bronze Buckaroos advances our discovery of how the African American West has been experienced, imagined, portrayed, and performed.

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Perspectives on Percival Everett

Keith B. Mitchell

Percival Everett writes novels, short stories, poetry, and essays, and is one of the most prolific, acclaimed, yet under-examined African American writers working today. Although to date Everett has published eighteen novels, three collections of short fiction, three poetry collections, and one children's book, his work has not garnered the critical attention that it deserves. Perhaps one of the most vexing problems black and white scholars have had in trying to situate Everett's work is that they have found it difficult to "place" him and his work within a prescribed African American literary tradition. Because he happens to be African American, critics have expectations of so-called "authentic" African American fiction; however, his work often thwarts these expectations.


In Perspectives on Percival Everett, scholars engage all of his creative production. On the one hand, Everett is an African American novelist. On the other hand, he pursues subject matters that seemingly have little to do with African American culture. The operative word here is "seemingly"; for as these essays demonstrate, Everett's works falls well within as well as outside of what most critics would deem the African American literary tradition. These essays examine issues of identity, authenticity, and semiotics, in addition to postmodernism and African American and American literary traditions--issues essential to understanding his aesthetic and political concerns.

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Raised Up Down Yonder

Growing Up Black in Rural Alabama

Angela McMillan Howell

Raised Up Down Yonder attempts to shift focus away from why black youth are "problematic" to explore what their daily lives actually entail. Howell travels to the small community of Hamilton, Alabama, to investigate what it is like for a young black person to grow up in the contemporary rural South.

What she finds is that the young people of Hamilton are neither idly passing their time in a stereotypically languid setting, nor are they being corrupted by hip hop culture and the perils of the urban North, as many pundits suggest. Rather, they are dynamic and diverse young people making their way through the structures that define the twenty-first-century South. Told through the poignant stories of several high school students, Raised Up Down Yonder reveals a group that is often rendered invisible in society. Blended families, football sagas, crunk music, expanding social networks, and a nearby segregated prom are just a few of the fascinating juxtapositions.

Howell uses personal biography, historical accounts, sociolinguistic analysis, and community narratives to illustrate persistent racism, class divisions, and resistance in a new context. She addresses contemporary issues, such as moral panics regarding the future of youth in America and educational policies that may be well meaning but are ultimately misguided.

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Searching for the New Black Man

Black Masculinity and Women's Bodies

Ronda C. Henry Anthony

Using the slave narratives of Henry Bibb and Frederick Douglass, as well as the work of W. E. B. Du Bois, James Baldwin, Walter Mosley, and Barack Obama, Ronda C. Henry Anthony examines how women's bodies are used in African American literature to fund the production of black masculine ideality and power. In tracing representations of ideal black masculinities and femininities, Henry Anthony shows how black men's struggles for gendered agency are inextricably bound up with their complicated relation to white men and normative masculinity. The historical context in which Henry Anthony couches these struggles highlights the extent to which shifting socioeconomic circumstances dictate the ideological, cultural, and emotional terms upon which black men conceptualize identity.

Yet, Henry Anthony quickly moves to texts that challenge traditional constructions of black masculinity. In these texts Henry Anthony traces how the emergence of collaboratively-gendered discourses, or a blending of black female/male feminist consciousnesses, are reshaping black masculinities, femininities, and intraracial relations for a new century.

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The Souls of White Folk

African American Writers Theorize Whiteness

Veronica T. Watson

The Souls of White Folk: African American Writers Theorize Whiteness is the first study to consider the substantial body of African American writing that critiques whiteness as social construction and racial identity. Arguing against the prevailing approach to these texts that says African American writers retreated from issues of "race" when they wrote about whiteness, Veronica T. Watson instead identifies this body of literature as an African American intellectual and literary tradition that she names "the literature of white estrangement."

In chapters that theorize white double consciousness (W. E. B. Du Bois and Charles Chesnutt), white womanhood and class identity (Zora Neale Hurston and Frank Yerby), and the socio-spatial subjectivity of southern whites during the civil rights era (Melba Patillo Beals), Watson explores the historically situated theories and analyses of whiteness provided by the literature of white estrangement from the late nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries. She argues that these texts are best understood as part of a multipronged approach by African American writers to challenge and dismantle white supremacy in the United States and demonstrates that these texts have an important place in the growing field of critical whiteness studies.

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To Write in the Light of Freedom

The Newspapers of the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Schools

edited by William Sturkey and Jon N. Hale

Fifty years after Freedom Summer, To Write in the Light of Freedom offers a glimpse into the hearts of the African American youths who attended the Mississippi Freedom Schools in 1964. One of the most successful initiatives of Freedom Summer, more than forty Freedom Schools opened doors to thousands of young African American students. Here they learned civics, politics, and history, curriculum that helped them instead of the degrading lessons supporting segregation and Jim Crow and sanctioned by White Citizen’s Councils. Young people enhanced their self-esteem and gained a new outlook on the future. And at more than a dozen of these schools, students wrote, edited, printed and published their own newspapers. For more than five decades, the Mississippi Freedom Schools have served as powerful models of educational activism. Yet, little has been published that documents black Mississippi youths’ responses to this profound experience.

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Visionary Women Writers of Chicago's Black Arts Movement

Carmen L. Phelps

A disproportionate number of male writers, including such figures as Amiri Baraka, Larry Neal, Maulana Karenga, and Haki Madhubuti, continue to be credited for constructing the iconic and ideological foundations for what would be perpetuated as the Black Art Movement. Though there has arisen an increasing amount of scholarship that recognizes leading women artists, activists, and leaders of this period, these new perspectives have yet to recognize adequately the ways women aspired to far more than a mere dismantling of male-oriented ideals.


In Visionary Women Writers of Chicago's Black Arts Movement, Carmen L. Phelps examines the work of several women artists working in Chicago, a key focal point for the energy and production of the movement. Angela Jackson, Johari Amiri, and Carolyn Rodgers reflect in their writing specific cultural, local, and regional insights, and demonstrate the capaciousness of Black Art rather than its constraints. Expanding from these three writers, Phelps analyzes the breadth of women's writing in BAM. In doing so, Phelps argues that these and other women attained advantageous and unique positions to represent the potential of the BAM aesthetic, even if their experiences and artistic perspectives were informed by both social conventions and constraints. In this book, Phelps's examination brings forward a powerful and crucial contribution to the aesthetics and history of a movement that still inspires.

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