- Making Black History: The Color Line, Culture, and Race in the Age of Jim Crow by Jeffrey Aaron Snyder
In Making Black History: The Color Line, Culture, and Race in the Age of Jim Crow, Jeffrey Aaron Snyder offers a concise history of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History and the movement to institutionalize the study, practice, and instruction of black history in the United States during the first half of the twentieth century. Snyder divides the text into three overlapping thematic and temporal parts tracking major ideas and questions that preoccupied Carter G. Woodson and other black scholars between 1915 and 1956: "The Color Line, 1915–1926"; "Culture, 1922–1941"; and "Race, 1942–1956."
In Part 1, Snyder explores Woodson's intellectual development and black scholars' attempts to institutionalize black history through publications such as the Journal of Negro History. Part 1 also highlights black scholars' and activists' attempts to confront both whitewashed narratives of U.S. history that emphasized national solidarity and racist propaganda that portrayed black people as inferior, such as the film Birth of a Nation (1915). In the section on culture, Snyder illustrates how Woodson and other intellectuals, such as Claude McKay, used methods of cultural history, recovery, and credentialing, as well as anthologies and public history events, to build the field and to educate African Americans during the 1920s and 1930s.
Snyder also explores how black history developed as a grassroots and collective endeavor, pointing out that non-elite African American educators' participation was central to the development of the field. Yet non-elite involvement did not stop with black educators; those who wrote, edited, and consumed the Negro History Bulletin and those who participated in public history events, such as the pageant The Star of Ethiopia, were also key builders of black history. In focusing on grassroots participation, Snyder complicates the idea of Woodson as the "father of black history" (p. 36). However, Snyder's analysis also highlights the tensions between elite and non-elite interpretations of black history. Regarding Negro History Week, Woodson "sometimes fretted that its popularity would dilute the integrity of the historical content" (p. 104).
In Part 3, Snyder continues to investigate the positive contributions of black history and its role in black scholars' responses to events such as World War II and Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Snyder illustrates how Woodson's death in 1950 created an opening for scholars such as Rayford W. Logan, John Hope Franklin, and C. Vann Woodward to engage in conversations about segregation and integration. However, despite landmark works analyzing race [End Page 723] and racism, such as Logan's edited collection What the Negro Wants (Chapel Hill, 1944) and Franklin's 1956 essay in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, "History of Racial Segregation in the United States," Snyder claims that Woodson and others may have placed too much stock in black history's ability to eradicate institutional racism.
In addition to consulting the papers of Woodson, Logan, and Franklin, Snyder draws on an array of printed primary source material to construct a very useful history of the movement to implement and popularize black history during the first half of the twentieth century. Snyder connects his discussions of the development of black history to contemporary historiographical topics such as policing and crime. And even if Snyder's narrative concludes with African Americans approaching the precipice of a national social movement, Making Black History explains the grassroots and political ethos that was central to future black cultural and intellectual movements, such as the strand of cultural nationalism within the Black Power movement, the emergence of black studies, and the proliferation and advancement of black intellectuals in the academy after the 1960s.