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Reading List February 02, 2019

Contesting Histories

Part one of our Black History Month reading series.

Welcome to the first collection in our reading series that celebrates Black History Month. Over the next three weeks, we will be pulling pieces from our archive that look at a variety of moments in African American history, penned by the likes of Robin D. G. Kelley, Christopher Lebron, and Donna Murch.

Black History Month is not without its criticisms, the most prominent being that black history should be consistently celebrated, and not siloed to the shortest month of the year. But this week’s essays show the benefit of taking a moment to pause and investigate. They all seek to challenge narratives that currently exist—rather than simply presenting new stories—and answer Robin Kelley’s call to show that “racial regimes are fictions: they are unstable, fragile, and contested.” 

—Rosie Gillies


What Good Is History for African Americans?
by Melvin Rogers

“We need not look despairingly upon the past because it overdetermines our present; neither do we need to see the past as anchoring a long arc of justiceor an inevitable march toward progress. We can instead say simply that there is work to be done and it is ours to do. This is our trade.”

• • •

Confronting the Relics of the Old South
by Liza Oliver

Two attractions in Alabama—the new national lynching memorial and the First Confederate White House—portray conflicting histories of racial violence.

• • •

To Remake the World: Slavery, Racial Capitalism, and Justice
a forum with Walter Johnson

“When historians vindicate the notion that enslaved people were human beings, they are also suggesting that this needs to be proven again and again. By framing their ‘discovery’ of slaves’ humanity as a defining feature of their work, historians ironically render black humanity intellectually probationary.”

• • •

Births of a Nation
by Robin D. G. Kelley

“Nevertheless, racial regimes do possess history, that is, discernible origins and mechanisms of assembly. But racial regimes are unrelentingly hostile to their exhibition. This antipathy exists because a discoverable history is incompatible with a racial regime.” — Cedric Robinson

• • •

Who’s to Blame for Mass Incarceration?
by Donna Murch

While the general consensus argues that institutional racism is behind the U.S. prison boom, a new book thinks that “African Americans themselves, not white backlash against black advancement, mobilized the phalanx behind mass incarceration.”

• • •

The Origins of Birthright Citizenship
by Robert L. Tsai

The unknown story of how the Fourteenth Amendment was shaped by freed blacks’ insistence that everyone born in the United States deserved full citizenship.

• • •

Black Nationalism and Liberation
by Garrett Felber

“Instead of positioning black nationalism as a reactionary, conservative ideologythat simply apes the violence and hate of white supremacy, we might learn from its lessons today.”

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