By MARCENE ROBINSON
Published February 26, 2021
In celebration of Black History Month, numerous news outlets — as well as the University Libraries — have released lists of critically acclaimed books, films and television shows that celebrate the numerous contributions and achievements of African Americans.
However, one does not need to look outside of UB to find literature on African American culture and heritage.
UB is home to researchers whose scholarship explores the impact that Black people have had across the world, as well as examines their struggles for equality. This includes several faculty members in the Department of Africana and American Studies, which celebrated its 50th anniversary of African American studies in 2019.
Below is a list of books on Black culture, history and achievements that are authored by UB faculty. The list is not comprehensive, and UBNow welcomes suggestions of additional titles by UB authors in the comments section.
“They Call Me George: The Untold Story of the Black Train Porters and the Birth of Modern Canada” by Cecil Foster
The book, penned by Foster, professor of transnational studies in the Department of Africana and American Studies, examines the story of 19th-century sleeping car porters — a job that, for a time, was often the only employment available to Black men in the U.S. and Canada. The train passengers, unwilling to learn the porters’ names, called anyone working in that capacity “George.” These men, through their diligence and activism, helped amend immigration policy and, in the 1920s, formed the first African American-led labor union in the United States.
“Strangers in the Land of Paradise: The Creation of an African American Community in Buffalo, New York, 1900-1940” by Lillian Serece Williams
Written by Williams, associate professor of Africana and American studies, the book explores the settlement of African Americans in Buffalo during the Great Migration. Williams describes the values and institutions that Black migrants from the South brought with them, as well as those that evolved as a result of their interaction with Black people native to Buffalo. The text reveals much about race, class and gender, and discusses the creation of an African American community as a distinct cultural entity. The book also delves into the achievements of 20th-century Buffalo educator, activist and suffragist Mary Burnett Talbert — namesake of UB’s Talbert Hall and Mary Talbert Way. Among the most prominent African Americans of her time, Talbert helped lay the foundation for the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
“To Serve My Country, To Serve My Race: The Story of the Only African American WACs Stationed Overseas During World War II” by Brenda Moore
Moore, associate professor of sociology, penned the first book to document the lives of the historic 6888th, the first U.S. Women’s Army Corps unit composed of African American women to serve overseas in World War II. While Black men and white women were invited to serve their country abroad, Black women were excluded from overseas duty throughout most of the war until political pressure forced the U.S. War Department to deploy Black women to the European theater in 1945. Despite the social, political and economic restrictions imposed upon these African American women in their own country, they were eager to serve, not only out of patriotism, but out of a desire to uplift their race and dispel bigoted preconceptions about their abilities. Moore reveals how their Army experience affected them for the rest of their lives and how they, in turn, transformed the U.S. military forever.
“The Mark of Slavery: Disability, Race, and Gender in Antebellum America” by Jenifer Barclay
The book, written by Barclay, assistant professor of history, centers on the lives of enslaved African Americans with physical, sensory and psychological disabilities, while also demonstrating how ableism — in addition to racism — was used in the U.S. to justify slavery and white supremacy by linking Blackness to disability, defectiveness and dependency. Barclay illuminates the lives of the roughly 10% of enslaved people who lived with disabilities. Devalued by slaveholders as worthless, these individuals nonetheless carved out an unusual autonomy, taking on roles as caregivers, healers and historians in their communities.
“Front Line of Freedom: African Americans and the Forging of the Underground Railroad in the Ohio Valley” by Keith Griffler
The Underground Railroad has often been viewed as an institution of mainly white “conductors” and Black “passengers.” However, in this book, Griffler, associate professor of Africana and American studies, shifts focus from the much discussed white-led “stations” to the primarily Black-led frontline along the Ohio River, the longest commercial dividing line between slavery and freedom. The book examines the first successful interracial freedom movement in the U.S., and the efforts of Ohio Valley African Americans to establish and shape the secret network into a powerful force in antebellum America.
“Race, Riots, and Roller Coasters: The Struggle over Segregated Recreation in America” by Victoria Wolcott
Written by Wolcott, professor of history, the book argues how the battle for access to leisure space in cities across the U.S. helped shape and expand the civil rights movement. Well before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, African Americans challenged segregation at amusement parks, swimming pools, skating rinks, baseball diamonds and dance halls, not only in pursuit of pleasure, but as part of a wider struggle for racial equality. Wolcott reveals how segregation was crucial to the appeal of urban leisure venues for white consumers, and links the decline of the urban amusement park with the simultaneous rise of the suburban theme park. With this reframing, contests over segregation in housing, transportation and education becomes an incomplete story without the addition of leisure spaces.
“Historical Roots of the Urban Crisis: Blacks in the Industrial City, 1900-1950” by Henry Louis Taylor Jr.
The book, edited by Taylor, professor of urban and regional planning, presents a collection of 12 essays that tell the story of how the gradual transformation of industrial society into one that is service-driven affected Black life and culture in cities. The book sheds light on the Black urban experience in northern, southern and western regions of the U.S., as well as examines the political, economic and social forces that wreaked havoc on the lives of African Americans during the era.
“Creating Multicultural Change on Campus” by Raechele Pope and Amy Reynolds
Higher education institutions have taken steps to address multicultural issues on campuses, but more often than not, those in charge of the task have received little to no training in the issues that are paramount in serving culturally diverse students. “Creating Multicultural Change on Campus” is a response to this problem, offering new conceptualizations and presenting practical strategies and best practices for higher education professionals who want to foster the awareness, knowledge and skills necessary for multicultural change on an institutional level. Readers are introduced to frameworks that are crucial for creating inclusive, welcoming and affirming campus environments. The authors include Graduate School of Education faculty members Pope, associate dean for faculty and student affairs and chief diversity officer, and Reynolds, professor of counseling, school and educational psychology.
“Beyond Redemption: Race, Violence and the American South after the Civil War” by Carole Emberton
In this book, Emberton, associate professor of history, explores how the violence of the Civil War shaped the meaning of freedom and citizenship in the new South. She traces the competing meanings that redemption held for Americans as they tried to come to terms with the war and the changing social landscape. While African Americans looked forward to a fresh start as new citizens and imagined redemption from the brutality of slavery, many white Southerners sought political and racial redemption for their losses through violence. Emberton shares how the cycle of fear and violence during the Reconstruction era gave rise to a larger culture of gun ownership that still exists in the U.S. today.
“Race and Modern Architecture: A Critical History from the Enlightenment to the Present” by Charles Davis II
Co-edited by Davis, the book explores the influence of race in European and North American architecture since the 18th century. By writing race back into architectural history, the authors confront how racial thinking shaped key concepts of modern architecture and culture, and analyze how architecture intersected with the histories of slavery, colonialism and inequality — from neoclassical governmental buildings to present-day housing projects.
“The Blind African Slave: Or Memoirs of Boyrereau Brinch, Nicknamed Jeffrey Brace” by Kari Winter
Edited by Winter, professor of American studies in the Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies, this book shares the story of Jeffrey Brace, a former slave who earned his freedom fighting for the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, became a well-respected abolitionist and in 1810 — despite being blind — published his memoir with the help of anti-slavery lawyer Benjamin Prentiss.
“Reclaiming Difference: Caribbean Women Rewrite Postcolonialism” by Carine Mardorossian
Written by Mardorossian, professor of English, the book analyzes the novels of four women — Maryse Condé (Guadeloupe), Jean Rhys (Dominica), Julia Alvarez (Dominican Republic) and Edwidge Danticat (Haiti) — to show how their writing has radically reformulated the meanings of the national, geographical, sexual and racial concepts through which postcolonial studies configure difference in national and regional literatures. Coming from the anglophone, francophone and hispanophone Caribbean, these writers challenge the idea that racial and cultural identities function as stable points of reference in our unstable world.
“Emergent Masculinities: Gendered Power and Social Change in the Biafran Atlantic Age” by Ndubueze Mbah
Mbah, associate professor of history, explores how Atlantic forces such as the slave trade, colonialism and Christianization transformed gender into the Bight of Biafra region’s primary mode of social differentiation. By examining male and female constructions of masculinity and sexuality as major indexes of social change, Mbah alters our understanding of the role of gender in precolonial Africa, and reveals how the West African region channeled the socioeconomic forces of the Atlantic world through their local ideologies and practices. Innovating the concept of “gendered Atlanticization,” he shows how trans-Atlantic exchanges synchronously altered gendered, ethnic and racialized power relations in both West Africa and the British Caribbean.
“Race, Space, and Exclusion: Segregation and Beyond in Metropolitan America” by Robert Adelman and Christopher Mele
Edited by Adelman, chair of sociology, and Mele, professor of sociology, the book features a collection of essays that examines the physical separation and marginalization of minority groups, especially African Americans.
“Affordable Housing in U.S. Shrinking Cities: From Neighborhoods of Despair to Neighborhoods of Opportunity?” by Robert Silverman, Kelly Patterson, Li Yin, Molly Ranahan and Laiyun Wu
Given the rapid urbanization of the world’s population, the converse phenomenon of shrinking cities is often overlooked and not well understood (almost one in 10 post-industrial U.S. cities are shrinking). This book examines the reasons for the failure and success of affordable housing in five of the fastest shrinking cities in the U.S.: Detroit, New Orleans, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Buffalo. The authors make recommendations for improving the development of affordable housing to ensure more equitable urban revitalization. The book was written by Silverman and Yin, professor and associate professor of urban and regional planning, respectively; Patterson, associate professor of social work; and UB alums Ranahan and Wu.