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A Tribute to Black Scholarship

Our African American books collection here at the University of Notre Dame Press reflects the rich stories, towering achievements, contributions and sacrifices of Black individuals throughout history. It is our joy to highlight these books in honor and celebration of Black voices.

In Abandoned Tracks: The Underground Railroad in Washington County, Pennsylvania, W. Thomas Mainwaring bridges the gap between scholarly and popular perceptions of the Underground Railroad. Historians have long recognized that many aspects of the Underground Railroad have been mythologized by emotion, memory, time, and wishful thinking. Mainwaring’s book is a rich, in-depth attempt to separate fact from fiction in one local area, while also contributing to a scholarly discussion of the Underground Railroad by placing Washington County, Pennsylvania, in the national context.

“This is a fine and unique study of the history of the Underground Railroad in a largely rural county. It is original with the added advantage of having something to say about the ways the movement developed and operated, the relationships forged between its black and white operatives, and, possibly most important of all, its avoidance of the ‘romantic lore’ that has surrounded what in effect was a movement to undermine one of the foundational institutions of the country. Mainwaring’s book is well written and deeply researched, and engages with major historiographical issues.”

—Richard J. M. Blackett, Vanderbilt University 

William Still: The Underground Railroad and the Angel at Philadelphia is the first major biography of the free black abolitionist William Still, who coordinated the Eastern Line of the Underground Railroad and was a pillar of the Railroad as a whole. This monumental work details Still’s life story beginning with his parents’ escape from bondage in the early nineteenth century and continuing through his youth and adulthood as one of the nation’s most important Underground Railroad agents and, later, as an early civil rights pioneer. Unique to this book is an accessible and detailed database of the 995 fugitives Still helped escape from the South to the North and Canada between 1853 and 1861.

“William C. Kashatus’s William Still, along with providing a rich account of the great abolitionist and archivist of the Underground Railroad, brilliantly conveys the courage, the resourcefulness, and the intelligence of the slaves escaping towards freedom. This is history as it should be written: poignant, passionate, and trenchant.”

—Kenneth A. McClane, author of Color: Essays on Race, Family, and History

This volume, Nannie Helen Burroughs: A Documentary Portrait of an Early Civil Rights Pioneer, 1900–1959, brings together the writings of Nannie Helen Burroughs, an educator, civil rights activist, and leading voice in the African American community during the first half of the twentieth century. This anthology aims to spark a conversation surrounding Burroughs’s life and work by making available her own tracts on God, sin, the intersections of church and society, black womanhood, education, and social justice. Moreover, the volume is an important piece of the growing movement toward excavating African American intellectual and philosophical thought and reformulating the literary canon to bring a diverse array of voices to the table.

“Kelisha Graves’s Nannie Helen Burroughs makes a valuable contribution to the field of black intellectual thought by providing a different analytical framework for those scholars studying African American women activists against Jim Crow’s oppression and for civil rights for all people.”

—Linda D. Tomlinson, Fayetteville State University 

What the Negro Wants explores the policies and practices that could be employed to achieve equal rights and opportunities for Black Americans, rejecting calls to reform the old system of segregation and instead arguing for the construction of a new system of equality. Stirring intense controversy at the time of publication, the book serves as a unique window into the history of the civil rights movement and offers startling comparisons to today’s continuing fight against racism and inequality. This compilation of essays by fourteen prominent African American intellectuals, including Langston Hughes, Sterling Brown, Mary McLeod Bethune, A. Philip Randolph, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Roy Wilkins was a direct and emphatic call for the end of segregation and racial discrimination that set the agenda for the civil rights movement to come.

“Rationalization and sublimation have been the means by which we have tried to solve the American race problem, and this ably written book is an outstanding example of the frontal approach.”

The New York Times Book Review (praise for a previous edition)

Taking the Fight South: Chronicle of a Jew’s Battle for Civil Rights in Mississippi provides a timely and telling reminder of the vigilance democracy requires if racial justice is to be fully realized. In Taking the Fight South, arguably his most personal book, historian Howard Ball focuses on six years, from 1976 to 1982, when, against the advice of friends and colleagues in New York, he and his Jewish family moved from the Bronx to Starkville, Mississippi, where he received a tenured position in the political science department at Mississippi State University. For Ball, his wife, Carol, and their three young daughters, the move represented a leap of faith, ultimately illustrating their deep commitment toward racial justice.

“As we examine the horrific examples of public racism, Islamophobia, and anti-immigrant policy and behavior in contemporary society, I read this book personally, internalizing it deeply to ask if I would have had similar courage.”

—Mark Curnutte, author of Across the Color Line 

Despite the extensive scholarship on Max Weber (1864–1920) and W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963), very little of it examines the contact between the two founding figures of Western sociology. Drawing on their correspondence from 1904 to 1906, and comparing the sociological work that they produced during this period and afterward, The Spirit vs. the Souls: Max Weber, W. E. B. Du Bois, and the Politics of Scholarship examines for the first time the ideas that Weber and Du Bois shared on topics such as sociological investigation, race, empire, unfree labor, capitalism, and socialism.

“McAuley explores the little-known personal and intellectual relationship between Max Weber and W. E. B. Du Bois in this volume. The two scholars corresponded briefly until, as McAuley claims, the divergence in their ideas made an ongoing relationship impossible. Today, he argues, academia remembers Weber incorrectly as the ‘pure scholar,’ while downgrading and misconstruing Du Bois’s intellectual credentials as those of a mere ‘political academic.'”


Colin Powell: Imperfect Patriot is the fascinating story of Powell’s professional life and of what we can learn from both his good and bad followership. This biography demonstrates that Powell’s decades-long development as an exemplary subordinate is crucial to understanding his astonishing rise from a working-class immigrant neighborhood to the highest echelons of military and political power.

“This is no hagiography. Consisting of equal parts admiration and critical scrutiny, it is a tough and insightful portrayal of a commanding personality who was capable of both towering professional achievements and astonishing failures of judgment and ethics. Beyond pure biography, Matthews has produced a fascinating case study of the human elements of public service and leadership.” 

—Malcolm Byrne, Deputy Director, National Security Archive

Winner of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize, Stepmotherland, Darrel Alejandro Holnes’s first full-length collection, is filled with poems that chronicle and question identity, family, and allegiance. This Central American love song is in constant motion as it takes us on a lyrical and sometimes narrative journey from Panamá to the USA and beyond. The driving force behind Holnes’ work is a pursuit for a new home, and as he searches, he takes the reader on a wild ride through the most pressing political issues of our time and the most intimate and transformative personal experiences of his life. Exploring a complex range of emotions, this collection is a celebration of the discovery of America, the discovery of self, and the ways they may be one and the same.

“Darrel Alejandro Holnes navigates the fraught politics of national, racial, and sexual identities with grace and wisdom beyond his years in order to locate that precarious but remarkable space that a queer Afro/Black-Latino immigrant from Panamá can call home. . . . What a unique, multivalent, and incredibly moving debut.” 


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