The Special Collections at Denver Public Library are a great resource for learning more about the lives of African Americans in Colorado and the rest of the United States. Both the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library and the Western History Collection regularly add new titles that feature the latest in scholarship on African American History to their holdings, as well as older titles that are new to our collections. Here are a few of the titles that have recently been added:
- Creating the Black Utopia of Buxton, Iowa by Rachelle Chase (History Press, 2019) - Black pioneers carved out plenty of settlements on the Western Plains including one in Buxton, Iowa. The residents of this Iowa coal community were noteworthy for their progressive approach to race relations, building a town where residents freely co-mingled in churches, schools, and workplaces.
- Slavery's Reach: Southern Slaveholders in the North Star State by Christopher P. Lehman (Minnesota Historical Press, 2019) - Northern Midwestern states like Minnesota aren't usually in the conversation when it comes to the lasting scars of slavery, but they benefited mightily from the institution. This recent work examines how the profits from slavery were used to build the institutional framework for the "free" state of Minnesota. It's an astounding story that hasn't been told until now.
- Black Fortunes: The Story of the First Six African Americans Who Survived Slavery and Became Millionaires by Shomari Wills (Amistad, 2018) - It's difficult to think of a further journey than that of formerly enslaved people who went from bondage to the heights of American capitalism. The six businessmen and women profiled in this work epitomize the great American success story and, by necessity, were textbook entrepreneurs.
- White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson (Bloomsbury, 2016) - The term "White Rage" may be a lightning rod for "controversy," but post-Civil War "Black Codes," Jim Crow laws, voter suppression, and violent backlash to civil rights laws are tangible evidence of its existence. Anderson's meticulous research connects moments of Black progress to inevitable violent backlashes meant to push that progress backward.
- The Negro's Civil War: How American Blacks Felt and Acted During the War for the Union by James McPherson (Vintage Books, 2003) - In nearly every telling of the story of the American Civil War, African Americans are largely depicted as bystanders, but that was hardly the case. In this heavily footnoted edition, McPherson draws out the Black experience during the War, from the struggle for equal pay in the Union Army, to how African Americans viewed Abraham Lincoln.
- The Denver School Busing Wars: The History of Denver Public Schools, Volume Two, 1967-1995 by Phil Goodstein (Denver New Social Publications, 2020) - After voting to desegregate Denver Public Schools in 1969, the city of Denver was consumed in a whirlwind of violence, rhetoric, and straight-up chaos. The story of those uneasy days is told by Goodstein in meticulous detail.
- Unexampled Courage, the Blinding of Sgt. Isaac Woodward and the Awakening of President Harry S. Truman and Judge J. Waties Waring by Richard Gergel (Sarah Crichton Books, 2019) - On his way home from service in World War II, Sgt. Isaac Woodward was pulled from a Greyhound bus and brutally beaten by Batesburg, South Carolina, Police Chief Lynwood Shull. The assault left Sgt Woodward blind and touched off a maelstrom that reached to the highest offices of American life. When then-President Truman heard the story, he was moved to both pursue justice for Sgt. Woodward and, ultimately, desegregate the U.S. Army. Though Shull was acquitted of the crime by an all-white jury, the judge in the case, J. Waites Waring, was so moved that he spent much of the rest of his career advocating for civil rights.
Though February is Black History Month, there are always plenty of opportunities to learn more about the lives of African Americans via the collections at Denver Public Library year-round.