This week in North Philly Notes, Temple University Press staff members select their favorite titles for Black History Month
Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director
I was totally captivated by Lucy Maddox’s The Parker Sisters! In 1851, the two free black sisters were kidnapped from a farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and sold back into slavery for a full year. Their story reads like a novel with twists and turns at every angle as the true story of the two young sisters unfolds. True freedom was not to be had for many African Americans during that time, and for both the free and fugitive living in border areas like here in Pennsylvania and nearby Maryland, danger lurked everywhere. Slave catchers were a mighty force, getting legal and illegal assistance from both black and white. Through newspaper accounts, diaries, and courtroom documents, Maddox traces the sisters harrowing experiences and provides a glimpse into what life was like in mid-19th century America.
Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager
I’m a complete sucker for Sandra Bullock and her film The Blind Side. But after reading Matthew Hughey’s The White Savior Film, I can’t look at this (or any other) film about racial uplift the same way again. Hughey’s cogent unpacking of “saviorism” has prompted me to call it out when I write about film, and also to find films that eschew this trope that perpetrates stereotypes about race, class (and even gender). Reading Hughey’s book makes me even more conscientious of racial equality in film. And “The DuVernay Test,” named for African American filmmaker Ava DuVernay (I Will Follow, Selma), was devised to monitor films to ensure “African Americans and other minorities have fully realized lives rather than serve as scenery in white stories.” The current Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures, which features a trio of female African American mathematicians playing vital roles at NASA, passes the DuVernay test, and despite scenes of saviorism, is decidedly not a White Savior film. These women were real people whose abilities paved their way to success. Incidentally, Hidden Figures also evokes another Temple University Press title, Swimming Against the Tide, by Sandra Hanson, about African American girls and science education, which also demands reader’s attention.
Mary Rose Muccie, Director
Thousands of people come to Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia each year to visit the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and the nation’s first White House, known as the President’s House. There they’ll also see the only memorial to slavery on federal land. As Roger Aden explains in his book, Upon the Ruins of Liberty: Slavery, the President’s House at Independence National Historical Park, and Public History, the memorial’s location is more than a gesture. When he came from Virginia to live in the President’s House, George Washington brought with him nine African slaves and later found a loophole in Pennsylvania state law that allowed him to avoid granting them their freedom. The stories of freedom and liberty associated with the events that took place in Philadelphia rarely if ever acknowledged the existence of the slaves present as history was being made, and Aden’s book speaks to the importance of expanding the “history” commemorated at the site and describes the perhaps unexpected issues around doing so. Its discussion of the sometimes uncomfortable presentation of this piece of our history speaks to many of the threads woven into Black History Month and to the need to change what we’re taught about how the notion of liberty was applied.
Ryan Mulligan, Editor
We’ve seen sports serve as an intensely visible and symbolic ground to showcase the slow march towards progress that has, in fits and starts, propelled black history. In sports we’ve seen exclusion become segregation, participation met with resistance, success met with fear, and finally and most ironically racial pride become national pride. This last transition is visible in the distance between now and the 1968 Olympics, when Tommie Smith scandalized America by celebrating his gold medal in the 200-meter dash with a raised fist gloved in black as the National Anthem played. That scandal forced spectators to reconcile America’s progress with its work to be done, that if it wanted to take pride in its native son’s achievement, it would also need to hear his protest. This seems to me emblematic not only of a step in black history but also in the telling of black history. Black history, taught and learned well, cannot be restricted to a story white people tell about statuesque historical figures frozen in time but must give a platform for those figures to speak for themselves. That is why I’d like to call attention to Silent Gesture, which Temple published 10 years ago in which Tommie Smith tells his own story and his silent gesture takes on a living voice.
Aaron Javsicas, Editor in Chief
Dan Biddle and Murray Dubin’s Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America is a masterfully told story about this important figure in both Philadelphia and American history. Catto’s heroic activism and tragic murder at the hands of a racist mob on election day in 1871 foreshadowed the century of civil rights struggle to come. As Philadelphia prepares to unveil a statue memorializing Catto’s life later this spring on the grounds of City Hall, please consider picking up a copy of this engrossing and important biography.
Filed under: african american studies, american studies, civil rights, cultural studies, drama, Education, ethics, gender studies, History, immigration, Mass Media and Communications, Philadelphia, philosophy, political science, race and ethnicity, racism, Religion, sociology, sports, Urban Studies, women's studies | Tagged: black history, civil rights, film, hidden figures, history, memorial, murder, philadelphia, racism, slavery, sports | Leave a comment »