Black Books That Scholars Are Reading
The History of White People and more in our books column.
Disciplining Women: Alpha Kappa Alpha, Black Counterpublics, and the Cultural Politics of Black Sororities, by Deborah Whaley (SUNY Press)
You've probably seen Spike Lee's School Daze and Sylvain White's Stomp the Yard. They're great entertainment, but do they capture the essence of black Greek-letter organizations? Whaley answers that question with this in-depth investigation of the America's oldest black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, founded in 1908.
Whaley explores the sorority's history, talks to its members, analyzes its rituals and discusses its politics. She takes us "inside" AKA and allows us to see how it shapes black women's lives and affects the African-American community at large.
Washington's U Street: A Biography, by Blair Ruble (Johns Hopkins/Woodrow Wilson Center)
Even if you've never lived in Washington, D.C., you've probably heard of U Street, if only because Ben's Chili Bowl is located there. But U Street has a lot more going for it than chili, as Ruble points out in his thorough Washington's U Street: A Biography. For one, the African-American middle class was born there shortly after 1900; until the 1920s, U Street was the largest black urban enclave in the United States. For another, much of what we recognize as black culture grew up there. Even before Harlem (and its "renaissance"), there was U Street, or "Black Broadway."
And finally, there's a story of rebirth and transformation. The Washington Riots of 1968 were hard on U Street, as were the 1970s. But today U Street is thriving and, not surprisingly, gentrifying. Or perhaps the more accurate term is "regentrifying"?
Marshall T. Poe, Ph.D., who teaches history at the University of Iowa, is editor-in-chief of the New Books Network.