February is Black History Month, a time to reflect and celebrate the achievements and lives of those who have contributed to and shaped our culture. It has been celebrated annually in the US since 1926 and aims to commemorate the struggles that black Americans overcame to gain the basic rights many take for granted.
Civil Rights in New York City: From World War II to the Giuliani Era, forthcoming in April, documents the significance of the Civil Rights Movement in New York, a movement that has largely been overlooked in the greater span of history. Most schools teach that the battle for civil rights was one primarily waged in the trenches of the Deep South, which has become characterized by the lynchings, riots, and segregation that were commonplace there. However, the fight for equality did not stop at the Mason-Dixon line. In this collection, edited by Clarence Taylor, the campaign for racial justice in NYC is portrayed as having contributed greatly to the nation-wide movement.
Before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s came the period of Emancipation and Reconstruction following the Civil War of the 1860s. Two books, both to be published in April, examine the events of that period. The Great Task Remaining Before Us: Reconstruction as America’s Continuing Civil War examines the monumental impact that the Civil War had on the national political and social landscape, not only during the War, but before and after as well. It dispels the notion that the Civil War ended with General Lee’s surrender and posits that the period known as Reconstruction was just as fraught with racial and political tensions and hatreds as during the War itself. Freedwomen and the Freedmen’s Bureau: Race, Gender, and Public Policy in the Age of Emancipation examines the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (commonly referred to as the “Freedmen’s Bureau”) and its relationship to women during post-Civil War Reconstruction. The Bureau was created and tasked with helping assimilate former slaves into American daily life–a gargantuan task. However, little has been written about the Bureau’s work in relation to the women it directly affected, a fact which Mary Farmer-Kaiser, the book’s author, believes has done a great disservice to the agency, its legacy, and understanding of American history.
Turning the clocks ahead to more modern times, The Rat that Got Away: A Bronx Memoir is the story of Allen Jones, a man who became a prominent banker and professional athlete in Europe after escaping from the brutal urban realities of an adolescence in the South Bronx. The Rat that Got Away is more than a story of personal triumph and determination (Jones was a heroin dealer and addict who served jail time before turning his life around), but also an intriguing look at the Bronx in the 1950s and ’60s, at a neighborhood that slid from a place of hope for middle class families to a neighborhood ravaged by unemployment, racial tensions, and drugs. Despite its trials, the South Bronx and its people never gave up, and it’s this story that serves as the heartbeat of the book.