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Brian PurnellFighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings: The Congress of Racial Equality in Brooklyn

University Press of Kentucky, 2014

by Peter Aigner on November 25, 2014

Brian Purnell

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Scholars interested in the history of the civil rights movement in the North will definitely be interested in Brian Purnell‘s new book, Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings: The Congress of Racial Equality in Brooklyn (University Press of Kentucky, 2014). This case study of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in Brooklyn joins one of the fastest-growing areas of research in the field: the roots and experience of the black freedom struggle above the Mason-Dixon. Challenging many of the nation’s persistent beliefs about the geographic timeline and ideological dynamics of that social movement, this literature has broadened our understanding of the past and given us a far more complicated view of the challenges facing grassroots organizations  in the years before, during, and following the “classical period,” stretching from Rosa Parks’s arrest to Martin Luther King’s dream. Purnell looks at one of CORE’s most active, aggressive chapters in the North between 1960 and 1965. An exemplar of social history, the book explores the difficulties facing a small organization trying to upset the racial status quo in a city that prided itself on colorblindness–pioneering much of the legislation adopted by the federal government later–despite the fact that in education, housing, and labor segregation prevailed. Aggravating matters were a number of seismic changes in New York, as elsewhere: the flight of industry and middle class taxpayers to the suburbs and Sunbelt, and the influx of millions of laid-off southern sharecroppers to neighborhoods that, because of “de facto” Jim Crow, became increasingly poor, overcrowded, dilapidated, and ridden with trash, crime, and despair. Purnell gives us the story of a group valiantly attempting to avert and assuage these overwhelming developments. As he notes, their failures speak to the reality many still face today.


Edward Ross DickinsonSex, Freedom and Power in Imperial Germany 1880-1914

November 19, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in Intellectual History]  In this interview with historian Edward Ross Dickinson we talk about sex. Well, actually we talk about the talk about sex. Since Michel Foucault’s epochal work History of Sexuality (1976) how moderns talked about sex has been a central concern of cultural and intellectual historians. Foucault linked a number of nineteenth-century phenomena, such [...]

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Steven ConnAmericans Against the City: Anti-Urbanism in the Twentieth Century

November 12, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in Urban Studies] Americans have a paradoxical relationship with cities, Steven Conn argues in his new book, Americans Against the City: Anti-Urbanism in the Twentieth Century (Oxford University Press, 2014).  Nearly three-quarters of the population lives near an urban center, the result of a centuries-old, global trend that reflects not just industrialization but the role cities [...]

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Kirsten WeldPaper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatemala

November 6, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in Latin American Studies] Kirsten Weld‘s book Paper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatemala (Duke University Press, 2014) tells the story of the 2005 discovery of a vast police archive in Guatemala. Officials had long denied that it existed, and for good reason, because it documented years of kidnapping and murder under the auspices of [...]

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Terry GolwayMachine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics

October 31, 2014

For most Americans, Tammany Hall is a symbol of all that was dishonest, corrupt, illiberal, and venal about urban government and the political machines that ran it in the past, a shorthand for larceny on a grand scale. Not so, says Terry Golway. In his new book Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of [...]

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Thierry CruvellierThe Master of Confessions: The Making of a Khmer Rouge Torturer

October 31, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in Genocide Studies] What is justice for a man who supervised the interrogation and killing of thousands?  Especially a man who now claims to be a Christian and to be, at least in some ways and cases, repentant for his crimes? Thierry Cruvellier has written a fascinating book about the trial of ‘Duch’ [...]

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Kenneth Brashier Public Memory in Early China

October 29, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in East Asia Studies] Ken Brashier’s new book is another tour de force and must-read for scholars of Chinese studies. Public Memory in Early China (Harvard University Asia Center, 2014) offers a history of identity and public memory in early China. An extensive introductory chapter lays a foundation for the rest of the book by [...]

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Mason B. WilliamsCity of Ambition: FDR, La Guardia, and the Making of Modern New York

October 23, 2014

“Today, many New Yorkers take the FDR to get to La Guardia,” Mason B. Williams jokes in the opening line of his new book City of Ambition: FDR, La Guardia, and the Making of Modern New York (W.W. Norton, 2013) . And, depending on where they start, they pass any number of vital, iconic features in Gotham’s landscape [...]

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Melvin ElyIsrael on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War

October 21, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in Law] In Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War (Vintage Books, 2004), Melvin Ely uses a trove of documents primarily found in the county court records of Prince Edward County, Virginia to unravel a rich story about the free blacks who inhabited “the gentle slope of [...]

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Thomas KohutA German Generation: An Experiential History of the Twentieth Century

October 6, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in Psychoanalysis] Germans belonging to the generation born at the turn of the twentieth century endured staggering losses, many of which became difficult to mourn or even acknowledge: their parents in World War I, financial and physical security during the Weimar Republic, the racially pure utopian promise of the Third Reich, and likely [...]

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