Associate Professor of History, Leslie Brown, recently published her book, African American Voices: A Documentary Reader from Emancipation to the Present in February. Brown earned her BA from Tufts and her MA and Ph.D. from Duke. Brown’s research focuses on African American life in the segregated south, gender and migration, urban race relations and teaching across the color line.
Before writing this book, Brown worked on a variety of other projects. From 1990-95 she coordinated “Behind the Veil: Documenting African American Life in the Jim Crow South,” a collaborative research and curriculum project at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke. In 2009, she wrote Upbuilding Black Durham: Gender, Class and Black Community Development in the Urban South.
Brown’s book brings together 72 primary source documents to demonstrate the struggle to black freedom from 1865 through today. The collection beings with the “Meeting Minutes of an Interview between the Colored Ministers and Church Officers at Savannah with the Secretary of War and Major-Gen. Sherman,” and concludes with “Julian Bond Reflects on Race and History in America, 2011.” The primary source documents include speeches, posters, poetry, petitions and photographs.
“The task of this volume is to present a range of black voices that look from the inside out, not just African Americans’ experiences, but also at their aspirations, expectations, interpretations and actions,” Brown explains in her introduction.
Brown used sources to reflect the diversity of African American experiences, across class, generation, gender and region. “In this volume, domestic workers, miners, sharecroppers and migrants stand alongside scholars, politicians, organizers and activists to provide their own analyses of race and racism,” Brown said.
Brown started working on her book approximately five years ago. She explained that her students helped shaped the content of her book. “A few years ago, I got a group of students together to talk about what kinds of issues we should include in the book,” Brown said. “They looked for sources and talked about what was important about the documents they found. It taught me a lot about what students needed and expected from a book like this.”
“I feel more strongly about this book than I do about my Durham book, which was big work,” Brown said, referring to her 2009 work, which won the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize. “I hope it gets well used over the next few years.”