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Twelve books that give context to current protests [reading list]

Cities across the United States have seen ongoing protests since the death of George Floyd while in police custody on 25 May. Conversations are taking place on social media as well as in the real world, and media coverage has been relentless. We at Oxford University Press would like to highlight some of our books across politics, history, and philosophy that we hope can contribute to the important conversations currently taking place and provide valuable context. Where possible, we’ve made some of these books available at no cost for a limited time. Explore additional free articles on race and diversity on our website.

  1. American While Black: African Americans, Immigration, and the Limits of Citizenship by Niambi Michele Carter
    Carter argues that immigration, both historically and in the contemporary moment, has served as a reminder of the limited inclusion of African Americans in the body politic. As Carter contends, immigration provides a way to understand the nature and meaning of black American citizenship–specifically the way that white supremacy structures and constrains not only African Americans’ place in the American political landscape, but the black community’s political opinions as well.
    American While Black is free on Oxford Scholarship Online until 10 July.
  2. The Making of Black Lives Matter: A Brief History of an Idea by Christopher J. LebronThe Making of Black Lives Matter
    Started in the wake of George Zimmerman’s 2013 acquittal in the death of Trayvon Martin, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has become a powerful campaign to demand redress for law enforcement injustices against the African American community in the United States. Drawing on the work of revolutionary black public intellectuals, Lebron clarifies what it means to assert that “Black Lives Matter” when faced with contemporary instances of anti-black law enforcement.
  3. Situational Breakdowns: Understanding Protest Violence and Other Surprising Outcomes by Anne Nassauer
    Nassauer demonstrates that when routines break down, surprising outcomes often emerge. Focusing on detailed accounts of peaceful and violent protests from the 1960s until 2010, violent uprisings such as Ferguson 2014, and armed store robberies caught on camera, Nassauer argues we can understand how and why routine interactions break down by looking at how situations develop systematically. She discusses how violence emerges and what police and protesters can do to avoid violent clashes.
  4. Bearing Witness While Black: African Americans, Smartphones, and the New Protest #Journalism by Allissa V. Richardson Bearing Witness While Black
    This book reveals how the perfect storm of smartphones, social media, and social justice empowered Black activists to create their own news outlets, which continued a centuries-long, African American tradition of using the news to challenge racism. Bearing Witness While Black is the first book of its kind to identify three overlapping eras of domestic terror against African American people–slavery, lynching, and police brutality–and explain how storytellers documented such atrocities through journalism.
  5. Steeped in the Blood of Racism: Black Power, Law and Order, and the 1970s Shootings at Jackson State College by Nancy K. Bristow
    Minutes after midnight on 15 May 1970, white members of the Jackson city police and the Mississippi Highway Patrol opened fire on young people in front of a women’s dormitory at Jackson State College, a historically black college. Just ten days after the killings at Kent State, the attack at Jackson State never garnered the same level of national attention. In the aftermath, the victims and their survivors struggled unsuccessfully to find justice. The shootings were soon largely forgotten except among the local African American community. This book reclaims this story and situates it in the broader history of the struggle for African American freedom in the civil rights and black power eras.
    Steeped in the Blood of Racism is free on Oxford Scholarship Online until 10 July.
  6. Black Software: The Internet & Racial Justice, from AfroNet to Black Lives Matter by Charlton D. McIlwainBlack Software
    Activists, pundits, politicians, and the press frequently proclaim today’s digitally mediated racial justice activism the new civil rights movement. In Black Software, McIlwain shows how the story of racial justice movement organizing online is much longer and more varied. Chronicling the long relationship between African Americans, computing technology, and the Internet from the 1960s to present, the book examines how computing technology has been used to neutralize the threat that black people pose to the existing racial order, but also how black people seized these new computing tools to build community, wealth, and wage a war for racial justice.
  7. Sick from Freedom: African American Illness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction by Jim Downs
    Downs recovers the untold story of one of the bitterest ironies in American history—that the emancipation of the slaves had devastating consequences for innumerable freed people. Slaves who fled from bondage during and after the Civil War did not expect that their flight toward freedom would lead to sickness, disease, suffering, and death. But the war produced the largest biological crisis of the nineteenth century, with deadly consequences for hundreds of thousands of freed people.
    Sick from Freedom is free on Oxford Scholarship Online until 10 July.
  8. A Duty to Resist: When Disobedience Should be Uncivil by Candice DelmasA Duty to Resist
    Advocates from Henry David Thoreau and Mohandas Gandhi to the Black Lives Matter activists have recognized that there are times when, rather than having a duty to obey the law, citizens have a duty to disobey it. There are limits: principle alone does not justify law breaking. But Delmas argues that uncivil disobedience can sometimes be not only permissible but required in the effort to resist injustice.
    A Duty to Resist is free on Oxford Scholarship Online until 10 July.
  9. Until There is Justice: The Life of Anna Arnold Hedgeman by Jennifer Scanlon
    Scanlon presents the first-ever biography of Hedgeman, a demanding feminist, devout Christian, and savvy grassroots civil rights organizer. Anna Arnold Hedgeman played a key role in over half a century of social justice initiatives. Hedgeman ought to be a household name, but until now has received only a fraction of the attention of activists like A. Philip Randolph, Betty Friedan, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
  10. Most of 14th Street Is Gone: The Washington, DC Riots of 1968 by J. Samuel WalkerMost of 14th Street is Gone
    Walker’s book takes an in-depth look at the causes and consequences of the Washington, DC, riots of 1968. It shows that the conditions that existed in the city’s low-income neighborhoods helped generate the problems that erupted after Martin Luther King’s murder. The book also discusses the growing fears produced by the outbreaks of serious riots in many cities during the mid-1960s. Walker analyzes the reasons for the riots and the lessons that authorities drew from them. He also provides an overview of the struggle that the city faced in recovering from the effects of the 1968 disorders.
  11. The Color of America Has Changed: How Racial Diversity Shaped Civil Rights Reform in California, 1941-1978 by Mark Brilliant
    Brilliant examines California’s history to illustrate how the civil rights era was a nationwide and multiracial phenomenon–one that was shaped and complicated by the presence of not only blacks and whites, but also Mexican Americans, Japanese Americans, and Chinese Americans, among others. The Golden State’s status as a civil rights vanguard for the nation is due in part to the numerous civil rights precedents set there and to the disparate challenges of civil rights reform in multiracial places.
  12. Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Raymond ArsenaultFreedom Riders
    They were black and white, young and old, men and women. In the spring and summer of 1961, they put their lives on the line, riding buses through the American South to challenge segregation in interstate transport. Their story is one of the most celebrated episodes of the civil rights movement, yet a full-length history has never been written until now. In these pages, acclaimed historian Raymond Arsenault provides an account of six pivotal months that jolted the consciousness of America.

Feature image created by OUP.

Recent Comments

  1. […] “Twelve books that give context to current protests [reading list]” […]

  2. Faustino Correia

    Exciting iniciative. Count me in.

  3. Mary

    Thanks for sharing these but I can’t access any of the ones that you have marked as freely available. I’ve created an account on Oxford scholarship online but can’t get the books.

  4. Cassandra Ammerman

    Hi Mary — I’m sorry you’re having issues accessing the books! Will you please send us an email at [email protected] and we’ll see if we can figure out the problem.

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