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Historical Perspectives

Historical Perspectives

Polite Protest: The Political Economy of Race in Indianapolis, 1920 – 1970
By Richard B. Pierce
Indiana University Press, 2005
168 pp., $39.95 cloth,
ISBN: 0-253-34587-1

This history of the Black community of Indiana-polis in the 20th century focuses on the methods of political action — protracted negotiations, interracial coalitions, petition and legal challenges — they employed to secure their civil rights. These methods of “polite protest” set Indianapolis apart from many Northern cities. Dr. Richard B. Pierce looks at how the Black community worked to alter the political and social culture of Indianapolis. As local leaders became concerned with the city’s image, Black leaders found it possible to achieve gains by working with Whites inside the existing power structure, while continuing to press for further reform and advancement. Pierce describes how Indianapolis differed from its Northern cousins such as Milwaukee, Chicago and Detroit. Here, the city’s people, Black and White, created their own patterns and platforms of racial relations in the public and cultural spheres.

Dr. Richard B. Pierce is the Carl E. Koch II Associate Professor of History and chair of the Africana studies department at the University of Notre Dame.

Worrying the Line: Black Women Writers, Lineage and Literary Tradition
By Cheryl A. Wall
The University of North Carolina Press, 2005
320 pp., $49.95 cloth, ISBN: 0-8078-2927;
$19.95 paper, ISBN: 0-8078-5586-3

For blues musicians, “worrying the line” is the technique of breaking up a phrase by changing pitch, adding a shout or repeating words in order to emphasize, clarify or subvert a moment in a song. Dr. Cheryl A. Wall applies this term to fiction and nonfiction writing by African-American women in the 20th century, demonstrating how these writers bring about similar changes in African-American and American literary traditions.

Examining the works of Lucille Clifton, Gayl Jones, Audre Lorde, Paule Marshall, Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor and Alice Walker, Wall highlights ways in which these authors construct family genealogies, filling in the gaps with dreams, rituals, music or images that forge a connection to family lost through slavery. For the Black female author, Wall contends, this method of revising and extending canonical forms provides the opportunity to comment on the literary past while also calling attention to the lingering historical effects of slavery. For the reader, Wall shows how the images and words combine to create a new kind of text that extends meanings of the line, both as lineage and as literary tradition.

Dr. Cheryl A. Wall is professor of English at Rutgers University.

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