Book Reviews: Current Books Showcase African-American Interests

Updated May 13, 2014

Integrating the Gridiron: Black Civil Rights and American College Football, by Lane Demas, $39.95, Rutgers University Press, February 2010, ISBN-10: 0813547415, ISBN-13: 978-0813547411, pp. 200.

Writing about college football from a civil rights and integration perspective, the author reminds us of when Blacks were scarce on the squads of colleges and universities, other than at Black schools. It is a complex story, beginning in the 19th century not long after the emergence of the sport and continuing to the present when African-Americans predominate many collegiate squads. Along the way, the author recalls the careers of such players as:

*      Jack Trice, the first African-American athlete at Iowa State University, who died from injuries suffered in a game against the University of Minnesota in 1923.

*      Jackie Robinson, who earned varsity letters in four sports at the University of California, Los Angeles, the first major college to feature several Black players in starting positions. While Robinson is better known for breaking the Major League Baseball color barrier, he contributed to an unbeaten record for the football team in 1939 until its loss in the final game to the University of Southern California, averting a showdown over integrating the Rose Bowl.

*      And, Johnny Bright, a Drake University halfback whose jaw was broken when he was punched maliciously in a 1951 game against Oklahoma A&M.

More important, Demas weaves their stories into the larger picture of the American conflict over race, detailing acts of discrimination, taunting and physical abuse affecting players and highlighting their contributions to the progress in race relations.

African American Food Culture, by William Frank Mitchell, $49.95, Greenwood, (Food Cultures in America), April 2009, ISBN-10: 0313346208, ISBN-13: 978-0313346200, pp. 118 and What the Slaves Ate: Recollections of African American Foods and Foodways from the Slave Narratives, by Dwight Eisnach, Herbert C. Covey, $59.95, Greenwood, May 2009, ISBN-10: 031337497X, ISBN-13: 978-0313374975, pp. 311.

These two books from Greenwood Press contribute greatly to our knowledge of African-American diet and cuisine, a subject often clouded by myth, misinformation and ignorance. For context, What the Slaves Ate draws from the Works Progress Administration’s oral histories of the survivors of slavery recorded in the Depression era as well as from other sources. The narratives detail what, when and how Blacks ate during slavery. Previous research on this food history relied on second- and third-hand information.

This book helps us understand the use of food as a control mechanism, through rationing, denial and timing of the supply as well as the effect of these issues on nutrition and health. Researchers tell the story of how the people they enslaved repurposed what was available to create new cuisines, often supplementing meager supplies by farming, fishing and hunting. Many recipes are included, and appendices list more than 300 foods or dishes found as researchers examined all 2,200 narratives recorded by the WPA.

African American Food Culture, which is part of the Food Cultures in America series, begins with the Africans’ forced journeys to the West. Continuing the story to the present, the author writes: “In fact, preparing these foods (dishes associated with African-Americans) from traditional recipes is something Black people used to do.” Customs and food choices are evolving as lifestyles, nutritional needs and tastes change. A chronology—beginning with the Portuguese slave trade in the 1470s and extending to 2008 with Shaquille O’Neal’s appearance with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to announce nutrition standards for schools and youth programs—is particularly interesting.

This book presents a fascinating account of the blending and borrowing of foods that make up African-Americans’ culinary heritage and of Black contributions to the culinary arts of America.

Following are some other recent noteworthy titles related to African-Americans:

African Americans and Community Engagement in Higher Education: Community Service, Service-learning, and Community-based Research, by Stephanie Y. Evans, Colette M. Taylor, Michelle R. Dunlap, and DeMond S. Miller, $24.95, September 2009, State University of New York Press, September 2009, ISBN-10: 143842874X, ISBN-13: 978-1438428741, pp. 288.

Interdisciplinarity and Social Justice: Revisioning Academic Accountability, edited by Joe Parker, Ranu Samantrai and Mary Romero, $24.95, State University of New York Press (Praxis: Theory in Action), June 2010, ISBN-10: 1438431368, ISBN-13: 978-1438431369, pp. 374.