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Select Books From the ‘Cradle of Liberty’

The presses of some major Massachusetts universities offer appealing and noteworthy selections on Black history and education issues.

For this special edition on higher education in Massachusetts, Diverse Bookshelf gathered recent offerings from the presses of some of the state’s prestigious universities. They include titles on new research in Black history and topical issues in education:

Boycotts, Buses, And Passes: Black Women’s Resistance in the U.S. South and South Africa, by Pamela E. Brooks, $29.95, University of Massachusetts Press, (December 2008), ISBN-10: 1558496785, ISBN-13: 978-1558496781, pp. 320.

Oral histories from eyewitnesses provide rich material for an Oberlin College professor’s examination of the leadership roles that women took in the parallel movements for civil rights and human dignity in the United States and South Africa in the mid-1950s.

Innocents Abroad: American Teachers in the American Century, by Jonathan Zimmerman $18.95, Harvard University Press (December 2008), ISBN-10: 0674032063, ISBN-13: 978-0674032064, pp. 312.

In the 20th Century, nearly 200,000 teachers from the United States heeded calls to teach in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The author, who taught in the Peace Corps in the 1980s, examined letters, diaries and other records of teachers’ experiences abroad. Borrowing a title from Mark Twain, he reflects on what the Americans taught and learned.

Jump For Joy: Jazz, Basketball, and Black Culture in 1930s America, by Gena Caponi- Tabery, $26.95, University of Massachusetts Press (June 2008), ISBN-10: 1558496637, ISBN-13: 978-1558496637, pp. 264.

A scholar of “expressive culture” looks at what she calls the jump era (after the swing era). She ties the physical act of jumping that emerges in dance (the jitterbug) and sport (basketball) to its symbolism as a metaphor for bold, exuberant action. Caponi-Tabery also explores ways that Black cultural victories beginning in the late 1930s were a springboard for civil rights advances.

Race and Entrepreneurial Success: Black-, Asian-, and White-Owned Businesses in the United States, by Robert W. Fairlie and Alicia M. Robb, $35, The MIT Press (September 2008), ISBN-10: 026206281X, ISBN-13: 978- 0262062817, pp. 256.

These facts are not particularly in dispute: Asian American businesses tend to do well. Black businesses do not. Why is that? The authors, both California economists, wanted a deeper understanding of this question than popular wisdom or readily available data could provide. They gained access to the U.S. Census Bureau’s tightly restricted database on the characteristics of business owners and mined it to provide many answers. Among them are that disparities in education, startup capital and opportunities to work in a family business are critical. To close the gap for the benefit of the entire economy, the authors include recommendations for how individuals and government can help.

Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora, by Stephanie E. Smallwood, $17.95, Harvard University Press (December 2008), ISBN-10: 0674030680, ISBN- 13: 978-0674030688, pp. 288.

This meticulously researched and beautifully told account of the slave trade looks at it through the prism of how the forced migration of people treated as products affects them and society, putting all of the cruelties and contradictions of this barbaric institution into sharper focus. The author, an associate professor of history at the University of Washington, Seattle, used the records of a slave-trading company to examine in horrific detail the experience and treatment of the Africans from capture to sale. She won the 2008 Frederick Douglass Book Prize for this book.

Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing, by Jane Margolis, $24.95, The MIT Press (September 2008), ISBN-10: 0262135043, ISBN-13: 978-0262135047, pp. 201.

The author compares circumstances at three Los Angeles high schools — overcrowded urban, magnet and well-funded — to determine the factors that keep Black and Hispanic students away from computer science. Her conclusion is that the problems range from the obvious (lack of access and good training in high school) to the less-explored factors (including students’ notions that computers are for Whites or Asians only). Margolis, a researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, previously wrote about the inequities that women experience in the computing field. This book’s title reflects the parallels she draws to a study about why Blacks were three times more likely to drown than Whites were — for reasons rooted in history, sociology and contemporary attitudes.

 — Angela P. Dodson is an online editor for Diverse: Issues In Higher Education.

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