A Century of Books Reviewed by The Journal of African American History
A curated list with links to the original reviews in JSTOR
Since its first issue in 1916, The Journal of African American History (JAAH), formerly The Journal of Negro History, has been the leading scholarly publication for articles and book reviews on Black History topics.
Let us take a digital journey through JAAH book reviews of major works by W.E.B. DuBois, Ira Berlin, Annette Gordon-Reed, and others.
Scroll through excerpts here, read the original reviews on JSTOR, and then visit Adams Library at Rhode Island College to borrow these groundbreaking books for yourself.
Books featured in this list are available to borrow from Adams Library–just look for the “Century of Books Reviewed” exhibit case on Level 3 (main floor) on your way into the building.
The Negro by W.E.B DuBois
“The facts set forth by the author will put many persons on their guard against individuals who continue to spread misinformation.”
Reviewed in 1916 by J.A. Bigham.
The American Negro: A Study in Racial Crossing by Melville Herskovitz
“The work on the whole…is only a brief and incomplete treatment.”
Reviewed in 1928 by anonymous.
The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James
“It may be doubted whether any man could write with complete detachment of so passionate an affair as the Haitian Revolution. None ever has. This work has more of clarity and insight (and one may also say, of fairness) than any that has come to the reviewer's notice.”
Reviewed in 1940 by George P. Hammond.
Frederick Douglass by Benjamin Quarles
“The controversial and enigmatic episodes in Douglass' life receive here the detached and dispassionate evaluation of orthodox standards of historical craftsmanship. Debunkers and scandal-mongers wilt before the author's skillful and searching handling of sources and evidence so that the great reformer emerges in proper perspective as the statesman that he was.”
Reviewed in 1948 by W.M. Brewer.
His Eye Is on the Sparrow by Ethel Waters with Charles Samuels
“It is very difficult to review this sensational autobiography by Ethel Waters. There are so many things in the book which irritate the Negro reader it is hard for him to be objective. His Eye Is on the Sparrow has used almost every cliche, every stereotype and every generalization about the Negro which the average American white likes to find in works dealing with our group.”
Reviewed in 1951 by Arthur P. Davis.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
“Most of our common assumptions about man, life and the world contain an image or identity with some preconceptions. To affirm one's existence in the words of Descartes: "I think, therefore I am," and to be at war with one's society is to get rid of one's preconceptions. In Baldwin's words, this is the rewriting of history not only for the liberation of the Negro, but also for whites who knew nothing about their own.”
Reviewed in 1965 by B. Pakrasi.
Black Resistance, White Law: A History of Constitutional Racism in America by Mary Frances Berry
“This volume is an original, scholarly contribution for at least two major reasons. First, Berry clearly demonstrates that white nationalism and its by-product of racism in America is, and has been since the settlement of the colonies, the dominant reflex action on which most of America's domestic public policy is based.”
Reviewed in 1972 by Marvin Gentry.
Slaves Without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South by Ira Berlin
“Ranging over wide terrain in time and subject, Berlin raises tough questions and offers fresh insight on free Blacks, race relations, and the antebellum South. A work of this magnitude can not escape some weaknesses. It is, however, a long overdue synthesis of an important topic with new research of its own and should endure as a standard for some time.”
Reviewed in 1975 by Robert L. Harris, Jr.
Women, Race and Class by Angela Y. Davis
“Like a whirlwind of sociohistoric ideas presented from a refreshingly ethocentric perspective, Angela Davis has published a comprehensive yet systematic analysis of black women's struggles within the Suffrage and Club Movement.”
Reviewed in 1983 by Sandra Virginia Gonsalves.
The Power of Black Music by Samuel A. Floyd
“The Power of Black Music is a major contribution to the lost chapters in the history of black music and the contributions of blacks in the development of sacred and secular music from the diaspora to contemporary society. The book further fulfills a unique role in the rising tide controlling the renaissance in African and African-American music history today–a tide which gathers momentum with each passing year, and will definitely enter unabated into the next millennium and beyond! What is revealed by Floyd is an intellectual odyssey, refreshing and inspiring.”
Reviewed in 1997 by Romeo Eldridge Phillips.
Reversing Sail: A History of the African Diaspora by Michael A. Gomez
“A redounding success. In a little over two hundred pages, Gomez more than adequately fulfills his own goal of presenting a succinct summary of people of African descent…For those who have been unclear as to the dimensions of the African Diaspora, here it is in one concise book.”
Reviewed in 2006 by Larry Hudson.
Ar’n’t I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South by Deborah Gray White
“The beauty of history is that it is such a cumulative process. Two decades ago, Deborah Gray White published a benchmark book, Ar'n't I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South. Although immediately heralded and deeply appreciated by historians of African American women, it has taken twenty years and the production of a new generation of scholars to challenge the larger historical profession to fully grasp the significance of this pioneering scholarship.”
A 2007 essay by Darlene Clark Hine for the 20 year retrospective.
The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed
“It is this essence of family life and lore that is so consistently absent from this work and undermines its significance as a study of the Hemings family, in particular, and African American families more generally, under slavery.”
Reviewed in 2011 by Brenda E. Stevenson.
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
“Kendi traces the persistence of racist ideas, the insurgence of antiracist ideas in the mid-twentieth century, and the impotence of the antiracist ideas in the face of persistent white racism in the early twenty-first century. Rigorously conceptualized and developed, creative, and well written, the volume was a winner of the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction. I must quibble with Kendi from the outset, however.”
Reviewed in 2018 by Vernon J. Williams Jr.
This list was curated by Amy Barlow, Associate Professor and Reference Librarian at Rhode Island College. Myshara Whittington (RIC Class of 2024) and Kelly Ochoa (RIC Class of 2025) assisted with curating the library exhibit. Questions? Contact Amy Barlow: firstname.lastname@example.org.