SUMMER READING SALE! 40% off all available books with code PENN-SUMMER24 through June 14!


Reading List: Race, policing, and protest

In the past two weeks, tragic police killings of African Americans have once again sent shockwaves through the nation and have prompted a widespread and ongoing surge of activism. These events are only the latest culmination of a long, complex, and painful history of institutional racism—and the fight against it—in America and beyond. In order to do our part to share knowledge during this moment of anger and hope, Penn Press has assembled a reading list of our publications that speak to the history of race, policing, and protest.


  • An Army of Lions: The Civil Rights Struggle Before the NAACP by Shawn Leigh Alexander – “In 1890, a delegation of African American activists formed the Afro-American League, the nation’s first national civil rights organization. Over the course of nearly two decades, these activists fought to end disfranchisement and segregation, and to contest racial violence, creating the foundation for the NAACP and the modern civil rights movement.”
  • To March for Others: The Black Freedom Struggle and the United Farm Workers by Lauren Araiza – “Through the relationships between the African American civil rights groups of the 1960s and 1970s and the United Farm Workers, a primarily Mexican American union, To March for Others examines the complexities of forming coalitions across racial, socioeconomic, and geographic divides in pursuit of justice and equality.”
  • Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom by Keisha N. Blain –Set the World on Fire highlights the black nationalist women who fought for national and transnational black liberation from the early to mid-twentieth century.
  • Colonial Complexions: Race and Bodies in Eighteenth-Century America by Sharon Block – “How did descriptions of individuals’ appearance reinforce emergent categories of race? In Colonial Complexions, more than 4000 advertisements for runaway slaves and servants reveal how colonists transformed seemingly observable characteristics into racist reality.”
  • Remaking the Republic: Black Politics and the Creation of American Citizenship by Christopher James Bonner – “Examining newspapers, conventions, public protest meetings, and fugitive slave rescues, Bonner highlights a spirited debate among African Americans in the nineteenth century, the stakes of which could determine their place in U.S. society and shape the terms of citizenship for all Americans.”
  • Pulse of the People: Political Rap Music and Black Politics by Lakeyta M. Bonnette – “Examining the history of rap music, particularly the subgenre of political rap, and coupling public opinion research with lyrical analysis, Bonnette illustrates the ways rap music serves as a vehicle for the expression and advancement of political thought in urban Black communities.”
  • The Black Republic: African Americans and the Fate of Haiti by Brandon R. Byrd – “The Black Republic explores the critical but overlooked place of Haiti in black thought in the post-Civil War era. Following emancipation, African American leaders considered Haiti a singular example of black self-governance whose fate was inextricably linked to that of African Americans demanding their own right to self-determination.”
  • Force and Freedom: Black Abolitionists and the Politics of Violence by Kellie Carter Jackson – “In Force and Freedom, Carter Jackson provides the first historical analysis exclusively focused on the tactical use of violence among antebellum black activists. Through tactical violence, argues Carter Jackson, abolitionist leaders created the conditions that necessitated the Civil War.”
  • In the Shadow of the Gallows: Race, Crime, and American Civic Identity by Jeannine Marie DeLombard – “In the Shadow of the Gallows reveals how a sense of racialized culpability shaped Americans’ understandings of personhood prior to the Civil War. DeLombard draws from legal, literary, and popular texts to address fundamental questions about race, responsibility, and American civic belonging.”
  • Top Down: The Ford Foundation, Black Power, and the Reinvention of Racial Liberalism by Karen Ferguson – “Ferguson explores the consequences of the counterintuitive and unequal relationship between the elite liberal Ford Foundation and black power activists, arguing that codeveloped initiatives in education, community development, and the arts contributed to the recreation of racial liberalism in the neo-conservative era and beyond.”
  • In the Heat of the Summer: The New York Riots of 1964 and the War on Crime by Michael W. Flamm – “In Central Harlem, the symbolic and historic heart of black America, the violent unrest of July 1964 highlighted a new dynamic in the racial politics of the nation. The first ‘long, hot summer’ of the Sixties had arrived.”
  • Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive by Marisa J. Fuentes – “Vividly recounting the lives of enslaved women in eighteenth-century Bridgetown, Barbados, and their conditions of confinement through urban, legal, sexual, and representational power wielded by slave owners, authorities, and the archive, Fuentes challenges how histories of vulnerable and invisible subjects are written.”
  • Beyond Civil Rights: The Moynihan Report and Its Legacy by Daniel Geary – “The definitive history of the Moynihan Report controversy, Beyond Civil Rights examines the cultural assumptions embedded in the report’s analysis of “the Negro family” and demonstrates its significance for liberals, conservatives, neoconservatives, civil rights leaders, Black Power activists, and feminists.”
  • Revolutions and Reconstructions: Black Politics in the Long Nineteenth Century, edited by Van Gosse and David Waldstreicher – “Revolutions and Reconstructions gathers historians of the early republic, the Civil War era, and African American and political history to consider not whether African Americans participated in the politics of the long nineteenth century but how, when, and with what lasting effects.”
  • A Brotherhood of Liberty: Black Reconstruction and Its Legacies in Baltimore, 1865-1920 by Dennis Patrick Halpin – “Halpin argues that Baltimore is key to understanding the trajectory of civil rights in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. A Brotherhood of Liberty traces the civil rights victories scored by black Baltimoreans that inspired activists throughout the nation and subsequent generations.
  • From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Struggle for Economic Justice by Thomas F. Jackson – “From Civil Rights to Human Rights examines King’s lifelong commitments to economic equality, racial justice, and international peace. Drawing upon broad research in published sources and unpublished manuscript collections, Jackson positions King within the social movements and momentous debates of his time.”
  • Wicked Flesh: Black Women, Intimacy, and Freedom in the Atlantic World by Jessica Marie Johnson – “Unearthing personal stories from the archive, Wicked Flesh shows how black women, from Senegambia in West Africa to the Caribbean to New Orleans, used intimacy and kinship to redefine freedom in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. Their practices laid the groundwork for the emancipation struggles of the nineteenth century.”
  • Black Walden: Slavery and Its Aftermath in Concord, Massachusetts by Elise Lemire – “Charting the rise and fall of a community of former slaves struggling to survive on the fringes of Concord, Massachusetts, Black Walden reveals the role that slavery and its aftermath played in forming Thoreau’s beloved Walden landscape.”
  • Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia and Populist Politics by Timothy J. Lombardo – “Blue-Collar Conservatism examines the blue-collar, white supporters of Frank Rizzo—Philadelphia’s police commissioner turned mayor—and shows how the intersection of law enforcement and urban politics created one of the least understood but most consequential political developments in recent American history.”
  • Police Power and Race Riots: Urban Unrest in Paris and New York by Cathy Lisa Schneider – “Schneider looks at the relationship between racialized police violence and urban upheaval in impoverished neighborhoods of New York and greater Paris, and considers some of the changes that have made American cities less riot-prone today.”
  • The Practice of Citizenship: Black Politics and Print Culture in the Early United States by Derrick R. Spires – “The Practice of Citizenship traces the parallel development of early black print culture and legal and cultural understandings of U.S. citizenship. Considering a variety of texts by both canonical and lesser-known authors, Spires demonstrates how black writers articulated an expansive, practice-based theory of citizenship.”
  • In This Land of Plenty: Mickey Leland and Africa in American Politics by Benjamin Talton – “When Congressman Mickey Leland died in 1989, he was a forty-four-year-old, charismatic, black, radical American. In This Land of Plenty presents Leland as the personification of international radicalism and examines African Americans’ successes and failures in radically influencing U.S. foreign policy toward Global South countries.”
  • Contested Bodies: Pregnancy, Childrearing, and Slavery in Jamaica by Sasha Turner – “Contested Bodies explores how the end of the transatlantic trade impacted Jamaican slaves and their children. Examining the struggles for control over biological reproduction, Turner shows how central childbearing was to the organization of plantation work, the care of slaves, and the development of their culture.”
  • Black Metaphors: How Modern Racism Emerged from Medieval Race-Thinking by Cord Whitaker – “In Black Metaphors, Cord J. Whitaker argues that rhetoric and theology establish blackness and whiteness as metaphors for sin and purity in medieval English and European writing. Whitaker shows how these metaphors came to guide the development of notions of race in the centuries that followed.”
  • Race, Riots, and Roller Coasters: The Struggle over Segregated Recreation in America by Victoria W. Wolcott – “Race, Riots, and Roller Coasters tells the story of the battle for access to leisure space in cities across the United States. This detailed and eloquent history shows how African Americans fought to enter segregated amusement areas not only in pursuit of happiness but in connection to a wider movement for racial equality.”


  • Dissent is a quarterly magazine of politics and ideas. Founded by Irving Howe and Lewis Coser in 1954, it quickly established itself as one of America’s leading intellectual journals and a mainstay of the democratic left
  • Humanity is a triannual publication dedicated to publishing original research and reflection on human rights, humanitarianism, and development in the modern and contemporary world. An interdisciplinary enterprise, Humanity draws from a variety of fields, including anthropology, law, literature, history, philosophy, politics, and examines the intersections between and among them.