Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City

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Overview

Part detective tale, part social and cultural narrative, Black Gotham is Carla Peterson's riveting account of her quest to reconstruct the lives of her nineteenth-century ancestors. As she shares their stories and those of their friends, neighbors, and business associates, she illuminates the greater history of African-American elites in New York City.

Black Gotham challenges many of the accepted "truths" about African-American history, including the assumption that the phrase "nineteenth-century black Americans" means enslaved people, that "New York state before the Civil War" refers to a place of freedom, and that a black elite did not exist until the twentieth century. Beginning her story in the 1820s, Peterson focuses on the pupils of the Mulberry Street School, the graduates of which went on to become eminent African-American leaders. She traces their political activities as well as their many achievements in trade, business, and the professions against the backdrop of the expansion of scientific racism, the trauma of the Civil War draft riots, and the rise of Jim Crow.

Told in a vivid, fast-paced style, Black Gotham is an important account of the rarely acknowledged achievements of nineteenth-century African Americans and brings to the forefront a vital yet forgotten part of American history and culture.

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Editorial Reviews

The Prince George's Post

"Black Gotham challenges many of the so-called truths about African-American history."—The Prince George's Post
New York Book Festival
Won Honorable Mention in the 2012 New York Book Festival General Non-Fiction category, sponsored by the New York Book Festival

— General Nonfiction Honorable Mention

Arizona Informant
What makes her seminal opus so significant is how she painstakingly reconstructs her forefathers' past in light of the overall African-American struggle for emancipation and equality in the 1800s. . . . Calra Peterson's overdue tribute to her intrepid ancestors [is] an invaluable addition to the annals of African-American literature.—Kam Williams, Arizona Informant

— Kam Williams

Association of American Publishers
Won an Honorable Mention for the 2011 American Publishers Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence (PROSE) in the U.S. History category, as given by the Association of American Publishers

— PROSE Award in U.S. History Honorable Mention

New York Society Library
Winner of the 2011 New York City Book Awards sponsored by the New York Society Library. The winning book must evoke the spirit of New York City, with the city playing an essential, invigorating role beyond that of the setting.

— New York City Book Award

Henry Louis Gates Jr.

“Carla Peterson travels the well known streets of Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn to uncover the rich and hidden history of New York's black elite in the nineteenth century. That the book arose from her research into her own family history reminds us that in all of our families lies the story of this country.”—Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University
Edward P. Jones

“Dr. Peterson took a hard, uphill journey to give greater life to the ‘scraps’ she had about her family in nineteenth-century New York City and returned with a vital gift for all of us. It is a gift that not only offers a portrait of her family in that city but a larger, fairly unknown view of a pre-Harlem integrated society where many blacks were prosperous, enlightened, and thriving. Her book is a precious addition to the paucity of information we have about what blacks have done to make New York City and, indeed, America itself.”—Edward P. Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Known World
New York Book Festival - Biography/Autobiography Honorable Mention

Won Honorable Mention in the 2011 New York Book Festival Biography/Autobiography Category, sponsored by the New York Book Festival
Leslie M. Harris

"Carla Peterson's Black Gotham presents the best, most detailed portrait of New York City’s nineteenth-century black elite. Using her own search for her family roots as a thread to pull the reader through the narrative, Peterson provides insight into the work lives, political roles, and personal lives of this small but highly influential group of black New Yorkers."—Leslie M. Harris, Emory University
Arnold Rampersad

“Carla Peterson's Black Gotham is at once a tender labor of love and a tour de force of historical scholarship; both a romantic journey into her family's past and a clear-eyed restoration of an essential, long-lost element in a people's history. A story of New York, it resounds with implications for all of America. Peterson deserves our rapt attention and our gratitude.”—Arnold Rampersad, Stanford University
Debby Applegate

Black Gotham is a wonderful and rare portrait of New York City, told through the lens of a truly remarkable African-American family. Peterson's historical detective work is fascinating."—Debby Applegate, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher
Arizona Informant - Kam Williams

"What makes her seminal opus so significant is how she painstakingly reconstructs her forefathers' past in light of the overall African-American struggle for emancipation and equality in the 1800s. . . . Calra Peterson's overdue tribute to her intrepid ancestors [is] an invaluable addition to the annals of African-American literature."—Kam Williams, Arizona Informant
New York Society Library - New York City Book Award

Winner of the 2011 New York City Book Awards sponsored by the New York Society Library. The winning book must evoke the spirit of New York City, with the city playing an essential, invigorating role beyond that of the setting.
New York Book Festival - General Nonfiction Honorable Mention

Won Honorable Mention in the 2012 New York Book Festival General Non-Fiction category, sponsored by the New York Book Festival
Association of American Publishers - PROSE Award in U.S. History Honorable Mention

Won an Honorable Mention for the 2011 American Publishers Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence (PROSE) in the U.S. History category, as given by the Association of American Publishers
Guilder Lehrman Center - Frederick Douglass Prize

Finalist for the 2012 Frederick Douglass Prize sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Center.
Library Journal
Armed only with the name of her great-grandfather, Peterson (English, Univ. of Maryland, College Park; Doers of the Word: African-American Women Speakers and Writers in the North [1830–1880]) entered the New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem with the hope of documenting her family's history. She was lucky. While examining an old manuscript collection, she happened upon two pages, evidently once part of a scrapbook. On one of these pages was a detailed newspaper obituary of Philip Augustus White, her great-grandfather. The obituary contained names of friends, associates, and organizations, giving Peterson the ammunition to launch a detailed study of her family and of black life in 19th-century New York City. Peterson's exhaustive research, fueled by her passion to discover her family roots, has produced a detailed and fascinating glimpse of life for the elite members of the African American community in the nation's largest city during the 1800s. VERDICT Peterson has produced a monumental account that is not well known to most Americans. Scholars, African Americans, New Yorkers, and history buffs will all find the book worthwhile.—Robert Bruce Slater, Stroudsburg, PA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300181746
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 2/7/2012
  • Pages: 446
  • Sales rank: 793,200
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Carla L. Peterson is professor of English at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is the author of "Doers of the Word": African-American Women Speakers and Writers in the North, 1830–1880.

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