A groundbreaking history of elite black New Yorkers in the nineteenth century, seen through the lens of the author's ancestors
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.
About 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.
“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
— Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
— Edward P. Jones
— Biography/Autobiography Honorable Mention
— Leslie M. Harris
“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
— Arnold Rampersad
— Debby Applegate
— Kam Williams
— The Prince George's Post
— PROSE Award in U.S. History Honorable Mention
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
— General Nonfiction Honorable Mention
— Frederick Douglass Prize