IN 1925, W.E.B. DuBois wrote a letter to the NAACP's Spingarn Award committee in support of Carter G. Woodson for the Spingarn Medal which was awarded annually by that organization for the "highest" achievement of an American Negro." DuBois said that Wooden "has done the most striking piece of scientific work for the Negro race in the last ten years of any man that I know. He has kept an historical journal going almost single-handed, founded a publishing association, and published a series of books with but limited popular appeal. It is a marvelous accomplishment."
Woodson was awarded the coveted medal in 1926 and in that same year launched the event now known as Afro-American History Month. Eleven years earlier he had founded the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. Devoting his life's work to the association, he became America's first scholar to devote his full time to collecting and publicizing the history of Afro-Americans. Pragmatic in his approach to studying black history, (he himself had a Ph.D. from Harvard). Woodson sincerely believed that the systematic writing and promoting of black history would not only assist Afro-Americans in elevating their position in American society but would inspire them to greater achievement.
Since those early years, the field of Afro-American history has matured to the point where courses are offered at most colleges, universities and public shools; scores of articles on the subject are written each year with a number of journals devoted exclusively to Afro-American history; numerous universities offer graduate training in the area and Afro-American History Month has become a national insitution.
If Woodson were alive today he would most certainly be overwhelmed with the maturity, stature and proliferation of his brainchild. Likewise, he would also be pleasantly surprised with the difficulty that scholars and interested people are experiencing in digesting the sizeable number of books published annually in the area of black history. As an aid for those who want to read further into black history and in a salute to Afro-American History Month, the following are some of the more outstanding books of 1977 on black history:
Military Necessity and Civil Rights Policy: Black Citizenship and the Constitution, 1861-1868, by Mary Frances Berry (Kennikat Press, Port Washington, N.Y., $11.50). This book sheds new light on the reasons why the Civil Rights Acts of Reconstruction and the 14th and the 15th Amendments were enacted. These measures, as demonstrated by Dr. Berry, originated in military enlistment policy and citizenship status determinations developed in the period before the Civil War.
Slave Testimony: Two Centures of Letters, Speeches, Interviews, and Autobiographies, by John W. Blassingame (Louisiana State University Press, paperback, $9.95). The large large collection of annotated and authenticated accounts of slaves ever published in one volume, revealing a full range of slave perspectives.
The Harlem Riot of 1943, by Dominic J. Capeci Jr. (Temple University Press, $15). The first full report of the racial explosion that shattered Harlem. This study provides insight into Adam Clayton Powell Jr., then a city councilman, and indicts President Roosevelt for his actions and attitudes toward the disorder.
Slow Fade to Black: The Negro in American Film, 1900-1942, by Thomas Cripps (Oxford University Press, $19.95). By far the most definitive treatment to date of blacks in American film. Profusely illustrated and well organized, this study may become a classic.
Deep'N As It Come: The 1927 Mississippi River Flood, by Pete Daniel (Oxford University Press, $12.95). Largely a folk history of the impact of the 1927 flood on race relations in Mississippi and a vivid depiction of the havoc that it wreaked on both poor blacks and whites.
The Perils and Prospects of Southern Black Leadership: Gordon Blaine Hancock, 1884-1970, by Raymond Gavins (Duke University Press, $11.75). A well researched, balanced account of an articulate black leader who was an early advocate of economic self-help and one of the founders of the Southern Regional Council.
Keeping the Faith : A. Philip Randolph, Milton P. Webster, and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, 1925-37, by William H. Harris (University of Illinois Press, $12.50). The frustrations, conflicts and tensions which underlay the arduous but successful struggle to establish the porters' union are interestingly and authoritatively chronicled in this analysis of the union, its founders, and its impact on labor history.
Black Labor and the American Legal System, by Herbert A. Hill (Washington: Bureau of National Affairs, $15). A comprehensive account of the interplay of black labor and the nation's legal system.
Black Over White: Negro Political Leadership in South Carolina during Reconstruction, by Thomas Holt (University of Illinois Press, $12.50). Holt, a young Harvard historian, studies the sources of political leadership during Reconstruction in South Carolina by investigating antebellum black leadership in that state. Well researched, including a sophisticated use of census data, this book will be a standard for many years to come.
Black Odyssey: The Afro-American Ordeal in Slavery, by Nathan Huggins (Pantheon, $8.95). An exquisitely written, sensitively conceived, and well-paced study of slavery. Perhaps the most readable one-volume synthesis of slavery to date.
Blacks in Gold Rush California, by Rudolph M. Lapp (Yale University Press, $15). A solid account of black forty-niners who went West to seek their fortune. Much detail is given to their life in mining communities and their relationships with other minorities with whites.
Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom, by Lawrence W. Levine (Oxford University Press, $15.95). Through an analysis of folk songs, tales, rhymes, toasts, superstitions and heroes this study traces black folk thought with clarity and reasonableness.
Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas After Reconstruction, by Nell Irvin Painter (Knopf, $12.95).Painter details the motivations and problems encountered in the first major migration to the North by exslaves. A well written and deeply engrossing study.
The Art and Imagination of W.E.B. DuBois, by Arnold Rampersad (Harvard University Press, $15). An impressive and admirable study of the mind of DuBois. Although frequently given to conjecture, on balance this book is solid and at all times exciting.
Travail and Triumph: Black Life and Culture in the South Since the Civil War, by Arnold H. Taylor (Greenwood Press, Westport, Conn., $15.95). This late 1976 publication is the best synthesis of its subject to date - impressively organized and soberly written.