A Duke Reading List of Studies of Race, Politics and History

Duke faculty books on race and equity

“If the house is to be set in the order, one cannot begin with the present; he must begin with the past.” This quote from John Hope Franklin, the late Duke historian best known for his work “From Slavery to Freedom,” resonates in the aftermath of the hatred-driven violence in Charlottesville.

Franklin, who in 1995 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, also said that “one of the problems in the United States is the refusal on the part of our young people to remember or to want to remember, or to recognize the experiences of the past as being relevant, germane, important to the present and to the future.”

Duke faculty members have followed Franklin’s call and written books in recent years that offer a wider context for thinking about the legacy of slavery, the fight against Nazis and home-grown extremists, and the pursuit of racial and ethnic equality. Below is a sample:

Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo: "Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America" Fifth edition (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2017)

The fifth edition of this acclaimed study became available in June and features new material on our current racial climate, including the Black Lives Matter movement, and a revised chapter that examines the Obama presidency, the 2016 election and Trump’s presidency. There is also a new chapter addressing what readers can do to confront racism -- both personally and on a larger institutional level.


J. Kameron Carter: “Race: A Theological Account” (Oxford University Press, 2008)

Carter, an associate professor of Theology, English, and African American Studies, provides an analysis of race as it has been constructed in modern philosophy and theology.


Guy-Uriel E. Charles, co-editor: “The New Black: What Has Changed and What Has Not With Race in America” (New Press, 2013)

The election of Barack Obama ushered in a litany of controversial perspectives about the contemporary state of race relations. The essays in “The New Black” challenges contemporary images of black families, ideas about political power of people of color and the boundaries of debates over race. Charles is the founding director of the Duke Law Center on Law, Race and Politics.


Charles T. Clotfelter, contributor: “The Pursuit of Racial and Ethnic Equality in American Public Schools: Mendez, Brown, and Beyond” (Michigan State University Press, 2014)

Clotfelter, a professor of public policy, economics and law, traces the history of school desegregation in the United States. The authors reflect on possible remedies for the racial and ethnic disparities that continue in our public schools.


William Darity, co-author: “Persistent Disparity: Race and Economic Inequality in the United States since 1945 (Edward Elgar Pub, 1999)

“Persistent Disparity” provides a comprehensive examination of the magnitude and scope of racial economic disparity in the United States. Sanford School professor William Darity and his co-author directly assess the extent of black economic progress in the U.S. since World War II.


Laura F. Edwards: “Gendered Strife and Confusion: The Political Culture of Reconstruction” (University of Illinois Press, 1997)

By using those on the margins to define the center, Edwards demonstrates that Reconstruction was a complicated process of conflict and negotiation that lasted beyond 1877 and involved all Southerners and every aspect of life.


Karen Fields, co-author: "Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life" (Verso, 2012)

Most people assume that racism grows from a perception of human difference. Sociologist Karen Fields, a visiting professor of African & African American Studies, and her sister, historian Barbara Fields, argue instead that the practice of racism produces the illusion of race, through what they call "racecraft," a phenomenon entwined with other forms of inequality in American life.


Mary McClintock Fulkerson, co-author: “A Body Broken, A Body Betrayed: Race, Memory, and Eucharist in White-Dominant Churches” (Cascade Books of Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2015)

Fulkerson, a Divinity School professor of theology, and co-author Marcia W. Mount Shoop call for mainline Protestant churches to acknowledge and address the wounds caused by racial injustice and white privilege that continue to harm and diminish the life of the church.


Mitu Gulati, co-author: “Acting White?: Rethinking Race in Post-Racial America” (Oxford University Press, 2013)

In Acting White?, legal scholars Mitu Gulati and Devon Carbado argue that, in spite of decades of racial progress and the pervasiveness of multicultural rhetoric, racial judgments are often based not just on skin color, but on how a person conforms to behavior stereotypically associated with a certain race. Specifically, racial minorities are judged on how they "perform" their race.


Sharon Patricia Holland: "The Erotic Life of Racism" (Duke University Press, 2012)

The former associate professor of English challenges cultural theory as she considers how racism invades our everyday lives, remaining a powerful, yet masked force.


Adriane Lentz-Smith: “Freedom Struggles: African Americans and World War I” (Harvard University Press, 2009)

The Duke history professor’s book reclaims World War I as a critical moment in the freedom struggle and places African Americans at the crossroads of social, military, and international history.


Paula McClain, co-author: "American Government in Black and White" Third Edition (Oxford University Press, 2017)

McClain, a professor of political science and dean of the Graduate School, is the co-author of this engaging introduction to American government that uses racial and ethnic equality as its underlying theme.


Paula McClain: "'Can We All Get Along?': Racial and Ethnic Minorities in American Politics" Seventh Edition (Westview Press, 2017)

McClain provides a brief but comprehensive overview of the historical issues and current concerns of racial minorities in American politics.


Mark Anthony Neal: "Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities" (NYU Press, 2013)

Mark Anthony Neal, professor of African & African American Studies, examines depictions of black men in popular culture. He talks about the book in this interview with WFPL-Louisville.


Martin Ruef: “Between Slavery and Capitalism: The Legacy of Emancipation in the American South” (Princeton University Press, 2014)

At the center of the upheavals brought by emancipation in the American South was the economic and social transition from slavery to modern capitalism. Sociology professor Martin Ruef examines how this institutional change affected individuals, organizations and communities in the late 19th century, as blacks and whites alike learned to navigate the shoals between two different economic worlds.


David Schanzer: “Law Enforcement Assessment of the Violent Extremism Threat”  and “The Challenge and Promise of Using Community Policing Strategies to Prevent Violent Extremism.”

Sanford Professor David Schanzer, director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, studies counterterrorism. He is the co-author of two reports on policing and violent extremism that are based on surveys of law enforcement agencies and interviews with community members in eight cities and sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, the research branch of the U.S. Department of Justice. 


Tim Tyson: “The Blood of Emmett Till” (Simon & Schuster, 2017)

Historian Tim Tyson’s new book provides new revelations about the shocking 1955 lynching, a pivotal event of the civil rights movement.


William Willimon: “Who Lynched Willie Earle? Preaching to Confront Racism” (Abingdon Press, 2017)

Divinity Professor and former Duke Chapel Dean William Willimon uses the true story of pastor Hawley Lynn’s March 1947 sermon, “Who Lynched Willie Earle?” to illuminate a discussion of how pastors and leaders can speak an effective biblical word into the contemporary social crisis of racial violence and black pain.


Joseph R. Winters: “Hope Draped in Black: Race, Melancholy, and the Agony of Progress” (Duke University Press, 2016)

Winters, an assistant professor of Religious Studies, responds to the enduring belief that America follows a constant trajectory of racial progress. In place of these narratives, Winters draws on the work of intellectuals, writers and artists such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison and Charles Burnett and advocates for an idea of hope that is predicated on a continuous engagement with loss and melancholy.


Other resources: Many of these books appear on a Books for Understanding list compiled by The American Association of University Presses. The full list can be found here