“Black Gotham: A Family History of African-Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York” (Yale University Press, 2011) is an account of the rarely acknowledged achievements of 19th-century African Americans. As Carla Peterson shares the stories of her 19th-century ancestors 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 so-called truths about African-American history, including the assumption that the phrase “19th-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 20th century.
Beginning her story in the 1820s, Peterson focuses on the pupils of the Mulberry Street School, graduates of which went on to become eminent African-American leaders. She traces their political activities and their many achievements in trade, business and other professions against the backdrop of the expansion of scientific racism, the trauma of the Civil War draft riots and the rise of Jim Crow laws.
Peterson received her Ph.D. from Yale University and is a professor of English at the University of Maryland at College Park.
“Black Gotham” is also the subject of a discussion on Facebook. The new Books & Beyond Book Club is available at www.facebook.com/booksandbeyond.