Black Gotham A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City Carla L. Peterson

Format:
Paperback
Publication date:
07 Feb 2012
ISBN:
9780300181746
Imprint:
Yale University Press
Dimensions:
446 pages: 235 x 156mm
Illustrations:
35 b-w illus. + 2 maps
Sales territories:
World

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, neighbours, 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.

More about this title

Winner of the 2011 New York City Book Awards sponsored by the New York Society Library. Black Gotham was awarded the award for 'evoking the spirit of New York City, with the city playing an essential, invigorating role beyond that of the setting'.


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