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Black Folk: The Roots of the Black Working Class – Author Talk with Dr. Blair LM Kelley
Tuesday July 18 at 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm PDT
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Join us for a discussion with Dr. Blair Kelley about her book, Black Folk: The Roots of the Black Working Class, which illuminates the adversities and joys throughout the long history of the Black working class in America. There have been countless books, articles, and televised reports in recent years about the almost mythic “white working class,” a tide of commentary that has obscured the existence of entire groups of working people, including everyday Black workers. With the resurgence of labor activism in our own time, the church yards, factory floors, railcars, and postal sorting facilities where Black people worked were sites of possibility, and, as Kelley suggests, Amazon package processing centers, supermarkets, and nursing homes can be the same today.
Spanning two hundred years—from one of Kelley’s earliest known ancestors, an enslaved blacksmith, to the essential workers of the Covid-19 pandemic—Black Folk highlights the lives of the laundresses, Pullman porters, domestic maids, and postal workers who established the Black working class as a force in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Taking jobs white people didn’t want and confined to segregated neighborhoods, millions of Black people left the violence of the American South for the promise of a better life in the North and West. They built networks of resistance and joy that sustained early arrivals and newcomers alike and laid the groundwork for organizing for better jobs, better pay, and equal rights.
About the author
Blair LM Kelley is the director of the Center for the Study of the American South and codirector of the Southern Futures initiative at the University of North Carolina. Her first book, Right to Ride, won the Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Prize, and she received a Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant to support her writing of Black Folk. She lives in Durham, North Carolina.
Praise for Black Folk
Black Folk is a revelation, indeed one of the most important works of history to come across my desk in a long time. . . . Far from a small nameless and faceless group, the Black working class has been and continues to be the very heart of dignified working America and the animating force behind so much of our unique American culture. – Michael Eric Dyson
Black Folk is at once a love song, a blues, and an epic account of the Black working class in the United States. In lyrical prose, Blair LM Kelley draws on her own family history to tell the story of how Black laborers built, fed, repaired, served, cleaned, cared for, enriched, and worked to democratize this country. By tracing the roots of the Black working class, Kelley reveals the history of the whole nation. The toils of ‘Black folk’ made the soul of America. – Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination
- Blair Kelley’s Twitter account
- “Black Folk” recounts history of Black working class as a family story