Leslie Brown's "African American Voices" Deepens Historical Perspectives

Media contact:  Noelle Lemoine, communications assistant; tele: (413) 597-4277; email: [email protected]

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., April 17, 2014—Williams College Professor Leslie Brown’s new book, African American Voices: A Documentary Reader from Emancipation to the Present, brings together 72 primary source documents in demonstrating the struggle to black freedom from 1865 to today.

The collection begins with “Meeting Minutes of an Interview between the Colored Ministers and Church Officers at Savannah with the Secretary of War and Major-Gen. Sherman,” and ends with “Julian Bond Reflects on Race and History in America, 2011.” The primary source documents include speeches, photographs, posters, letters, poetry, and petitions.

“The task of this volume,” Brown writes in the introduction, “is to present a range of black voices that look from the inside out, not just at African Americans’ experiences, but also at their aspirations, expectations, interpretations, and actions.”

The book’s sources, then, reflect the diversity of African American experience, across class, generation, gender, and region. “In this volume, domestic workers, miners, sharecroppers, and migrants stand alongside scholars, politicians, organizers, and activists to provide their own analyses of race and racism,” Brown writes.

Brown, an associate professor of history at Williams, says she started working African American Voices about five years ago, and that her students helped shape its content. “A few years ago, I got a group of students together to talk about what kinds of issues we should include in the book,” she says. “They looked for sources and talked about what was important about the documents they found. It taught me a lot about what students needed and expected from a book like this.

“I feel more strongly about this book than I do about my Durham book, which was a big work,” says Brown, referring to 2009’s Upbuilding Black Durham: Gender, Class, and Black Community Development in the Urban South, which won the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize. “I hope it gets well used over the next few years.”

Brown’s research focuses on African American life in the segregated south, gender and migration, urban race relations, and teaching across the color line. She received her B.A. from Tufts University, and her Ph.D. in History from Duke University.


Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second-oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college’s 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. Students’ educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions on U.S. applicants are made regardless of a student’s financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted.