Black Towns, Black Futures

The Enduring Allure of a Black Place in the American West

By Karla Slocum

192 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 13 halftones, 1 map, 1 table

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5397-6
    Published: November 2019
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5396-9
    Published: November 2019
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-5398-3
    Published: September 2019

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Awards & distinctions

Finalist, 2020 Oklahoma Book Awards (Non-Fiction)

Some know Oklahoma’s Black towns as historic communities that thrived during the Jim Crow era—this is only part of the story. In this book, Karla Slocum shows that the appeal of these towns is more than their past. Drawing on interviews and observations of town life spanning several years, Slocum reveals that people from diverse backgrounds are still attracted to the communities because of the towns’ remarkable history as well as their racial identity and rurality. But that attraction cuts both ways. Tourists visit to see living examples of Black success in America, while informal predatory lenders flock to exploit the rural Black economies. In Black towns, there are developers, return migrants, rodeo spectators, and gentrifiers, too. Giving us a complex window into Black town and rural life, Slocum ultimately makes the case that these communities are places for affirming, building, and dreaming of Black community success even as they contend with the sometimes marginality of Black and rural America.

About the Author

Karla Slocum is Thomas Willis Lambeth Chair of Public Policy and professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
For more information about Karla Slocum, visit the Author Page.

Reviews

"Incorporating interviews, reflections on participation in local events, personal narratives, and archival research across multiple towns, the work demonstrates that Black towns remain a source of pride in success, innovation, and community. . . . Recommended."--CHOICE Reviews

"A compelling and fascinating exploration of how space, place, and race converge in rural America."--Journal of Southern History

"An impressive effort to theorize what Slocum calls the 'appeal' of Black towns in the United States, not historically, but in contemporary social life. . . . Black Towns, Black Futures is necessary now, for the glimpse it provides into the vision and attraction of Black spaces and Black places, at a time when safety and survival seem increasingly precarious."--Anthropological Quarterly

"In a succinctly written text, Karla Slocum explores the Black towns that thrived in Oklahoma during the Jim Crow years. Her analysis however, does not stop there. Utilizing interviews and observations, Slocum explores the enduring attraction to these communities both in memory and in person. In doing so, she underscores the history of these towns as examples of African American self-determination, autonomy, and freedom in rural Oklahoma."--Western Historical Quarterly

“Slocum gives us a sense of the importance of Black towns, which then becomes an allegory for the importance of one’s own history, which then becomes a commentary on what makes all of us human. Black Towns, Black Futures is innovative and methodologically rigorous, while also accessible and highly original. An outstanding book.” —Laurence Ralph, Princeton University

“Slocum has written a careful, convincing, and insightful argument about how and why it makes sense to think seriously about the state of—and lure of—Black towns in contemporary American society. A wonderful example of what ethnography can do when placed in proper historical context and steeped in the cultural politics of local communities.” —John L. Jackson Jr., University of Pennsylvania