March 28, 2011 African-American Elites in 19th-Century New York Are Subject of Book Discussion

“Black Gotham” Reconstructs Lives of Author’s Ancestors

Press Contact: Guy Lamolinara (202) 707-9217
Public Contact: Center for the Book (202) 707-5221

Part detective tale, part social and cultural narrative, “Black Gotham: A Family History of African-Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York” (Yale University Press, 2011) is Carla Peterson’s account of her quest to reconstruct the lives of her 19th-century ancestors. As she shares their stories and those of their friends, neighbors and business associates, she illuminates the greater history of African-American elites in New York City.

Peterson will discuss and sign her book on Wednesday, April 13, at noon in the Montpelier Room, on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. This Books & Beyond program is sponsored by the Center for the Book and is free and open to the public; no tickets are required.

“Black Gotham” challenges many of the 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.

“Black Gotham” is an account of the rarely acknowledged achievements of 19th-century African Americans and brings to the forefront a vital, yet forgotten, part of American history and culture.

Carla L. Peterson received her Ph.D. from Yale University and is a professor of English at the University of Maryland at College Park. She is the author of “‘Doers of the Word’: African-American Women Speakers and Writers in the North, 1830-1880.”

“Black Gotham” is also the subject of a discussion on Facebook. The new Books & Beyond Book Club is available at Here readers can discuss books, the authors of which have appeared or will appear in this series. The site also offers links to webcasts of these events and asks readers to talk about what they have seen and heard.

Since its creation by Congress in 1977 to "stimulate public interest in books and reading," the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress ( has become a major national force for reading and literacy promotion. A public-private partnership, it sponsors educational programs that reach readers of all ages, nationally and internationally. The center provides leadership for 52 affiliated state centers for the book (including the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands) and nonprofit reading-promotion partners and plays a key role in the Library’s annual National Book Festival. It also oversees the Library’s website and administers the Library’s Young Readers Center.


PR 11-068
ISSN 0731-3527