New Books Network

Paula C. Austin

Coming of Age in Jim Crow DC

Navigating the Politics of Everyday Life

NYU Press 2019

New Books in African American StudiesNew Books in American StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & Society April 1, 2020 Hettie V. Williams

Coming of Age in Jim Crow DC: Navigating the Politics of Everyday Life (NYU Press, 2019) by Paula C. Austin, an Assistant Professor of...

Coming of Age in Jim Crow DC: Navigating the Politics of Everyday Life (NYU Press, 2019) by Paula C. Austin, an Assistant Professor of history at Boston University, is not only a history of black youth in Washington D.C. in the 1930s but also a history of social science thought as illustrated in the work of scholars such as sociologists E. Franklin Frazier and William H. Jones. Austin juxtaposes the interior lives of black youth, who she posits as “thinkers, theorists, and critics,” with the ideas of well-known intellectuals to tell a multifaceted history of the Jim Crow era in the nation’s capital. This is a concise monograph that utilizes some recognizable sources in intellectual history, including Frazier’s studies on black families, while also considering the thoughts and ideas of everyday people who were interviewed by experts during the New Negro era. Austin draws upon the methodologies of slavery studies, post-colonial theory, labor history and women’s studies in an attempt to challenge the “limiting boundaries of intellectual history” by illustrating the role that ideas played in the lives of everyday people who navigated “structural impediments” and made a world that reveals a rich cultural and intellectual life.

This text is a work of intellectual and social history that is interdisciplinary in scope as structured around four concise chapters. Chapter One focuses on Howard University’s Sociology Department, Chapter Two focuses on race and space, and Chapter Three discusses the political ideas expressed by black youth. Finally, Chapter Four concerns race, gender, and sexuality as well as recreation/leisure time in the lives of black youth in D.C. Austin traverses several modes of inquiry in her narrative including African American history, women’s history, youth studies, and urban history. She does this by making the lives of black children and youths the core of her narrative while considering the history of African Americans, more generally, in the New Negro era and paying critical attention to concerns about gender, race, and space. In this text, Austin reveals how black youth in Jim Crow era D.C. were possessed of both an interior life and an intellectual life. Coming of Age in Jim Crow DC is an important contribution in American intellectual history.


Hettie V. Williams Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of African American history in the Department of History and Anthropology at Monmouth University where she teaches courses in African American history and U.S. history. She has published book chapters, essays, and edited/authored five books. Her latest publications include Bury My Heart in a Free Land: Black Women Intellectuals in Modern U.S. History (Praeger, 2017) and, with Dr. G. Reginald Daniel, Race and the Obama Phenomenon: The Vision of a More Perfect Multiracial Union (University Press of Mississippi 2014). You can follow Dr. Williams on Twitter @DrHettie2017.