Here are some highlights from our digital collections for black history month.
These three books are available as free PDFs online. They were published in the University of Iowa Press Singular Lives series.
Fly in the Buttermilk: The Life Story of Cecil Reed
Born in 1913 in Collinsville, Illinois, Cecil Reed has lived all his life in the Midwest as a black man among whites. This self-styled fly in the buttermilk worked among whites with such skill and grace that they were barely aware of his existence—unless he wanted to get a bank loan or move into their neighborhood. Now, in his lively and optimistic autobiography, he speaks of his resilience throughout a life spent working peacefully but passionately for equality.
The Making of a Black Scholar: From Georgia to the Ivy League
Horace A. Porter
This captivating and illuminating book is a memoir of a young black man moving from rural Georgia to life as a student and teacher in the Ivy League as well as a history of the changes in American education that developed in response to the civil rights movement, the war in Vietnam, and affirmative action. Born in 1950, Horace Porter starts out in rural Georgia in a house that has neither electricity nor running water. In 1968, he leaves his home in Columbus, Georgia—thanks to an academic scholarship to Amherst College—and lands in an upper-class, mainly white world. Focusing on such experiences in his American education, Porter’s story is both unique and representative of his time.
The Making of a Black Scholar is structured around schools. Porter attends Georgia’s segregated black schools until he enters the privileged world of Amherst College. He graduates (spending one semester at Morehouse College) and moves on to graduate study at Yale. He starts his teaching career at Detroit’s Wayne State University and spends the 1980s at Dartmouth College and the 1990s at Stanford University.
Porter writes about working to establish the first black studies program at Amherst, the challenges of graduate study at Yale, the infamous Dartmouth Review, and his meetings with such writers and scholars as Ralph Ellison, Tillie Olsen, James Baldwin, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. He ends by reflecting on an unforeseen move to the University of Iowa, which he ties into a return to the values of his childhood on a Georgia farm. In his success and the fulfillment of his academic aspirations, Porter represents an era, a generation, of possibility and achievement.
Philip Hubbard’s life story begins in 1921 in Macon, a county seat in the Bible Belt of north central Missouri, whose history as a former slave state permeated the culture of his childhood. When he was four his mother moved her family 140 miles north to Des Moines in search of the greater educational opportunity that Iowa offered African American students. In this recounting of the effects of that journey on the rest of his life, Phil Hubbard merges his private and public life and career into an affectionate, powerful, and important story. Hubbard graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in electrical engineering in 1946; by 1954 he had received his Ph.D. in hydraulics. The College of Engineering extended a warm academic welcome, but nonacademic matters were totally different: Hubbard was ineligible for the housing and other amenities offered to white students. Intelligent, patient, keenly aware of discrimination yet willing to work from within the university system, he advanced from student to teacher to administrator, retiring in 1991 after decades of leadership in the classroom and the conference room. Hubbard’s major accomplishments included policies that focused on human rights; these policies transformed the makeup of students, faculty, and staff by seeking to eliminate discrimination based on race, religion, or other nonacademic factors and by substituting affirmative action for the traditional old-boy methods of selecting faculty and administrators. At the same time that he was advancing the cause of human rights and cultural diversity in education, his family was growing and thriving, and his descriptions of home life reveal one source of his strength and inspiration. The decades that Hubbard covers were vital in the evolution of the nation and its educational institutions. His dedication to the agenda of public higher education has always been matched by his sensitivity to the negative effects of discrimination and his gentle perseverance toward his goals of inclusion, acceptance, and fairness. His vivid personal and institutional story will prove valuable at this critical juncture in America’s racial history.