Reclaiming the Black Past

Reclaiming the Black Past:The Use and Misuse of African American History in the 21st Century

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The past and future of Black history

In this information overloaded twenty-first century, it seems impossible to fully discern or explain how we know about the past. But two things are certain. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we all think historically on a routine basis. And our perceptions of history, including African American history, have not necessarily been shaped by professional historians. In this wide-reaching and timely book, Pero Gaglo Dagbovie argues that public knowledge and understanding of black history, including its historical icons, has been shaped by institutions and individuals outside academic ivory towers. Drawing on a range of compelling examples, Dagbovie explores how, in the twenty-first century, African American history is regarded, depicted, and juggled by diverse and contesting interpreters—from museum curators to film-makers, entertainers, politicians, journalists, and bloggers. Underscoring the ubiquitous nature of African American history in contemporary American thought and culture, each chapter unpacks how black history has been represented and remembered primarily during the “Age of Obama,” the so-called era of “post-racial” American society. Reclaiming the Black Past: The Use and Misuse of African American History in the 21st Century is Dagbovie’s contribution to expanding how we understand African American history during the new millennium.


  • During the Age of Obama, African American history has been processed, packaged, and delivered to the unsuspecting public by amateurs instead of professional historians. Pero Dagbovie exposes these amateurs and their historical inaccuracies in the painstaking style of the professional historian at his very best. Profoundly researched and crisply written, Americans need Reclaiming the Black Past to recognize their history.

    Ibram X. Kendi, National Book Award–winning author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas
  • As I write, President Trump has pardoned boxer Jack Johnson, who was unjustly convicted in 1913 for transporting a white woman across state lines, while slighting black NFL players by arguing they are unAmerican for protesting racial injustice during games. Pero Dagbovie’s brilliant new book couldn’t be more timely in explaining how black history has been used, and misused, and often manipulated, by presidents, including Trump and Barack Obama — and by other politicians, comedians, Hollywood, and Black History Month advocates and celebrations. Probing the paradox of how black culture, and its colorful history, is at once at the heart of American society while severely under appreciated as a source of its moral vitality and intellectual vibrancy, Reclaiming The Black Past is a thrilling and creative exploration of how and why black history is made and interpreted far beyond the historical guild in the Age of Obama.

    Michael Eric Dyson
  • Black history matters. Pero Dagbovie’s provocative take on the meaning of the African American past in public discourse reveals how it matters in political affairs, in popular culture, in the market place, in law, and in our national monuments. If you think Black history is invisible in this country, read this book and think again. Our history is everywhere, distorted, redeemed, contested, and hidden in plain sight. Slavery, Jim Crow, Civil Rights, Black Power, Rebellion, Reparations—them’s fightin’ words. And the fight over our past continues to shape our future.

    Robin D. G. Kelley