Folger and the Community

Engaging with the District



This reading list has been compiled by CrossTalk DC partner, the DC Public Library. Many thanks to Librarian Kari Mitchell and Special Collections Manager Kerrie Cotten Williams. These books are available at or through your local branch library. Check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Prince, S. (2014). African Americans and Gentrification in Washington, D.C.: Race, Class and Social Justice in the Nation’s Capital. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

This book uses qualitative data to explore the experiences and ideas of African Americans confronting and constructing gentrification in Washington, D.C. It contextualizes Black Washingtonian perspectives on belonging and attachment during a marked period of urban restructuring and demographic change in the Nation’s Capital and sheds light on the process of social hierarchies and standpoints unfolding over time. African Americans and Gentrification in Washington, D.C. emerges as a portrait of a heterogeneous African American population wherein members define their identity and culture as a people informed by the impact of injustice on the urban landscape. It presents oral history and ethnographic data on current and former African American residents of D.C. and combines these findings with analyses from institutional, statistical, and scholarly reports on wealth inequality, shortages in affordable housing, and rates of unemployment. Prince contends that gentrification seizes upon and fosters uneven development, vulnerability and alienation, and contributes to classed and racialized tensions in affected communities in a book that will interest social scientists working in the fields of critical urban studies and urban ethnography.


Roth, H., & Ribalow, H. U. (1976). Call it Sleep: A Novel. New York, NY: Cooper Square Publ.

Call It Sleep is a 1934 novel by Henry Roth. The book is about a young boy growing up in the Jewish immigrant ghetto of New York’s Lower East Side in the early twentieth century.


Skloot, R. (2010). The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks. New York, NY: Crown.

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance. Skloot tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew.


Sokol, J. (2014). All Eyes are Upon Us: Race and Politics from Boston to Brooklyn. New York, NY: Basic Books.

The Northeastern United States—home to abolitionism and a refuge for blacks fleeing the Jim Crow South—has had a long and celebrated history of racial equality and political liberalism. After World War II, the region appeared poised to continue this legacy, electing black politicians and rallying behind black athletes and cultural leaders. However, as historian Jason Sokol reveals in All Eyes Are Upon Us, these achievements obscured the harsh reality of a region riven by segregation and deep-seated racism.


Tanz, J. (2007). Other People’s Property: A Shadow History of Hip-Hop in White America. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Over the last quarter-century hip-hop has grown from an esoteric form of African-American expression to become the dominant form of American popular culture. Today, Snoop Dogg shills for Chrysler and white kids wear Fubu, the black-owned label whose name stands for “For Us, By Us.” This is not the first time that black music has been appreciated, adopted, and adapted by white audiences — think jazz, blues, and rock — but Jason Tanz, a white boy who grew up in the suburban Northwest, says that hip-hop’s journey through white America provides a unique window to examine the racial dissonance that has become a fact of our national life. In such culture-sharing Tanz sees white Americans struggling with their identity, and wrestling (often unsuccessfully) with the legacy of race.


Ward, J. (2013). Men We Reaped: A Memoir. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Jesmyn’s memoir shines a light on the community she comes from, in the small town of DeLisle, Mississippi, a place of quiet beauty and fierce attachment. Here, in the space of four years, she lost five young men dear to her, including her beloved brother-lost to drugs, accidents, murder, and suicide. Their deaths were seemingly unconnected, yet their lives had been connected, by identity and place, and as Jesmyn dealt with these losses, she came to a staggering truth: These young men died because of who they were and the place they were from, because certain disadvantages breed a certain kind of bad luck. Because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle.


Watters, E. (2003). Urban Tribes: A Generation Redefines Friendship, Family, and Commitment. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Driven by his personal desire to understand why his single life stretched far into his thirties, Ethan Watters explores the cultural and social forces that have steered his generation away from the altar — and discovers many reasons to be optimistic about the course his generation has chosen. Central to his thinking is the idea of Urban Tribes: the closely knit communities of friends that spring up during the ever-increasing period of time between college and married life. Tribes are revealed to be the key to understanding this generation, explaining not only why its members are putting off marriage, but also why singles often live outside of families so happily. In the end, Watters makes the case that the tribe years engender the self-respect critical to successful partnerships.

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