First, let me say that this is a wonderful thing—a collaboration between the illustrious Howard University and a pedigree predominately white institution, Columbia University, is progress. And I as a Black Politics scholar, am an advocate for knowledge created and disseminated by Black authors. Howard University has produced more Black scholars of the highest level of leadership and achievement for generations. The loss of the Howard University Press in 2011 was tragic because an essential segment of the population and voice was lost. Reid stated that "Howard University Press published about 12 titles annually during its best years. Among the press’s best known and bestselling titles are Walter Rodney’s 1981 How Europe Underdeveloped Africa; and Dr. Joseph Harris’s 1993 seminal work, Global Dimensions of the African Diaspora.” (Reid, 2011).
As a Howard University Ph.D. graduate, who used these works in my research and dissertation, I was grateful to access these prints. With Howard University no longer having a press, brilliant Black scholars from this institution, struggled to assert their voice in the academy. It was exciting to learn that a Black publisher was acquiring the titles. In May 2011, “After 39 years of distinguished scholarly publishing focused on African-American life and history around the world, the Howard University Press is closing its doors. The university has reached an agreement with Baltimore-based Black Classic Press, an African-American independent press and print-on-demand vendor, to acquire a selection of the press’s backlist of more than 175 scholarly titles with plans to reissue most of them in new editions under BCP’s new line of Howard University Classic Editions” (Reid, 2011). I can imagine the delight of students and faculties. In May of 2011, I graduated with my master’s degree from the University of South Florida. I had no idea how deeply this decision and or the lack of it would impact my future and my journey. Howard University at that time was not on my radar.
So, what happened?
Publishers Weekly stated that Black Classic Press had withdrawn its offer to publish the Howard University Press titles. That even after a grand reception, and a Howard University Press release, the publisher of Black Classic Press had not been able to contact HU about implementing the transfer (Reid, 2011).
Fast forward to this new collaboration. A plan to publish Black Studies works under the title of Black lives in the Diaspora, is thrilling! Of course, we want the lived experiences and contributions that Black scholarship brings to the table to have an outlet (Howard, 2021). It is noted that this is the first time in history that an Ivy League has collaborated with a Historically Black University. There was so much Shade, in a recent Publishers Perspective article, stating, “If this newly named association is ringing a bell, you may be recalling our announcement in August of HarperCollins Ecco’s creation of a fellowship led by author Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeny with the Columba University Graduate School of Journalism with six participating campuses of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities network” (Anderson, 2021). This seemed to be implying that the only reason the deal is happening is that Howard University has been in the news with our newly elected VP, Howard Alum, Kamala Harris, not to mention all the other famous scholars like "Thurgood Marshall, Andrew Young, David Dinkins, Elijah Cummings, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Ta-Nehisi Coates, the late Chadwick Boseman, and Paul Laurence Dunbar” (Anderson, 2021), and let’s not forget, me. But I digress! Even if that’s true, by whatever means necessary.
Apparently, no one knows what happened with the whole Black Classic Press, HU deal. Something is obviously missing from the story and you don’t even need to have eyes to see this. But the fact that it didn’t happen is heart breaking to me. A white Ivy Leagues school publishing on Black diasporic studies is suspect. This press release and fanfare, the very existence of this collaboration, demonstrate a need in the publishing world for Black scholarship and voices, but in this way, it will most likely be more of the same. More white scholars writing Black stories about Black lived experiences from an anthropological perspective that leaves much to be desired. History has proven this. Then, let’s not forget the Black scholars who will write Black stories from white perspectives. If they are not intending to publish these books from a “Black Center” where Africa and African legacy have impacted the learned experiences of our global development, there is a tragedy much greater than having missing Black voices. The white washing of history, and Black memory and Black stories will be perpetuated at a criminal level.
Anderson, P. (2021, February 28). Columbia University Press and Howard University: A Black Diaspora Series. Retrieved from Publishing Perspectives: https://publishingperspectives.com/2021/02/columbia-university-press-and-howard-university-announce-black-diaspora-series/
Howard, M. (2021, February 26). Columbia University Press launches new partnership with Howard University to advance Black studies and diversify academic publishing. Retrieved from Humanities and Social Sciences Online: https://networks.h-net.org/node/73374/announcements/7344281/columbia-university-press-launches-new-partnership-howard
Reid, C. (2011, May 24). Black Classic Press Acquires Howard University Press backlist; Plans New Editions. Retrieved from Publishers Weekly: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/47407-black-classic-press-acquires-howard-university-press-backlist-plans-new-editions.html
Reid, C. (2011, October 18). Black Classic Press Cancels Acquisition of Howard University Press Titles. Retrieved from Publishers Weekly: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/industry-deals/article/49153-black-classic-press-cancels-acquisition-of-howard-university-press-titles.html