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Cover image for In search of the racial frontier : African Americans in the American West, 1528-1990
In search of the racial frontier : African Americans in the American West, 1528-1990
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton, c1998.
Physical Description:
415 p. : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm.
Reading Level:
1430 L Lexile
Geographic Term:


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 978 TAY 1 1
Book 978 TAY 1 1

On Order



The American West is mistakenly known as a region with few African Americans and virtually no black history. This book challenges that view in a complex chronicle that begins in 1528 with the Spanish-speaking blacks. In 1848 the first English speaking blacks arrived - as slaves - creating a nucleus of post-American Civil War communities. Thousands of African-Americans thereafter migrated to the high plains while others drove cattle up the Chisholm trail or served on remote army outposts. The book moves on to examine the first black church in 1872, the West's black civil rights movement which began during the Civil War and 20th-century changes such as migration after World War II, the civil rights movement during the 1960s and the interest in multiculturalism.

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

In an absorbing chronicle more remarkable for its wealth of interesting facts and figures than for any overarching historical thesis, Taylor, a University of Oregon history professor, ably documents the history of African Americans in the American West. Taylor begins in the early 16th century, when the first Spanish-speaking black slaves of the conquistadors arrived in Texas and New Mexico, and carries his study through the civil rights era to the present. Dispelling the lingering stereotype of rugged, solitary black cowboys, Taylor shows that black Westerners were predominantly urban workers‘waiters cooks, doctors, lawyers, restaurant and barbershop owners, schoolteachers, newspaper editors‘who built community institutions (fraternal organizations, women's clubs) while striving to integrate themselves into the larger society. Among the many facts that will surprise readers is this: of the original 46 settlers who founded Los Angeles in 1781, 26 were black or biracial. Marshaling a wealth of primary source material, Taylor documents black Westerners' participation in all aspects of life in the American West and, in the process, reclaims an important dimension of African American history. Photos, maps. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

A thoroughly researched and well-written account of the African-American contribution to the shaping of the west. Taylor (History/Univ. of Oregon) both provides much new information about African-Americans in the western US and recounts well-known stories. As an instance of the latter, he retells the familiar tale of Estevan, the Moorish servant who in 1529, accompanying Cabeza de Vaca, was the first non-Native American to glimpse the Southwest. After him followed other Africans. In the Spanish colonies of New Mexico, they were accepted as equals--if, that is, they could afford the cost of a royal certificate that ""cleansed"" them of their supposedly impure origins. It was more difficult to attain equality among the Anglo pioneers, writes Taylor; when Texas was a Mexican outpost, blacks could own property, but with the onset of the war of independence (and many blacks fought on the side of Sam Houston and company), they found that they themselves were property once more. When the doctrine of Manifest Destiny lured the US westward, slavery did not tag along (except in Utah). But neither did equality gain a firm toehold, not even in areas where African-American communities were well established, notably California, where thousands of blacks had entered the goldfields to seek their fortune. In other parts of the West, African-Americans also settled in numbers and formed middle-class communities, notably in Helena, Mont., and Topeka, Kans.--and were grudgingly accepted in many places, actively discriminated against in others. But, as one Georgia-born black resident of Phoenix, Ariz., remarked in 1916, ""At least they don't lynch you here, like they did back there."" Taylor divides his attention evenly between the 19th and 20th centuries, making this a highly useful survey volume for college courses--and a work of value to general readers. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

A general account of the black American component of the history of the states from Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas westward. Like the larger history of the U.S., that of the West divides into pre-and post-1865, and Taylor, a university history professor, renders a detailed picture of the pre^-Civil War situation of western blacks, 95 percent of whom were enslaved in Texas. (Taylor lays out tables of population statistics throughout this work.) Numbers aside, the text enlivens with stories of those who led forth black settlers after the war; Kansas, with its abolitionist tradition, was most attractive, whereas darkness was again descending in Texas as a "one-sided race war" restored white supremacy. Taylor gives a nod to the latest stars in black history, the buffalo soldiers, featured recently in an eponymous movie, and then resumes his thread with the discrimination problems blacks encountered in western cities, especially as their urban population increased after World War II. Expert orientation for students wishing to journey further into this large subject. --Gilbert Taylor

Choice Review

Taylor's work represents the broadest overview of African American history in the American West to date. Taylor (Univ. of Oregon) uses the interpretative framework of the new western historians who view the West as a specific place (instead of the Turnerian concept of the West as a process). Blacks--long invisible in the historical record--are crucial to overall understanding of the region, particularly in the 20th century (which makes up the heart of this work). The author notes that African Americans have had a paradoxical relationship with the West. Although as racist as any other section of the country, it also has historically represented the section that provides the best progressive hope for blacks (and whites) to begin anew. Accordingly, blacks have received both "considerable support and opposition" in the region in their "quest for rights and citizenship." Taylor's work, however, is not "an analysis of western black-white social relations" but a history focused squarely on the African American experience, especially the urban experience in the West. This is a capacious overview drawing extensively on secondary and primary historical literature. Charts, photos, and comprehensive bibliography. General readers; upper-division undergraduates and above. K. Edgerton; Montana State University at Billings

Library Journal Review

This important new work is the first substantial study of African Americans in the American West. Taylor (The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle's Central District from 1870 Through the Civil Rights Era, Univ. of Washington, 1994) covers the key individuals and events from the arrival of the first blacks with the Spanish in 1528 through the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. He also examines the similarities and differences between black culture in the West and in the rest of the country. Especially revealing is Taylor's analysis of urban life, which adds new perspectives to the stereotypes of African American Westerners as solitary figures. This extensively researched, well-written book builds on pioneering work found in Kenneth W. Porter's The Negro on the American Frontier (1971), W. Sherman Savage's Blacks in the West (1976), and William Loren Katz's The Black West (1987. 3d ed.). A required purchase for all libraries.‘Stephen L. Hupp, Univ. of Pittsburgh at Johnston, Pa. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. 13
Introductionp. 17
1 Spanish Originsp. 27
2 Slavery in the Antebellum Westp. 53
3 Freedom in the Antebellum Westp. 81
4 Reconstruction in the Westp. 103
5 Migration and Settlementp. 134
6 Buffalo Soldiers in the Westp. 164
7 The Black Urban Westp. 192
8 The Black Urban Westp. 222
9 World War II and the Postwar Black Westp. 251
10 The Civil Rights Movement in the Westp. 278
Notesp. 317
Bibliographyp. 371
Indexp. 397
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