REUTERS/Brian Snyder

A group of professors have created the #Charlestonsyllabus to illustrate the histories of faith, race, and violence that collided in a mass murder.

In the aftermath of the shooting massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, many people are asking how and why this tragedy could have happened. It is not a simple question, but it does have concrete answers. And a group of professors have put together a syllabus of texts and other resources to guide people toward them.

The #Charlestonsyllabus was created this week by Brandeis University professor Chad Williams, author Kidada Williams, University of Iowa incoming professor Keisha N. Blaine, and University of North Carolina at Charlotte history professor Christopher Cameron. It serves as a living collection of books, news articles, poems, films, and other teaching materials providing historical and geographical context for the Charleston shooting. The list was crowdsourced on Twitter, where suggestions for additional materials are still pouring in.

It was inspired by a similar syllabus created after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the #Fergusonsyllabus, by Georgetown University history professor Marcia Chatelain. The Charleston syllabus is nested at the African American Intellectual History Society’s website and also on Goodreads, where readers can vote and score the submissions that make the list.  

In an interview with Stacey Patton for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Chad Williams said his colleagues decided to create the syllabus partly out of frustration with how media outlets have been framing the killings. Said Williams:

So much of our conversations about race are rooted in emotions and feelings and not knowledge and facts. What I was hearing on the news lacked historical substance. The Charleston shooting is connected to so many important issues—the history of slave resistance, the history of racial violence during Reconstruction, the history of the AME church, the desires of black people for freedom and self-determination, the role of the black church in Charleston and how it served as a place of spiritual sustenance and radical activism, and the history of the Confederate flag. People are often not willing to search for the necessary knowledge to have informed conversations.

Below is a sampling of the #Charlestonsyllabus, excerpted and curated with Citylab’s audience in mind. Visit the #Charlestonsyllabus website for the full list of materials or to make your own recommendations.  

Readings on Charleston

Harlan Greene, Harry Hutchins, Jr. et. al., Slave Badges and the Slave-Hire System in Charleston, South Carolina: 1783-1865 (2004)

Amrita Myers, Forging Freedom: Black Women and the Pursuit of Liberty in Antebellum Charleston (2011)

Blain Roberts and Ethan J. Kytle, “Looking the Thing in the Face: Slavery, Race, and the Commemorative Landscape in Charleston, South Carolina, 1865-2010,” Journal of Southern History, Volume LXXVIII, No. 3 (2012): 639-668.

Readings on South Carolina

Peter Wood, Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion (1974)

Charles Joyner, Down by the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community (1984)

Stephanie McCurry, Masters of Small World: Yeoman Households, Gender Relations and the Political Culture of the Antebellum South Carolina Low Country (1995)

Readings on slavery in the U.S. South

Brenda Stevenson, Life in Black and White: Family and Community in the Slave South (1996)

Sally Hadden, Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas (2001)

Dylan C. Penningroth, The Claims of Kinfolk: African American Property and Community in the Nineteenth-Century South (2003)

Readings on slavery in the U.S. North​

Gary B. Nash, Forging Freedom the Formation of Philadelphia’s Black Community, 1720-1840 (1988)

Leslie M. Harris, In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863 (2003)

Erica Armstrong Dunbar, A Fragile Freedom: African American Women and Emancipation in the Antebellum City (2008)

Readings on the Civil War and Reconstruction​

Elsa Barkley, “Negotiating and Transforming the Public Sphere: African American Political Life in the Transition from Slavery to Freedom,” Public Culture 7 (1994): 107-146.

Readings on post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow America

Nell Irvin Painter, Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas after Reconstruction (1977)

James W. Loewen, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (2005)

Blair L. M. Kelley, Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African-American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson (2010)

Andrew W. Kahrl, The Land Was Ours: African American Beaches from Jim Crow to the Sunbelt South (2012)

Readings on racial violence

Danielle McGuire, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance (2010)

Brenda E. Stevenson, The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, Gender, and the Origins of the LA Riots (2013)

Readings on white racial identity

Thomas Guglielmo, White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color and Power in Chicago, 1890-1945 (2004)

Readings on white supremacy in the U.S. and beyond

Howard Winant,  The World is a Ghetto: Race and Democracy since World War II (2001)

Carl Nightingale, Segregation: A Global History of Divided Cities (2012)

Readings on race and religion

Carol V. R. George, Segregated Sabbaths: Richard Allen and the Emergence of Independent Black Churches, 1760-1840 (1973)

Readings on African-American women’s religious history  

Judith Weisenfeld, African American Women and Christian Activism: New York’s Black YWCA, 1905-1945 (1997)

Readings on the Civil Rights and Black Power eras

Aldon D. Morris, The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change (1984)

Jo Ann Gibson Robinson and David J. Garrow, The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It : The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson (1987)

John Dittmer, Local People: the Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (1994)

Gerald Horne, Fire This Time: The Watts Uprising and the 1960s (1995)

Martha Biondi, To Stand and Fight: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Postwar New York City (2003)

Matthew Countryman, Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia (2005)

Hasan Jeffries, Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt (2009)


Harry Moore, Michael Carter, et. al., Black Wall Street, Tulsa (2007)

Bestor Cram et al., Scarred Justice: the Orangeburg Massacre 1968 (2009)

Kerry Taylor, The Charleston Hospital Workers Movement, 1968–1969 (2013)

Ryan Coogler, Fruitvale Station (2013)

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