Love Faces Adversity in ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’

by Sarah Guy, Research Assistant

The end of the year typically sees theaters inundated with critically acclaimed films that are surrounded by talk of Academy Award nominations. This year is no exception, and one such film is an adaptation of a classic work by James Baldwin titled If Beale Street Could Talk. The film, directed by Barry Jenkins, hits U.S. theaters next month, following a positive reception at the Toronto International Film Festival and at a showing in Harlem, where the novel is set, as part of the New York Film Festival. The film is already drumming up Oscars buzz in light of Jenkins’ success in 2016, when his movie Moonlight took home Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Mahershala Ali), and Best Motion Picture of the Year, and received five other nominations. 

Jenkins’s latest endeavor is the first time a James Baldwin novel has been adapted to the big screen in English. The story is the love story of Tish and Fonny, a young black couple living in 1970s Harlem, and how they deal with adversity when Fonny is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit and then Tish finds out she is pregnant. Baldwin wrote the novel in 1974 and, at first, it received mixed reviews. In A Historical Guide to James Baldwin, Douglas Fields writes, “Though the book got some of Baldwin’s best reviews in a decade, an almost equal number attacked the novel as being slight and nostalgic and out of step with the times.” 

Like other Baldwin novels, If Beale Street Could Talk deals with the reality of injustice in the black community. Fonny’s plight reflects the fate of too many young black men, their lives irrevocably altered by unjust imprisonment. This theme may have been inspired by a particular instance in Baldwin’s life: the case of a friend named Tony Maynard who also worked as Baldwin’s bodyguard and chauffeur. Maynard had a record for drug possession when he was accused of murdering a U.S. Marine in New York. He was caught in Germany, where he was beaten, and Baldwin rushed to Germany to ensure that Maynard had legal representation. Maynard wasn’t released until the same year that If Beale Street Could Talk was published. 

And yet, the book ends on a hopeful note, with the birth of a child. Perhaps the birth at the novel’s end signals a hope that Baldwin held onto, even after seeing the lives of so many African American people affected by false accusations like those leveled at Fonny, and at Tony Maynard. Initially, the hopeful ending seems to be out of touch with the harsh realities of the novel, however, maybe it’s actually a telling juxtaposition that reveals life in its complexity as a place where beauty and pain coexist in paradox. 

In an interview with the LA Times, Jenkins summed up these two opposing themes this way: “One of those modes is the protest, the anger. And then there’s the lush, the romantic, the hopeful. I think with ‘If Beale Street Could Talk,’ you find the best pairing and balancing of those two things. It was a challenge worth undertaking.” In December, we’ll be able to see the film in theaters to determine if Jenkins withstood the challenge and succeeded in bringing Baldwin’s work to life on screen for the first time. 

As Jenkins’ nephew Trevor Baldwin said before the showing at the Apollo Theater in Harlem: “As we gather this evening to witness the product of Uncle Jimmy’s words from yesterday, through the lens of Barry today, with the amazing cast of tomorrow, together creating a contemporary period piece that touches the soul, there is no darkness ’cause the lights are bright on Beale Street.” 

If you’re interested in other James Baldwin books, or other Barry Jenkins movies, check out a few of these available at UNC Libraries.

A few of Baldwin’s novels and essay collections:

Books about James Baldwin’s life and literature:  

The feature films of Barry Jenkins:  




The History Behind Racist Halloween Costumes

by Zoe Beyer, Student Assistant

a historical dancing Jim Crow cartoon

This image was the cover of an edition of “Jump Jim Crow” sheet music in 1832.

Halloween is coming up, and there are no shortage of creative costume ideas to pull from. There are classic scary options, like vampires, or more fun options like personified puns (Freudian slip, anyone?). However, seemingly every year there comes a dreaded story of white people dressing up as black people, dark foundation included.

Take, for example, the students at St. Mark’s College in Adelaide, Australia, who dressed up in blackface for various parties throughout this year. Some students chose to imitate famous black athletes like Michael Jordan at the school’s annual Garden Party. Another photo taken in 2016 depicts a student dressed up as an “African” and referencing the AIDS crisis occurring there with a sign saying “Race: African; Blood type: AIDS positive.”

Or consider students at the University of Mississipi attending an Alpha Tau Omega Halloween party. Two white men dressed in a group costume: one is in blackface, picking cotton. The other? A police officer, holding a gun to his partner’s head. The brothers of a fraternity at California Polytechnic State University dressed up as gang members during the weekend of the school’s multicultural celebration. One of the brothers in the picture dressed in blackface.

These examples are not just evidence of individual racism; rather, they come from a long history of white people dressing up in blackface. This type of performance is called minstrelsy. In these acts, white performers dressed up as negative caricatures of black people. Actors would rub burnt cork on their faces and exaggerate the wideness of their nose and thickness of their lips.

Minstrelsy too was not a subculture; rather, it was prevalent throughout America and became the first uniquely American popular culture.


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N.K. Jemisin Scores a Win for Representation

by Kai Heslop, Student Assistant
The Hugo Award logo is a trophy shaped like a spaceship and the title, Hugo AwardAndrea Hairston, Nnedi Okorafor and Tananarive Due are all writers who have greatly contributed to the world of black science fiction and fantasy (SFF). However, the first author ever to win the prestigious Hugo Award for Best Novel three years in a row has proven to be a champion for representation within the genre. N.K. Jemisin’s groundbreaking works in the Broken Earth series have attracted attention and acclaim among writers and editors alike in the genre.  

Many view SFF as a forward thinking and progressive genre by default due to the futuristic topics and themes of challenging norms often included. This, however, does not make it exempt from the widespread phenomenon in the world of literature and entertainment of preferring characters of certain races over others. This same standard extends to the writers who create these characters and bring them to life. Being that SFF as a genre has historically been dominated by white creatives, recent efforts to diversify the genre have been met with varying levels of acceptance.  

In 2009, a yearlong discussion series called Racefail was launched to facilitate conversation around the dominant role that white colonialism played and continues to play in SFF narratives. The conclusion of this series led to a broader understanding of why marginalized voices, especially those of women and people of color, need to be given a platform. Jemisin even directly credited Racefail for the role it played in making the SFF community a safer space for minority writers like herself.  

Despite this, when Jemisin first won the Hugo Award back in 2016, making her the first African American author to receive this prestigious award for a novel, right-wing voters were in a state of disbelief. They attributed her win to identity politics, saying that Jemisin won solely because she was a black woman. The use of this rhetoric was essentially an attempt to prevent Jemisin from recognition as the deserving, talented writer that she is. In 2013, Theodore Beale, another SFF author, referred to Jemisin as a “half-savage” in posts online.   

Jemisin hasn’t allow the words of naysayers to prevent her from following her dreams and, most importantly, from doing what she loves: writing. As she said in her acceptance speech at the 2018 Hugo Awards, Jemisin’s first book, The Killing Moon, was rejected based on the presumption that only black people would want to read a book by a black author. Comparing the reception of her first book to the reception of her Broken Earth series is a testament to just how resilient Jemisin has been in her fight for representation in spaces where black voices have been challenged and silenced for years.  

You can find Jemisin’s award-winning novels, along with many of her earlier works, at the Undergraduate Library:  

And check out some of the other African American SFF books available in the Stone Center Library: 

Black Superheroes!: Why Race Representation in Comics Matters

There’s a new exhibit on display at the Stone Center Library!

Our current exhibit highlights Black superheroes in comics and media, addressing how important race representation is in media.

In 2016, only 29.2% of speaking roles in movies were roles for people of color – even though people of color make up almost 40% of the population of the United States. Black characters represented only 13.6% of speaking roles, while Asian and Hispanic characters made up 5.7 and 3.1% of speaking roles, respectively. Only 7% of films had a cast that accurately reflected the racial and ethnic diversity of the United States; one study found that over 20% of films had no Black characters with dialogue.

Seeing characters who look like them has been shown to promote the development of a healthy racial identity in children and young adults. When young adults see people of color in fiction who are successful, intelligent, and happy, it teaches them that they, too, can be all of those things and more.

“This is how representation works: you see someone (real or fictional) and you feel inspired to do what they do. It may not necessarily be the exact same thing, but you feel bold enough to take a leap of faith: “If they can do it, so can I.”” – Jamie Broadnax, Vox

Interested? Curious to learn more? Check out some of these resources on race and representation, available right here in the Stone Center Library! And don’t forget to come see the full exhibit in person!

Banned Books Week 2017!

Pictured is a reader, mostly hidden behind their large book, but with one fist extended defiantly over the book. Text surrounding the reader includes “Words have power. Read a banned book.” Image from the American Library Association.

Each year, for the last week of September, libraries across the country come together to support Banned Books Week.

Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read and opposes censorship and the suppression of ideas and voices.

Our new exhibit in the Stone Center Library displays books that have been banned or challenged over the years. A challenge is an attempt to remove a book based on a person or group’s objections; a banning is when the book is actually removed from a curriculum or library.

Though books are very rarely challenged or banned explicitly for racial reasons, it is often an underlying factor. The American Library Association noted in 2015 that 9 of the top 10 banned and challenged books contained diverse content – non-white, LGBTQ, or disabled characters, or books that address issues of race, sexuality, religion, and mental illness. In our exhibit, we highlight banned and challenged books that were written by Black authors or that deal with issues of race and racism.

Some of the books highlighted in our exhibit – and available for checkout in the Stone Center Library! – include:

  • Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, which has been challenged eighteen times since its publication, for reasons including “rough language” and “explicit sex scenes.”
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, challenged in five different states for explicit language. Complaints referred to the book as “filth,” “trash,” and “repulsive.”
  • Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God has been repeatedly challenged for “sexual explicitness” and its use of profanity.
  • Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, has been challenged multiple times over “concerns about profanity and images of violence and sexuality in the book.”
  • Richard Wright’s Native Son, challenged for its “violence, sex, and profanity.”
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which has been called a “how-to manual for crime.” Challengers also alleged that the book should be banned because the author and subject “advocated anti-white racism and violence.”

Also available at other UNC libraries:

  • Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The book has been challenged thirty-five times in twenty different states since its publication. Complains have alleged that the book is “sexually explicit,” “anti-white,” and “encouraging homosexuality.”

For more information about Banned Books Week, check out the links below!


Funding Round Up April 2017


DEADLINE: April 5, 2017

light on the hill society scholarship

The Light on the Hill Society Scholarship is available for Carolina’s first-year African American students. Eight LOTHS $2,500 scholarships and two Julius Peppers $2,000 scholarships will be awarded. Applicants need not apply to both scholarships as both are considered with one application. These awards are based on academic success and leadership. Application deadline April 5, 2017.

Application requirements linked here:

DEADLINE: April 30, 2017

light on the hill society scholarship

The African Studies Association offers yearly grant program to help mitigate the costs of shipping donated books to African libraries and schools. Grants will be given to proposals with high recipient participation, quality materials, and detailed and manageable logistics. More application information is provided at the link below. Application deadline April 30, 2017.

Application requirements linked here:

paul hair prize

The Association for the Preservation and Publication of African Historical Sources offers a $300 award to the best critical edition or translation of African primary sources. The award is announced by the African Studies Association. Some criteria for the award include importance of the original text and usefulness for teaching, among others. Full application requirements can be found at the link below. Application deadline April 30, 2017.

Application requirements linked here:

#OscarsSlightlyLessWhite: the 2017 Academy Awards

Promotional image for the 89th Academy Awards, featuring the phrase “Oscar 2017” and an image of a golden Academy Award Statue.

It’s no secret that the Academy Awards have historically been less than diverse. Last year, frustrations overflowed after all 20 of the nominees for Best Acting awards were white for the second year in a row. Widespread dissatisfaction with this state of affairs manifested online in the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, coined by activist April Reign.

In response to this criticism, Reign led the Academy in taking some steps to diversify itself. In 2016, the Academy invited 683 new members to its highly secretive roster of approximately 6,000. Of this new class, nearly half were women and people of color: 46% women and 41% POC. (Compare that to the previous year’s class, which was 25% women and 8% POC.) While the Academy remains disproportionately white and male, it has committed to doubling the number of women and minorities in its roster by 2020.

Shockingly, it would almost seem that increasing the number women and people of color in the Academy leads to having more women and people of color nominated in the Academy Awards! Although there is a long way to go before parity is achieved, this year’s Oscars are some of the most diverse yet, and have marked a historic level of achievement for Black performers, directors, writers, and filmmakers. Some of the history-making nominations at the 2017 Oscars include:

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Funding Round Up February 2017


DEADLINE: February 9, 2017

Boren scholarships for undergraduate students

The Boren Scholarships for Undergraduate Students is an initiative of the National Security Education Program. This award is available to undergraduate students who have an interest in learning underrepresented languages and studying in underrepresented regions of the world. Different scholarship amounts are available for different terms. More information can be found at the link below. Application deadline February 9, 2017.

Application requirements linked here:

DEADLINE: January 15, 2017

ruth j. simmons postdoctoral fellow

A program through Brown University, the Ruth J. Simmons Postdoctoral Fellow is a one year position in the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice. Any who are interested or have studied the effects or formation of slavery, justice, and freedom are welcome to apply. Applicants should have obtained a Ph.D in the humanities or a related field within the last 5 years. More information can be found at the link below. Application deadline February 15, 2017.

Application requirements linked here:

Ethnic minority and women’s enhancement graduate scholarship

The NCAA welcomes ethnic minorities and women who have been accepted into a sports administration graduate program to apply for this graduate scholarship. This $7,500 award is given to 13 ethnic minorities and 13 women each year. More information about application requirements can be found at the link below. Application deadline February 15, 2017.

Application requirements linked here:

DEADLINE: February 24, 2017

McNair program

First generational low-income students as well as students underrepresented in graduate studies are welcome to apply. This is for rising juniors at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This award provides students with great resources to succeed in graduate level studies. More information can be found at the link below. Application deadline February 24, 2017.

Application requirements linked here:

DEADLINE: February 28, 2017

clir/library of congress mellon fellowship

The Council on Library and Information Resources provides a fellowship award to students seeking a Ph.D who are conducting original research for their dissertation in the humanities or related fields. This award is part of the Library of Congress’ Mellon Fellowship program, and a stipend of $2,000 per month is awarded. More information can be found at the link below. Application deadline February 28, 2017.

Application requirements linked here:


MURAP 2017 Informational Meeting

Our neighbors in the Stone Center are having their first informational meeting of 2017!

The Moore Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (MURAP) invites UNC rising juniors and seniors in the humanities, fine arts, and social sciences to attend an information meeting held on Monday, January 30th, 2017 at 5:30pm in the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History, Institute of African American Research Suite 305.

MURAP is a ten-week paid summer research internship for students interested in pursuing a PhD. The program will be held from May 21st to July 27th, 2017 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. MURAP seeks to prepare talented and motivated underrepresented students from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds, or those with a proven commitment to diversity and to eradicating racial disparities in graduate school and the academy, for graduate study in fields in the humanities, social sciences, and fine arts (For the fields supported by MURAP, please see our website identified below). The program provides students with a rigorous research experience under the guidance of a UNC faculty mentor.

Each participant will receive:
• Generous stipend
• Campus housing
• Meal allowance
• Writing, Communication Skills and Professional Development workshops
• GRE prep course (and all necessary materials)
• Paid domestic travel expenses to and from Chapel Hill (IF APPLICABLE)

The student application is available online and the application deadline is February 10th, 2017. To request an application, or for additional information about MURAP, please visit our website at or contact Ashley Lee, Program Coordinator, at

Funding Round Up December 2016


DEADLINE: December 1, 2016

Woodson fellowship program

The Carter G. Woodson Institute at the University of Virginia is accepting applications for the Woodson Fellowship Program. Two two-year fellowships are offered, one at the pre-doctoral level and one at the post-doctoral level. Theses are designed to help with the completion of a dissertation or research. More information can be found at the link below. Application deadline December 1, 2016.

Application requirements linked here:

huggins-quarles award

The Organization of American Historians is accepting submissions for the Huggins-Quarles Award. This award is for graduate students of color to aid with research and travel expenses for completion of their PhD. The award amount is either $750 or $1,500. More information about the application can be found at the link below. Application deadline December 1, 2016.

Application requirements linked here:

Schomburg Center Scholars-in-Residence Program

The Schomburg Center at the New York Public Library is accepting fellowship applications for the upcoming year. This is a scholar-in-residence program with a stipend of $30,000. Full time is expected to be devoted to research and writing with a focus on the culture and peoples of Africa and the African diaspora. More information can be found at the link below. Application deadline December 1, 2016.

Application requirements linked here:

DEADLINE: December 16, 2016

e.j. josey scholarship

The Black Caucus of the American Library Association is accepting essay submissions that address the following topic: Discuss Creative Strategies for reshaping library services/resources to meet the needs of ever changing multicultural communities. The award is a grant of $2,000. More information can be found at the link below. Application deadline December 16, 2016.

Application requirements linked here: