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Pulitzer Prize in History

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Alumna Jacqueline Jones wins the 2024 honor for her book exploring race and labor in post-Civil War Boston

Today, it’s the site of a popular Delaware mall.

But when Jacqueline Jones thinks of Newark’s Christiana region, she returns to her childhood, a tiny crossroads where Black children living just a few homes away were bussed to separate schools.

She would author a book about those years, Creekwalking: Growing up in Delaware in the 1950s (2001), and her early curiosity about race would become central to her lifelong work as a scholar and historian.

The 1970 alumna and 1999 MacArthur Fellow has written extensively on the topic, exploring the false ideology used for centuries to justify and rationalize exploitive practices and systems. Her books have received critical acclaim, with two nominated for Pulitzers, and her most recent work, No Right to an Honest Living: The Struggles of Boston’s Black Workers in the Civil War Era, winning the esteemed honor—the 2024 Pulitzer Prize in History.

Jones focused on her current hometown of Massachusetts to better understand the state’s seemingly progressive laws. Here was a place where Black men had the right to vote in 1780, nearly 100 years before the Fifteenth Amendment extended that right to the whole country; where an 1854 court case desegregated Boston schools before the 1954 Brown v. Board ruling; where Black citizens could sit on juries and run for office decades before the nation.

“There was a lot of enlightened rhetoric and self-congratulation,” said Jones. “I didn’t want to make that judgment until we looked at work.”

What she found was an unjust and unequal labor market, one where most Black women served as domestic servants and most Black men as peddlers, porters, servants and tenders. In fact, the city’s racial division of labor in 1900 was virtually unchanged from 1850, despite the Civil War and Industrial Revolution.

“Low-paying jobs with no chance for promotion and advancement adds up to impoverished communities without the assets and wealth-building opportunities of white communities,” said Jones. “It’s a product of discrimination.”

Perhaps most surprising were the potential allies who could have served as racial advocates, but didn’t. Among them: white abolitionists. “Though they were courageous and admirable,” said Jones, “they were more concerned with the plight of enslaved Black people in the South than their neighbors in the North.”

Indifference played a big role in the struggle for worker’s rights, she added. “But so did outright hostility.”

Jones has devoted her career to examining the experience of workers. She has authored 10 books, including two other finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in History: A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America (2013) and Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work and the Family from Slavery to the Present (1985, updated in 2010).

Although her interest in these subjects began in childhood, they grew stronger at UD.

Jones credits a course on Black history with the late Prof. Thomas Cripps with answering many of her questions on slavery, school segregation and discrimination. She also completed her Honor’s thesis under the tutelage and mentorship of famed UD historian John Munroe, adding that he set her on her professional path.

“UD was a whole new world,” she said. “It taught me an entirely new way of looking at history—examining it through the lens of ordinary people.” ​

Article by Artika Casini 

Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Jones 

June 21, 2024

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Alumna Jacqueline Jones wins the 2024 honor for her book exploring race and labor in post-Civil War Boston
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