Whitaker, Matthew C. 1970–

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Whitaker, Matthew C. 1970–


Born December 4, 1970. Education: Arizona State University, B.A., 1993 (sociology), B.A., 1994 (U.S. history), M.A., 1997; Michigan State University, Ph.D., 2001.


Office—Department of History, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85027-2501. E-mail—[email protected].


Arizona State University, Tempe, assistant professor, 2001-06, associate professor of history, 2006—; Whitaker Group, Mesa, AZ, co-owner and CEO.


Organization of American Historians, Western History Association, Southern Historical Association, Association for the Study of Worldwide African Diaspora, Association for the Study of African-American Life and History.


Lorenzo J. Greene Award, Association for the Study of African American Life and History, 1996; Best Article of the Year, Journal of the West, 2005; Martin Luther King, Jr., Living the Dream Award, City of Phoenix, AZ, 2006; Calvin C. Goode Achievement Award, United Black Firefighters, Phoenix, 2006; Professor of the Year Award, Arizona State University, 2007.


Race Work: The Rise of Civil Rights in the Urban West, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2005.

(Editor) African American Icons of Sport: Triumph, Courage, and Excellence, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 2008.

Contributor to books, including African American Urban History since World War II, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL); Oxford Encyclopedia of African American History; Dictionary of American History; Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations, edited by Nina Mjagkij, Garland (New York, NY), 2000. Author of articles for scholarly journals, including Western Legal History, Journal of the West, Western Historical Quarterly, and Journal of Negro History. Coeditor of the "Justice and Social Inquiry" book series, University of Nebraska Press.


Matthew C. Whitaker is a professor of history who specializes in African American issues. His first book, Race Work: The Rise of Civil Rights in the Urban West, tells the story of Lincoln and Eleanor Ragsdale, an African American couple from Oklahoma who moved to Phoenix in the 1940s. At the time, the city was highly segregated under Jim Crow laws, and the Ragsdales became the impetus for civil rights in the area, fighting for integration of neighborhoods and schools. Their efforts put them among the top tier of race advocates of the American West during the postwar era. Both of the Ragsdales were business leaders with significant economic interests at stake; they were active in the local NAACP chapter and a host of other organizations that worked toward racial equality in all facets of the community. Lincoln Ragsdale helped legally desegregate Phoenix schools a year before the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision, and the couple opened a tony nightclub that was the first in the city to admit both blacks and whites. Ultimately, the Ragsdales became among the wealthiest African Americans in the West.

Whitaker also discusses how racism against African Americans differed from that against Mexican Americans, which tended to be of lesser severity due to the latter group's perception of themselves as white. Complicating matters were class differences between African Americans; the Ragsdales, as both entrepreneurs and owners of the city's most successful funeral home, were upper-middle class and sometimes more concerned with their own well-being than that of their less-well-off neighbors. Ultimately, financial success led to "black flight" from economically stagnant areas, which continued to be mired in poverty for decades.

The book is a "well-researched historical study," wrote Julian Kunnie in a review for the Journal of African American History, one "that warrants serious consideration by students of U.S. Western history and campaigns for social justice." Matthew Countryman, writing in History: Review of New Books, concurred that the book "is a welcome addition to the historical literature on both the black business tradition and the long civil rights movement."



American Historical Review, April, 2007, Mark Wild, review of Race Work: The Rise of Civil Rights in the Urban West, p. 537.

Choice, October, 2006, P.B. Levy, review of Race Work, p. 362.

History: Review of New Books, winter, 2006, Matthew Countryman, review of Race Work, p. 44.

Journal of African American History, fall, 2006, Julian Kunnie, review of Race Work, p. 484.

Journal of American Ethnic History, summer, 2007, James Patterson Smith, review of Race Work, p. 88.

Journal of American History, September, 2006, Kevin Mulroy, review of Race Work, p. 595.

Journal of Interdisciplinary History, winter, 2008, Elize Boxer, review of Race Work, p. 104.

Journal of Southern History, November, 2006, Rhonda Ragsdale, review of Race Work, p. 1002.

Southwest Historical Quarterly, October, 2006, Joseph Pratt, review of Race Work, p. 309.


Matthew Whitaker's Web site,http://www.drmatthewwhitaker.com (April 25, 2008).

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