History Department
History Department

Professor Foley’s book wins award from Texas Institute of Letters

Tue, May 3, 2011
Professor Foley’s book wins award from Texas Institute of Letters
Prof. Neil Foley

Professor Neil Foley’s book, Quest for Equality: The Failed Promise of Black-Brown Solidarity (Harvard University Press, May 2010), was the recipient of TIL's category for most significant scholarly book for 2010. The prize comes with a monetary award of $3,000.

The TIL was established in 1936 during the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas to foster and promote Texas literature. It is the state’s oldest literary organization and “whose purpose is to stimulate interest in Texas letters and to recognize distinctive literary achievement,” according to its website.

The TIL has annually held competitions for outstanding achievements in literature since 1939. The organization has grown in prestige since its inception and its book prizes are coveted by writers throughout the state.

Quest for Equality examines the complicated relationship between African Americans and Mexican Americans in Texas and California during World War II and the post-war era. Both groups sought to make President Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor” policy with Latin America apply at home where a herrenvolk democracy denied constitutional rights to its own non-white citizens, threatened the war effort, and made a mockery of the Good Neighbor Policy.

Unmoved by national and international voices condemning Jim Crow discrimination, southern whites increasingly viewed the civil rights agenda of Mexican Americans and African Americans after the war as communist-inspired attempts to end the "Southern Way of Life."

Prof. Neil Foley's book, Quest for EqualityQuest for Equality provides a historical context for understanding many of the issues that divide these groups today.

In 2003 the census announced that Hispanics had become the nation's largest minority group, which raised troubling questions for African Americans whose percentage of the population in many cities is declining. In seven of the 10 largest cities in the U.S.—New York, Los Angeles, Houston, San Diego, Phoenix, Dallas, and San Antonio—Latinos now outnumber blacks.

Will Latinos displace African Americans from positions of power locally? What are the prospects for black-brown coalition politics when over half of all Hispanics (53%) identified themselves as “white” in the 2010 census? 

Many African Americans on the bottom rungs of the labor force worry that the dramatic increase in Mexican immigration in the last two decades, both lawful and unlawful, threatens their livelihood. Quest for Equality reveals how these tensions and uncertainties—and black-Latino efforts to overcome them—first emerged over 50 years ago in a region where Mexican Americans and African Americans sought, against great odds, to cooperate with each other in the arenas of international civil rights politics, labor competition, and educational equality.

In the end, however, Quest for Equality explains why Mexican American civil rights leaders found little to gain—and much to lose—in joining hands with African Americans.

Today African Americans and Latinos have found common ground over issues such as de facto school segregation, unequal school financing, immigration reform, racial profiling, redlining, and the prison-industrial complex—challenges, Foley argues, that remain central concerns of contemporary American life.

Quest for Equality was also named by the Huffington Post as one of the 17 "best political and social awareness books of 2010."

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