Brian Purnell

Geoffrey Canada Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History and Director of Africana Studies Program

Teaching this semester

AFRS 1101. Introduction to Africana Studies

Focuses on major humanities and social science disciplinary and interdisciplinary African American and African diaspora themes in the context of the modern world. The African American experience is addressed in its appropriate historical context, emphasizing its important place in the history of the United States and connections to African diasporic experiences, especially in the construction of the Atlantic world. Material considered chronologically and thematically builds on historically centered accounts of African American, African diaspora, and African experiences. Introduces prospective Africana studies majors and minors to the field; provides an overview of the predominant theoretical and methodological perspectives in this evolving discipline; and establishes historical context for critical analyses of African American experiences in the United States, and their engagement with the African diaspora.

AFRS 2220. “The Wire”: Race, Class, Gender, and the Urban Crisis

Postwar US cities were considered social, economic, political, and cultural zones of crisis. African Americans -- their families; gender relations; their relationship to urban political economy, politics, and culture -- were at the center of this discourse. Uses David Simon’s epic series “The Wire” as a critical source on postindustrial urban life, politics, conflict, and economics to cover the origins of the urban crisis, the rise of an underclass theory of urban class relations, the evolution of the urban underground economy, and the ways the urban crisis shaped depictions of African Americans in American popular culture.

Professor Purnell is the author of Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings: The Congress of Racial Equality in Brooklyn (University Press of Kentucky, 2013), which won the New York State Historical Association’s Dixon Ryan Fox Manuscript Prize. His research, writing, and teaching areas generally fall within the broad field of African American history with specific concentrations in urban history, oral history, civil rights and black power movement history, and modern United States history.


  • Ph.D., History, New York University, 2006
  • M.A., History, New York University, 2004
  • B.A., History and African & African American Studies, Fordham University, 2000

PDF Curriculum Vitae


Brian Purnell, Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings: The Congress of Racial Equality in Brooklyn (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2013)“Unmaking the Ghetto: Community Development and Persistent Social Inequality in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia,” in The Ghetto in Global History, 1500 to the Present. Eds. Wendy Goldman and Joe W. Trotter. New York: Routledge, 2017, 256-274.

Brian Purnell, Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings: The Congress of Racial Equality in Brooklyn (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2013)
**Winner of the New York State Historical Association 2012 Dixon Ryan Fox Manuscript Prize

Brian Purnell, " 'What We Need is Brick and Mortar:' Race, Gender and Early Leadership of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation," in Laura Warren Hill and Julia Rabig (eds)., The Business of Black Power: Community Development, Capitalism, and Corporate Responsibility in Postwar America (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2012), 217-244.

Brian Purnell, "Spotlight on New York's 'Law Against Discrimination,' " (PDF) New York Archives, 10:4, 10-13

Brian Purnell, “ ‘Revolution Has Come to Brooklyn:’ The Campaign against Discrimination in the Construction Trades and Growing Militancy in the Northern Black Freedom Movement,”  in Black Power at Work, edited by David Goldberg and Trevor Griffey (Cornell University Press, 2010)

Brian Purnell, “Interview with Dr. John Hope Franklin" (PDF)  Journal of African American History, (94:3), 407-421

Brian Purnell, “Desegregating the Jim Crow North: Bronx African Americans and the Fight to Integrate the Castle Hill Beach Club – 1953-1963,”  (PDF) Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, (32:2), 47-78

Brian Purnell and Oneka LaBennett, “The Bronx African American History Project (BAAHP) and Approaches to Scholarship About/For Black Communities,” (PDF)  Introduction to Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, July 2009 (32:2), special issue on scholarship produced in connection to the Bronx African American History Project, co-guest edited by Oneka LaBennett and Brian Purnell

Brian Purnell, “ ‘Taxation without Sanitation is Tyranny’: Civil Rights Struggles Over Garbage Collection in Brooklyn, New York During the Fall of 1962,” (PDF) in Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, July 2007 (31:2), 61-88. ** Reprinted in Clarence Taylor, editor, Civil Rights in New York City: From World War II to the Giuliani Era (Fordham University Press, 2010), 79-105

Brian Purnell, “ ‘Drive Awhile for Freedom’: Brooklyn CORE’s 1964 Stall-In and Public Discourses on Protest Violence,” in Jeanne F. Theoharis and Komozi Woodard (eds.), Ground Work: Local Black Freedom Movements in America (New York: New York University Press, 2005), 45-75

Select Review Essays & Exhibits

Select Review Essays

Brian Purnell, "Freedom North Studies, the Long Civil Rights Movement, and Twentieth-Century Liberalism in American Cities," (PDF) The Journal of American History, 42:3, 634-640.

Brian Purnell, "The Civil Rights Era and Southern History," (PDF) Reviews in American History, Volume 42, Number 4, December 2014, pp. 718-729 

Brian Purnell, “Review of The African Burial Ground National Monument,” (PDF) Journal of American History, 97:3 (December 2010)

Brian Purnell, “Review of Glenda Gilmore’s Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950,” North Carolina Historical Review, 87:3 (July 2010)

Brian Purnell, “Review of Joseph Wolfinger, Philadelphia Divided,” The Journal of African American History, 93:4 (Fall 2008)

Brian Purnell, “Review of Steven Lawson’s Civil Rights Crossroads: Nation, Community, and the Black Freedom Struggle,” North Carolina Historical Review (April 2006)

Brian Purnell, “Boundary Crossings: Nigger, White Boy, and Living Race in America,” Souls 4:4 (Fall 2002), 102-108

Select Exhibits

Reflections on Community Development: Stories from Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, Brooklyn, New York, Brooklyn Historical Society, February – August 2008


Brian Purnell speaks at Schomburg Center, Freedom North in New York City

Brian Purnell, guest on MPBN radio show, “Maine Calling.” The focus of this episode: “racism today”

Brian Purnell provides commentary in the on-line educational project, "Created Equal: Image, Sound, Story" ​created by the Jacob Burns Film Center and the Brooklyn Historical Society. 

Brian Purnell presents to the Summer Teachers and Scholars Institute, sponsored by Columbia University's Institute for Research in African American Studies

Brian Purnell presents at Carnegie Mellon University's symposium on the history of the ghetto.

Brian Purnell, featured speaker at Columbia University's MA seminar on oral history.

Brian Purnell interviewed on New Books in History

Brian Purnell presents at the conference, The War on Poverty at 50: Its History and Legacy  

Brian Purnell lectures on Brooklyn's Unity Democratic Club

Brian Purnell speaks on WAMC about history of community service on Martin Luther King holiday 

Bowdoin Daily Sun: Video: Bowdoin’s Purnell on ‘Fighting Jim Crow’

New York Times Bookshelf: Unearthing Memories of the Vietnam War Books on Veterans, Civil Rights and Sacred Places

Brooklyn Connections: Teachers Workshop on the Civil Rights Movement in Brooklyn

Bowdoin Daily Sun: Purnell Civil Rights Book-Manuscript Wins Prize 

Brian Purnell is featured on C-SPAN show, Lectures in History

Bowdoin Daily Sun: Slide show of pictures from the taping of Lectures in History  

Brian Purnell speaks on a labor history panel at the 2011 Brooklyn Book Festival 

Academic Spotlight: Remembering the Forgotten King: Prof. Purnell Shares Thoughts on Breadth of MLK Legacy

"The White-Collar Working Class: Has the American Middle Class Gone into Foreclosure?" (12/22/08), originally published in History News Network and reprinted in LA Progressive