Western professor publishes new academic book

Steven Barnum, News editor

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A professor of African American studies and art history at Western Illinois University finished writing her second academic book.

Jo-Ann Morgan joined the Western community in 2007 when she started teaching at the university. Morgan’s courses typically focus on African American studies, but some classes have a higher emphasis on writing. Her students use her latest book, “The Black Arts Movement and the Black Panther Party in American Visual Culture,” in her current African American art class.

This book takes readers on an in-depth journey to the Black Panther era in the 1960s. Morgan researched and studied the lives of Black Panthers, which allows her to give readers more insight. For example, Morgan discovered that a leader of the group made blue dress shirts part of the uniform because he said that most black men already wear those shirts to church.

Morgan’s book also discusses the rest of the group’s uniform which included a leather jacket, black dress pants and black dress shoes. She is surprised at how much information she found by just researching old photographs.

“You uncover a lot when you move into the visual side of things,” Morgan said.

The book maintains a strong visual theme from front to back. Morgan said that she took the opportunity to include as many pictures as possible. Readers will find dozens of these pictures, many of which are in color. One of the biggest obstacles in completing the book was getting permission to use each picture, which cost her hundreds of dollars and more than six months to earn the rights.

“I wanted lots of imagery,” she said. “I don’t think you learn as much unless you look at all of the images and try to put the pieces of the puzzle together.” The inspiration behind writing a book with a high emphasis on pictures came from Morgan’s time as a college student. Her professor suggested that she should incorporate the visual culture into her dissertation. Doing so could help readers understand the topic better, according to Morgan, which is why she also used this method when writing her award-winning first book.

It was Morgan’s passion for learning and her time teaching about the Black Power era in the classroom that sparked her interest for writing this book.

“In the beginning, I was just putting together images for teaching,” Morgan said, “but then I found that students were really interested in it, and then I became interested. You get an idea and then it takes over.”

Morgan doesn’t want anyone to question how diligent she was when writing her second book. In addition to taking 10 years to complete, editors and publishers heavily scrutinized the book in its initial development. Morgan said that the feedback was helpful in making the book even stronger.

“It’s a very difficult and long process to get an academic book published,” Morgan said. “They point out the weaknesses that you don’t always see because you’re so close to the material. You think you’re done but then the editing process overtakes you.”

Throughout her experience writing “The Black Arts Movement and the Black Panther Party in American Visual Culture,” Morgan enjoyed the knowledge that she gained.

“The more I worked on it, the more I realized I didn’t know,” she said. “I learned more about the black arts movement and civil rights movement in order to piece together the concept of black power. I invested so much that I wanted to share it wherever I can.”

With an upward trend in the use of the Internet in the classroom, Morgan’s book is available for students to rent online. Her class combines elements of writing and history, which makes the book a critical piece in students’ appreciation for the subject matter. Although she describes herself as “old school,” she said that the eBook is affordable, accessible and practical.

After being one of the victims in Western’s 2018 round of layoffs, Morgan would still like to teach and continue to share research. She said that her experience writing books was challenging yet rewarding, so there’s a possibility that she’ll publish more in the future.

“It was a wonderful experience,” Morgan said. “I love to write and I’m not one to sit around and do nothing.”

For those interested, Morgan’s book is available on Amazon as a hard copy and for the Kindle.

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