It would have been impossible for me to complete this work without the encouragement, support, and guidance of a host of extraordinary and extraordinarily gracious people who, in ways small and large, collectively inspired me, prodded me along, and sustained me.
Thanks are heartily extended to the librarians of both the Special Collections Department and the University Archives at the University of California, Los Angeles Young Research Library, for their assistance, among them Dennis Bitterich, Charlotte Brown, and Jeff Rankin. The expert advice of the staffs at the Department of Special Collections and University Archives of the Green Library at Stanford University (especially Polly Armstrong and Mattie Taormina); the Beinecke Library at Yale University; the Tamiment and Fales Special Collections Libraries at New York University; the Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley (in particular David Kesler, Susan Synder, and Jack von Euw); and the Special Collections department at the University of Washington is much appreciated. I was also the grateful beneficiary of the kindness and wisdom of Stephanie Spearman and the other pioneering members of the Black Heritage Society of Washington State.
For generous support of the research and writing of the book, I am grateful to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at New York University (Henry Mitchell MacCracken Fellowship, Dean’s Fellowship and Summer Research Grant); the Ford Foundation (Postdoctoral Diversity Fellowship); and the Woodrow Wilson and Andrew W. Mellon Foundations (Career Enhancement Fellowship). I gratefully acknowledge support from the International Center for Advanced Studies (New York University), Skidmore College (Trustee Minority Dissertation Fellowship), and Trinity College (Ann E. Plato Fellowship), which helped me bring this project to fruition. In these three settings, I cherished the warm collegiality of Laurel Baldwin-Ragaven, Thomas Bender, Deb Cowen, Jordana Dym, Julia Elyachar, Wilma Hall, Andrew Lakoff, Paul Lauter, Jack Ling, Mary C. Lynn, Timothy Mitchell, Christ Otter, Margo Perkins, Greg Pfitzer, Vijay Prashad, Pushkala Prasad, Barbara Sicherman, Margaret Somers, Miriam Ticktin, Jerry Watts, Johnny Williams, and Joanna Schneider Zangrando. I owe special thanks to Amy Koteles, Gregory Morton, and Nancy Osberg-Otrembiak for fostering such welcoming spaces in which to write and think.
Opportunities to present my research on the Black Panthers’ health politics in its early stages yielded generative dialogue with and useful feedback from my colleagues at Trinity College; from audiences at meetings of the Social Science History Association and the American Studies Association; from Muriel Lederman, Bernice Hausman, and attendees of the Science and Technology Studies Seminar Series at Virginia Polytechnic and State University; from Wenda Bauchspies and those in attendance at the Science and Technology Studies Program Colloquium Series at the Pennsylvania State University; from C. Brandon Ogbunugafor and attendees at my Frantz Fanon Lecture Series at the Yale School of Medicine; from participants in the Public Spheres and American Cultures Conference at the John Nicholas Brown Center for the Study of American Civilization at Brown University; and from Samuel K. Roberts, Azure Thompson, Joshua Guild, and other participants in the Robert Wood Johnson Working Group on African-American History and the Health and Social Sciences at Columbia University. At the “Science, Technology, and the Historical Influence of Race” conference at Drexel University, constructive comments and frank advice from the gatherings’ organizers and participants, especially Kali Gross, Amy Slaton, Pat D’Antonio, Alison Eisenberg, Robin D. G. Kelley, and Keith Wailoo, were enormously valuable for my revision of chapter 2 and the book’s larger evolution. I also benefited from spirited interactions with members of the African Americanist Colloquium at Columbia University, organized by James T. Roane, Megan French, and Victoria Phillips Geduld.
I have been fortunate to count Steve Bouscaren, Manthia Diawara, Troy Duster, Francis Smith Foster, Ed Guerrero, George Lipsitz, Tanya Luhrmann, Stephanie McCurry, Michael E. Meeker, Kobena Mercer, Toby Miller, the late and great Dorothy Nelkin, Sally Ride, Tricia Rose, Andrew Ross, Leland Saito, and Nikhil Pal Singh among my most influential teachers. Each of them has deeply shaped the course of my intellectual interests; the ruts and wrong turns are my doing solely.
Steven Epstein reviewed an early draft of the book manuscript and gave me detailed, insightful suggestions for its improvement. He is a model senior colleague, and I am deeply thankful for the many gestures of kindness and helpfulness he has shown me for many years. Adele Clarke generously served as my mentor during the period of my Wilson fellowship (and well beyond!); she read the manuscript in whole and sent me articles and book chapters on themes related to its topics (always with an accompanying note of encouragement), and I am immensely indebted to her. Julia Adams, Randall Kennedy, Delores Y. Nelson, Chris Rhomberg, Dorothy Roberts, Rachel Sherman, Thuy Linh Tu, and Ben Williams also read drafts of the book and offered valuable suggestions toward its improvement. Elizabeth Alexander, Norma Armour, Marie Branch, Alicia Schmidt Camacho, Duana Fullwiley, Alyosha Goldstein, Stephanie Greenlea, Kali Gross, Joshua Guild, Ange-Marie Hancock, Fredrick Harris, Stefan Helmreich, Fred J. Hiestand, Jonathan Holloway, Tisha Hooks, Kellie Jones, Ferentz LaFargue, Catherine Lee, Tavia N’Yongo, Jonathan Metzl, Ann Morning, Aaron Panofsky, Howard Rambsy II, Sarah Richardson, Dorothy Roberts, Wendy Roth, Cleo Silvers, Nikhil Pal Singh, Amy Slaton, Helen Tilley, Lucia Trimbur, and Michael Veal gave generously of their time, providing engaged and invaluable responses to various chapters.
An extended network of friends and colleagues deserves my thanks for intellectual interchange that fostered my thinking, for suggestions and ideas, for input on aspects of the project, and for reassurance along the way. I apologize in advance for any omissions and acknowledge, in particular, Camille Acey, Mia Bay, Derrick Bell, Emily Bernard, Helmut Breiderhoff, Daphne Brooks, Phil Brown, Jeff Chang, William Jelani Cobb, Dalton Conley, Thulani Davis, Gary Dauphin, Rick Duque, Ron Eglash, Tanya Erzen, Henry Louis Gates Jr., John Gennari, Alexander Green, Helena Hansen, Keith Harris, Rebecca Herzig, Karla Holloway, Peter James Hudson, Adria Imada, Peter Knight, Howard Markel, Paul D. Miller, Mark Naison, Anna Neumann, Rosalind Nicholas, Anne Pollack, Hugh Raffles, Howard Rambsy II, Emmanuel Raymundo, Sal Restivo, Nikolas Rose, Jane Rhodes, Nichole Rustin, Susan Schweick, Wes Shrum, Rebecca Skloot, Julie Sze, Kali Tal, Yaro Tal, Bryant Terry, Makani Therna-Nixon, Fatimah Tuggar, Priscilla Wald, Vron Ware, Alexander Weheliye, and Eliza Williams as well as Guy Walter, Cédric Duroux, and the Villa Gillet crew.
I have benefited incalculably from the intellectual fellowship of several stimulating intellectual communities. For many years, Troy Duster and Dorothy Nelkin convened the New York Consortium on Science and Society, and I learned a great deal from these exchanges with visiting scholars and with Nadia Abu El Haj, Lennard Davis, Stefan Helmreich, Bradley Lewis, Emily Martin, Ann Morning, Alan McGowan, Rayna Rapp, and Tania Simoncelli. I was fortunate to have been brought into the fold of the Black Modernities working group and have learned a great deal from my collective reading, conversation, and debate with Herman Bennett, Tina Campt, Hazel Carby, Brent Edwards, Phillip Brian Harper, Saidiya Hartman, Jennifer Morgan, and Tavia N’Yongo. My colleagues in the Cambridge Race and Science workshop have inspired me in more ways than they could possibly know; my deep appreciation to Jon Beckwith, Catherine Bliss, Lundy Braun, Michael Carson, Ann Fausto-Sterling, Duana Fullwiley, Alan Goodman, Jennifer Hamilton, Evelynn Hammonds, Jennifer Hochschild, Everett Mendelsohn, Susan Reverby, Sarah Richardson, Alexandra Shields, and William Quivers.
Immeasurable gratitude is due Norma Armour, Marie Branch, William Bronston, Elaine Brown, William Davis, Kent Ford, Cleo Silvers, Kathleen Neal Cleaver, Arthur Harris, Fred J. Hiestand, Billy X. Jennings, Terry Kupers, Robert Levine, Fitzhugh Mullan, Azure Thompson, Bernard Thompson, Tolbert Small, and Stephanie Spearman, who lavishly shared memories and items from their storied lives. This book would not exist except for their magnanimity. My special thanks to Billy X. Jennings and the It’s About Time Black Panther Party archive for permission to use its rare and valuable materials in my book.
I am especially obliged to a talented cohort of scholars of the Black Panther Party whose unique approaches to the study of the organization and the period during which it emerged both inspired and informed my own research: Johanna Fernandez, Leigh Raiford, Besenia Rodriguez, Robyn Spencer, and Yohuru Williams. Curtis Austin was exceedingly charitable and helped me with my search for images for my book; I hope I can show to other scholars the kindness he has shown to me. My Black Panther Party fellow traveler Donna Murch passed along primary resources relevant to my manuscript that she came across while researching and writing her excellent book.
I thank photographer Steven Shames for entrusting me with his one-of-a-kind images of the Black Panther Party and Nilda Rivera at Polaris Images for facilitating the use of these images in the book.
I tried out and hashed out portions of this book with students at Yale and Columbia, both inside and outside the classroom; I am grateful for their insights and their forbearance. In particular, several former and current students were the testing ground for many of the ideas here, and I acknowledge them with pleasure and appreciation: Ifeoma Ajumwa, Cecilia Cardenas-Navia, Abigail Coplin, Cat Pitti Esquivel, Caroline Gray, Stephanie Greenlea, Sean Greene, Cassie Hays, Tisha Hooks, Nicole Ivy, Ben Karp, Warren McKinney, Manuella Meyer, Carlos Miranda, Nanlesta Pilgrim, James Roane, Joan Robinson, Besenia Rodriguez, David Scales, and Lucia Trimbur.
A big, warm gratitude shout-out to the research assistants who skillfully helped me in innumerable ways during the long generation of this project: Stephanie Alvarado, Mary Barr, Aaron Figura, Lindsey Greene-Upshaw, Talibah Newman, Elizabeth Olson, and Thalia Sutton. During the final months of the book’s completion, I would have been quite literally lost without the impeccable assistance of Valerie Idehen, who helped me clear the publication finish line. Throughout early morning and late-night work sessions, on weekdays and weekends, she remained the most organized person I know and also the most gracious and even-keeled. An uncommon combination—Valstyle, indeed!
My time as assistant professor in the departments of African American studies, sociology, and the American studies program at Yale University, where I began my professional career, was seminal. I express deep appreciation to my Yale colleagues for cherished years of intellectual camaraderie, especially Julia Adams, Elizabeth Alexander, Elijah Anderson, David Blight, Hannah Brückner, Alicia Schmidt Camacho, Jill Campbell, Hazel Carby, George Chauncey, Kamari Clarke, Kathleen Neal Cleaver, Ron Eyerman, Terri Francis, Kellie Jones, Paul Gilroy, Ronald Gregg, Ezra Griffiths, Jonathan Holloway, Matthew Frye Jacobson, Gerald Jaynes, Glenda Gilmore, Uli Mayer, Marcella Nunez-Smith, Ainissa Ramirez, Steven Pitti, Peter Stamatov, Robert Stepto, Emilie Townes, Ebonya Washington, Laura Wexler, and Michael Veal. Ann Fitzpatrick, Jon Galberth, Janet Giarratano, Nancy Hopkins, Geneva Melvin, and Jodie Stewart-Moore daily and with patience helped me navigate the ins and outs of the institution. I am appreciative to the Yale administration for variously supporting my scholarly development and, in particular, my thanks to Emily Bakemeier, Jon Butler, Richard Brodhead, Jill Cutler, Joseph Gordon, Charles Long, and Mary Miller.
Many thanks to colleagues at Columbia University for my warm welcome to the institution and especially to Nadia Abu El Haj, Lila Abu-Lughod, Rachel Adams, Karen Barkey, Peter Bearman, Marcellus Blount, Yinon Cohen, Gil Eyal, Priscilla Ferguson, Dana Fisher, Eric Foner, Katherine Franke, Herbert Gans, Lynn Garafola, Steven Gregory, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Fredrick Harris, Saidiya Hartman, Marianne Hirsch, Jean E. Howard, Shamus Khan, Alice Kessler-Harris, Kellie Jones, George Lewis, Yao Lu, Debra Minkoff, Alessandra Nicifero, Gary Okihiro, Elizabeth Povinelli, Valerie Purdie-Vaughns, Samuel K. Roberts, Saskia Sassen, Carla Shedd, Josef Sorett, Seymour Spilerman, David Stark, Neferti Tadiar, Dorian Warren, Diane Vaughn, Sudhir Venkatesh, and Joshua Whitford. Thanks to Dora Arenas, Anne Born, Sharon Harris, Nusaiba Jackson, Page Jackson, Shawn Mendoza, and Vina Tran for helping me find my way at my new home.
I am thoroughly indebted to Jason Weidemann—a truly phenomenal editor—for his commitment to this project. Brimming with keen insight and good humor, Jason guided the book’s publication at the University of Minnesota Press with a rare eye for both fine details and the big picture. Indeed, colleagues were often awestruck when I conveyed examples of the skill and care with which Jason shepherded the publication process. I also extend my appreciation to Danielle Kasprzak for her assistance in bringing this project to fruition. The departments of the University of Minnesota Press work as a team on each book, so I offer my thanks to that constellation of greatly appreciated people who played a role in making this book better. I thank the members of the Press’s faculty advisory board as well as several anonymous reviewers for their assiduous reading of the manuscript and thoughtful recommendations on how it could be improved. I acknowledge my former agent, the superb Dan O’Connell, for his unflagging enthusiasm for this project over many years. Additionally, I benefited from Audra Wolfe’s expert editorial advice and from Jane E. Boyd’s singular ability to help bring clarity and order to prose.
I have drawn again and again from the well of experience and compassion of several individuals who for more than a decade have liberally shared their accumulated wisdom and their precious time with me. Collectively, they provided much perspective, guidance, and kindhearted words of support on many occasions. From the many opportunities he has afforded me to his enthusiastic praise married with honest criticism, Troy Duster has been incredibly generous, and I can only hope to be able to pay these riches forward. Paul Gilroy is a peerless thinker; with both long, soulful dialogue and the pithiest of comments, he motivates me to think harder and better, and for these interchanges and for his friendship I am profoundly grateful. From the moment I landed on the threshold of her office door at MIT in the late 1990s to the very present moment, Evelynn Hammonds has been unfailingly encouraging and supportive: I am fortunate to have Dean Hammonds, a path-breaking scholar of race, gender, and biomedicine, as a mentor. When this project was a mere kernel of an idea, Andrew Ross encouraged me to grow and foster it. He was there at the beginning and remains an important intellectual presence in my life. Keith Wailoo somehow manages to raise the bar for young scholars and at the same time demystifies the life of the mind in ways that make it seem doable; he both inspires and energizes.
Elizabeth Alexander and Thuy Linh N. Tu are my confidantes, my intellectual sparring partners, my dear, dear friends, my sisters. I admire them for so many things but especially for their bigheartedness, integrity, and sheer brilliance. Thuy Linh has been my trusted interlocutor on matters personal and professional for more than fifteen years. I treasure her. Elizabeth personifies genius and beauty.
Many thanks to my extended family—the Nelsons, the Mundys, and the Williamses. Like family, Father Russel Raj, OCD, has been a wellspring of encouragement. My three siblings have always had more faith in me than I have in myself: by trying to see my potential through their eyes I was buoyed in rough creative waters. I am happily beholden to Andrea Nelson Saunders, Aaron Saunders, Robert Nelson Jr., Dawn Nelson, Anthony Nelson, and Vera Nelson for their love and support. I am continually awed by the boundless promise of Aidan Nelson, Austin Nelson, Anthony Nelson Jr., Alexis Nelson, Alondra Hall, Anita Hall, Ariella Nelson, Brianna Nelson, Bryce Saunders, Joseph Hall Jr., Mya Nelson, Reina Saunders, and Renee Nelson. My parents, Robert S. Nelson Sr. and Delores Y. Nelson, whose sole aim in life often seems to be to provide all for their children that they were not able to achieve or attain, are exemplars of dedication and unconditional love. Their many sacrifices made possible any accomplishment I ever achieved.
I thank Randall Kennedy for his loving intelligence and his constancy. His wit, wisdom, and affection make my life rich beyond measure. He makes me better.