As scholars who have long been immersed in this pivotal period, we were excited to learn of the lavishly produced HBO series The Gilded Age. With the exception of the fabulously successful feature film Titanic in 1997, ours is a historical period that is often overlooked in popular culture. So we were delighted when The Gilded Age generated advance reviews in mainstream publications including the New York Times and Washington Post. We hoped it would bring attention to the period we find so important in our history, especially for the light it can shed on present day problems and issues—both how they were created and how they might be remedied.
My recent scholarship explores civil rights, African American activism and racial justice in the western states and territories. My first book, Black San Francisco: The Struggle for Racial Justice in the West, 1900-54, based largely on my doctoral dissertation, explored many of these questions in a far western city with a global reputation for tolerance and civility toward racial minorities. I argued, among other things, that while western cities like San Francisco, and you could include Oakland, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Portland, were clearly more progressive than cities in the South, the progressive mystique that they portrayed was largely a facade. My work also revealed the presence of an active civil rights movement in the western states dating from the mid-nineteenth century and continuing well into the new century.