About This Project

An older photo (from the 1920s or 1930s) of an adolescent African American boy outside, crouching next to a beagle. He appears to be mimicking the beagle's expression.
Courtesy the Delaware Historical Society Photograph Collection. Delaware Historical Society, Wilmington, Delaware.

Why Animals in Black Life?

Narratives about the roles animals have played in the Black diaspora usually focus on violence. My work pivots toward connection.

Those of the Black diaspora are often described as victims of police dogs or bloodhounds that tracked freedom seekers in the antebellum era, or as perpetrators of violence against animals, like dog fighting, which—despite its history among Europeans—is now stereotypically associated with communities of color.

Animals take part in human life in myriad ways: as food, companions, workers, weapons, symbols, and hobbies, to name a few. (For an introduction to these histories and concepts, see Margo DeMello’s Animals & Society). Few of these many animal histories have been told about people of the Black diaspora. While other historical narratives are important and necessary, my research and this website seek out other animal stories in Black life, like connection, humor, healing, and liberation. 

My dissertation, entitled “Care and Control: Black Philadelphians and the Animal City After World War II” (2024), explored one aspect of human-animal relationships: pets and companion animals. Using Philadelphia as a case study, my research shows that Black Americans have brought pets into their homes as family members, bred animals for hobbies or income, treated animals as medical professionals, worked on the front lines to save animals from harm, and advocated for their liberation. For more about me, you can check out my website.

Many others are working on the topics of Black life, Blackness, animals, and animality. I am indebted to their work, and I encourage you to check it out on the Resources page.

This website will continue to grow, with future content like essays and oral histories. I hope you will find this resource helpful, every step of the way.