A powerful and inspiring biography of Merze Tate, a trailblazing Black woman scholar and intrepid world traveler
Born in rural Michigan during the Jim Crow era, the bold and irrepressible Merze Tate (1905–1996) refused to limit her intellectual ambitions, despite living in what she called a “sex and race discriminating world.” Against all odds, the brilliant and hardworking Tate earned degrees in international relations from Oxford University in 1935 and a doctorate in government from Harvard in 1941. She then joined the faculty of Howard University, where she taught for three decades of her long life spanning the tumultuous twentieth century.
This book revives and critiques Tate’s prolific and prescient body of scholarship, with topics ranging from nuclear arms limitations to race and imperialism in India, Asia, the Pacific, and Africa. Tate credited her success to other women, Black and white, who helped her realize her dream of becoming a scholar. Her quest for research and adventure took her around the world twice, traveling solo with her cameras.
Barbara Savage’s skilled rendering of Tate’s story is built on more than a decade of research. Tate’s life and work challenge provincial approaches to African American and American history, women’s history, the history of education, diplomatic history, and international thought.
Barbara D. Savage is a historian and the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought at the University of Pennsylvania. Her work includes Your Spirits Walk Beside Us, winner of the 2012 Grawemeyer Prize in Religion. She lives in Philadelphia, PA.
2024 ASALH Book Prize Finalist Longlisted for the Plutarch Award for Best Biography from the Biographers International Organization “Finally, Merze Tate has the biographer she was waiting for. In this exceptionally well-researched and fascinating book, Barbara Savage returns Merze Tate to her rightful place as one of the most important, sophisticated and unjustly neglected international thinkers of the twentieth century.”—Patricia Owens, University of Oxford
“This beautifully written, meticulously researched biography contains a depth of insight into a daring and boundary-breaking Black woman intellectual who consistently refused the limitations others placed upon her. Cinematic in scope, and as learned and extraordinary as its subject, this book allows us to follow Tate’s global travels as well as her groundbreaking intellectual contributions.”—Farah Jasmine Griffin, Columbia University
“A riveting, nuanced biography of the highest achieving Black female intellectual ever to be forgotten by the history books. Traveling from the rural Midwest to the streets of DC and the halls of Europe in pursuit of her bottomless passion for knowledge and accomplishment, Tate lived an adventurous life while publishing breakthrough studies on international relations between the U.S. and the world. An intrepid Black woman scholar of the mid-twentieth century, Merze Tate finally meets her match in an equally brilliant Black woman biographer who lays bare the stakes of her life and work.”—Tiya Miles, author of All That She Carried
“Barbara Savage, a scholar’s scholar, masterfully tackles the intricacies of the life and intellectual journey of Merze Tate. Savage meticulously unpacks and analyzes how Tate navigated the Scylla and Charybdis of racism and misogyny to live life on her own terms, producing the work she wanted, on the topics she wanted, especially when this was not supposed to be women’s work and particularly not an African American woman’s work.”—Carol Anderson, author of White Rage
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