Mitchell Selected for Phillis Wheatley Book Award for Graphic History Novel

Brian Mitchell is photographed in front of a portrait of his ancestor, Oscar James Dunn. Photo by Lonnie Timmons III/UA Little Rock Communications.

Dr. Brian Mitchell, assistant professor of history at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, received the Phillis Wheatley Book Award for his nonfiction graphic history on May 21. 

Mitchell’s first graphic history book, “Monumental: Oscar Dunn and His Radical Fight in Reconstruction Louisiana,” was published earlier this year. The book tells, for the first time, the incredible story of Oscar James Dunn, a New Orleanian born into slavery who became America’s first Black lieutenant governor and acting governor.

The Sons and Daughters of the United States Middle Passage grants the Phillis Wheatley Book Award to books published within the last five years covering the topic of American slavery.

You should be justifiably proud that you have written a fantastic and award-winning book,” said Dr. Evelyn McDowell, president of Sons and Daughters of the United States Middle Passage. 

Published by The Historic New Orleans Collection, Mitchell worked with Nick Weldon, an editor, and Barrington Edwards, an illustrator, to bring Dunn’s story to life in the 256-page graphic novel.

Emancipated at age 10, Dunn emerged as a national political figure during the Reconstruction Era that followed the Civil War. A champion of universal suffrage, civil rights, and integrated public schools, Dunn fought for radical change during the early years of Reconstruction in Louisiana, a post–Civil War era rife with corruption, subterfuge, and violence.

A graphic history informed by newly discovered primary sources, the book resurrects, in vivid detail, Louisiana and New Orleans after the Civil War—and presents an iconic American life that never should have been forgotten. Contextual essays and a map and timeline add layers of depth to the narrative. “Monumental” is a story of determination, scandal, betrayal, and how one man’s principled fight for equality and justice may have cost him everything.

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