March 20, 2012 Columbia Journalism School and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism have awarded Vanderbilt professor Daniel Sharfstein the 2012 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize for The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White (Penguin Press, 2011), a “sensitive account of the fine line people of mixed race have tread in the United States since the nation’s beginning,” according to a press release by Columbia.
“The book makes real the fact that, not so long ago, American citizens were forced into hiding their lineage and identity just to live free in this democracy, the perils and sense of loss, no matter which road they chose, and the price being paid even to this day by their descendents, and by extension, all of us,” observed the judges. The Lukas Book Prize carries a stipend of $10,000.
At its release a year ago, The Invisible Line earned stellar reviews across the media. As Raymond Arsenault’s review in The New York Times noted, “Daniel J. Sharfstein demonstrates that African-Americans of mixed ancestry have been crossing the boundaries of color and racial identity since the early colonial era. An associate professor of law at Vanderbilt University and an author with a literary flair, Sharfstein documents this persistent racial fluidity by painstakingly reconstructing the history of three families. In a dizzying array of alternating chapters, he presents the personal and racial stories of the Gibsons, the Spencers and the Walls. The result is an astonishingly detailed rendering of the variety and complexity of racial experience in an evolving national culture moving from slavery to segregation to civil rights.”