To Make the Wounded Whole

To Make the Wounded Whole: The African American Struggle against HIV/AIDS is now available from University of North Carolina Press! Use promo code 01DAH40 at checkout to receive 40 percent off the cover price. Ebook readers can also purchase the Kindle edition from Amazon.

To Make the Wounded Whole offers the first history of African American AIDS activism in all of its depth and breadth. It introduces a diverse constellation of activists, including medical professionals, Black gay intellectuals, church pastors, Nation of Islam leaders, recovering drug users, and Black feminists who pursued a wide array of grassroots approaches to slow the epidemic’s spread and address its impacts. Through interlinked stories from Philadelphia and Atlanta to South Africa and back again, this book documents the diverse, creative, and global work of African American activists in the decades-long battle against HIV/AIDS.

Winner—LGBTQ Religious History Award

Honorable Mention—John Boswell Prize, Committee on LGBT History of the American Historical Association

Finalist—Museum of African American History Stone Book Award

Here’s what scholars are saying about To Make the Wounded Whole:

A brilliant account of African Americans’ underappreciated grassroots responses to the AIDS epidemic. This important book strikingly documents this multifaceted health activism and its novel array of healing strategies. A groundbreaking, essential contribution.

Alondra Nelson, author of Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination and former Deputy Director for Science and Society, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Read and teach this well-written and compassionate book to understand what was done in the past and why issues of visibility, community-based organizing, and global access remain central to contemporary health needs.

Susan Reverby, author of Examining Tuskegee, Journal of American History

Necessary reading for those interested not only in how HIV/ AIDS affects African Americans, but also how Black people responded (and continue to respond) to health inequities.

Antoine S. Johnson, H-Net Reviews

To Make the Wounded Whole and the accompanying oral history archival project are masterful achievements.

Richard Daily, Nursing Clio

To Make the Wounded Whole is an exciting, worthwhile, and accessible addition to the quickly growing field of HIV/AIDS history because it shines a significant spotlight on its often-overlooked intersection with Black communities and history.

Katie Batza, author of Before AIDS, Journal of Social History

Royles’s project is of grand and urgent scope. To Make the Wounded Whole — with its seven case studies on moments in the movement, each detailed, finely researched, and compassionately written — engages in a rich conversation about Black activism within the AIDS epidemic across almost half a century.

Charles O’Malley, Los Angeles Review of Books

Royles’ careful documentation of grassroots movement politics will make [To Make the Wounded Whole] immensely valuable in activist spaces.

Shireen Hamza & Kelsey Henry, Gender & History

Eloquently written and beautifully researched.

LGBTQ Religious History Award Committee

Royles has delivered a masterfully nuanced yet clearly rendered account of one of the greatest challenges to African American health and politics in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Samuel Kelton Roberts Jr., author of Infectious Fear: Politics, Disease, and the Health Effects of Segregation

To Make the Wounded Whole is original and important. It challenges the notion that African Americans were passive, powerless, or oppositional in addressing the health crisis, demonstrating that Black LGBTQ activists and their allies developed powerful and influential community-based responses to the AIDS epidemic.

Marc Stein, author of Sexual Injustice: Supreme Court Decisions from Griswold to Roe

Incredibly ambitious and illuminating.

Isobel Ashby, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Royles shows that activists worked to address not only the HIV/AIDS epidemic itself but also the structural injustice that made African Americans more vulnerable to the disease. . . . Highly recommended.

Yuya Kiuchi, CHOICE Reviews


Along with To Make the Wounded Whole, in the last few years I have published several book chapters:

Click here to see more of my writing.


Historic Context Study: Violence against People of African Descent in the United States, 1500-2020

I currently serve as the principal investigator for a comprehensive historical context study, contracted by the National Park Service (NPS) of violence against people of African descent in the United States and its territories from 1500 to the present day. This study will encourage new interpretations of such history for public audiences, through both future NPS theme studies and the addition of key sites to the National Registry of Historic Places and list of National Historic Landmarks.

The approach for this study will consider the ways in which shifting imperial, national, and territorial boundaries within the present-day United States and its territories have shaped the history of violence against people of African descent. As they moved across such boundaries and territory changed hands, people of African descent found themselves operating in a variety of social, political, and legal contexts for anti-Black violence. With this in mind, the study will trace the history of violence against people of African descent in British North America, as well as in the parts of New Spain, New France, and the Danish West Indies that later became part of the United States and its territories and will consider how these different contexts shaped that history.

This study will also focus on the ways that communities of African descent have resisted anti-Black violence, and the ways that this resistance has been shaped by changing historical contexts. These responses have included maroon communities formed by people fleeing enslavement, armed uprisings of enslaved people, anti-lynching campaigns, organized self-defense groups, and nonviolent social movements. While recognizing the importance of specific historical context to these responses, we can identify some themes that run across them: the question of whether to meet violence with armed struggle; the question of whether to aim for legal remedies, broader social change, or changes to Black consciousness; and what tactics, such as moral suasion or direct action, to employ.

Finding Claude Brown

I am currently working on a social, cultural, and intellectual biography of Claude Brown, whose 1965 autobiographical novel Manchild in the Promised Land won praise from critics upon its release and has sold millions of copies worldwide. Brown offered a gritty portrayal of everyday Harlemites’ struggles to survive during the 1940s and 50s, in the aftermath of the Great Migration, and recounted his troubled youth spent in and out of reform institutions. Brown published his novel just as Americans were struggling to make sense of urban violence and growing black militancy alongside the victories of the civil rights movement. Amid the growing urban crisis, Brown used the success of Manchild to carve out a role for himself as a commentator on gang violence and the War on Drugs.

Using archival, oral history, and literary research, this project will trace the afterlives of the Great Migration, of Brown’s best-known work, and of the author himself. Brown’s parents were among the millions of African Americans who fled the Jim Crow south to seek a better life in the urban north, but found that the “promised land” fell far short of expectations. How did they shape Harlem’s culture, and how did their disappointment shape the generation that followed? Brown himself spent much of his adulthood in the wake of Manchild, his defining achievement. How did he deal with the afterlife of his own success, and what does the arc of his career tell us about race and the politics of the public intellectual during his lifetime? Finally, Manchild found its own afterlife in policy discussions, first amid urban unrest in the 1960s, and later on during the War on Drugs in discussions of gang violence and juvenile “superpredators.” How did others mobilize Brown’s work in formulating the public policy of crime and punishment, and how did Brown respond?

African American AIDS Activism Oral History Project + Digital Archive

As part of my research for To Make the Wounded Whole, I launched both an oral history project among African American AIDS activists and an online archive of the fight against HIV and AIDS in Black America.

Digitizing Virginia Key Beach

From 2017 to 2019 I also served as the principal investigator on a federally funded two-year project to digitize the archives of the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust, which preserves the history of Miami’s “colored only” beach. As part of that project, a team of five FIU graduate students has digitized thousands of unique documents and artifacts that capture Miami’s African American history.

Virginia Key Beach Park in the 1950s


I regularly teach courses in United States, African American, LBGTQ, oral, and public history. My approach to teaching emphasizes investigation, discussion, and active learning, and my upper-level and graduate courses push students to interpret the past for public audiences. For example:

  • in Fall 2017 students in my African American history course at Florida International University constructed digital exhibits for the African American AIDS History Project
  • in Fall 2014, students in my Introduction to Digital Humanities class at Stockton University worked together on a web platform for the Staring Out to Sea Oral History Project, a set of interviews conducted by students at Kean University about Hurricane Sandy in northern New Jersey

I’m happy to share teaching resources. Check out:

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