Brian D. Behnken

U.S. History, African American History, Mexican American History, Latino/a Studies, & History of Civil Rights & Social Activism


Office:631 Ross
527 Farm House Ln.
Ames IA


I specialize in African American and Mexican American history, with an emphasis on civil rights activism and comparative race relations. I also study racial violence, law enforcement, popular culture, and nationalism as they relate to African American and Latino/a/x peoples. In addition to my position in the Department of History, I also have affiliate faculty positions in the U.S. Latino/a Studies Program and the African and African American Studies Program.


I have published a number of books. My first book, Fighting Their Own Battles: Mexican Americans, African Americans, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Texas (University of North Carolina Press, 2011), explored the dual and often separate Black and Mexican American freedom struggles in Texas. I co-wrote Racism in the American Popular Media: From Aunt Jemima to the Frito Bandito (Praeger Publishers, 2015) with my colleague Dr. Gregory Smithers (Virginia commonwealth University). This book looked at how racism became institutionalized in the popular media and focused specifically on print nonfiction, advertising, motion pictures, and cartoons.

My current research has been on policing in the Southwest. The first book to come out of that research, Borders of Violence and Justice: Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and Law Enforcement in the Southwest, 1835-1935 (University of North Carolina Press, 2022), is a comprehensive examination of the interactions between Mexican-origin people and law enforcement, both legally codified police agencies and extralegal justice, across the U.S. Southwest (and especially in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas). I have a second policing book, Brown and Blue: Mexican Americans, Law Enforcement, and Civil Rights in the Southwest, 1935-Today, which takes the story of Mexican-origin people and law enforcement to the present day. I hope this book will be out in the next few years.

In addition to these books I have also published four edited collections, including The Struggle in Black and Brown: African American and Mexican American Relations during the Civil Rights Era (University of Nebraska Press, 2012), with my colleague, Dr. Simon Wendt, Crossing Boundaries: Ethnicity, Race, and National Belonging in a Transnational World, (Lexington Books, 2013) Civil Rights and Beyond: African American and Latino/a Activism in the Twentieth Century United States (University of Georgia Press, 2016), and with Gregory Smithers and Simon Wendt Black Intellectual Though in Modern America: An Historical Perspective (University Press of Mississippi, 2017).


I teach a broad range of courses for the Department of History and the U.S. Latino/a and African and African American Studies Programs. They include:

HIST 222, United States History Since Reconstruction

HIST/AF AM 354, African American History Since Reconstruction

HIST/USLS 371, Mexican American History

HIST/USLS 372, Latino/a History

HIST 459, United States History Since 1945

HIST/AF AM 469, History of Racial Violence in Europe and the U.S. (with Dr. Jeremy Best)

HIST/AF AM/USLS 473, Civil Rights and Ethnic Power

HIST 495, History Senior Capstone Seminar