A lively, opinionated survey, telling a story that the textbooks too often overlook.



Comprehensive, decidedly non-neutral, history of the African-American presence in American political life through perhaps its most representative place.

“The black history of the White House,” writes scholar and journalist Lusane (Political Science/American Univ.; Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice: Foreign Policy, Race, and the New American Century, 2006, etc.), “begins in the pre-revolutionary period, during which future occupants of the White House first laid the foundation of what was to become more than two-centuries of race-based cruelty, exclusion, and violence.” That sentence speaks directly to the outlook of this book, which carefully documents the travails of a polity in which African-Americans were so essential and prevalent, but that struggled endlessly to maintain, then dismantle, the institution of slavery, and then could never quite accept the notion that all people are created equal—an idea put to pen by Thomas Jefferson even as his slave Richard “quietly brought him his nightly tea.” Lusane is unsparing. In his analysis, an icon such as Dolley Madison is found deeply wanting for having reneged on her promise to free her “mulatto man Paul,” instead selling him at a bargain price—even after he had paid her to secure his freedom. The author capably uses the tools of sociology and history, but he seems most at home at the intersection of politics and popular culture. He writes engagingly of the long tradition of African-American opera stars appearing at the White House through the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, a tradition revived only during Franklin Roosevelt’s first administration; and of the later tradition of jazz performances at the White House, one that only George H.W. Bush did not observe (though son George W. Bush did). Lusane closes with a consideration of African-American efforts to secure a political place within the White House, from Marcus Garvey to Shirley Chisholm, Dick Gregory, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and, of course, Barack Obama.

A lively, opinionated survey, telling a story that the textbooks too often overlook.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-87286-532-7

Page Count: 534

Publisher: City Lights

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2010

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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