Taking as his touchstone the words of H.L. Mencken, who once called for black leaders ""who can and will think black,"" USA Today columnist Wickham gathers original essays by writers who collectively ""give voice to the many joys and pains of black America."" Of greatest concern to these columnists, most from medium-size papers east of the Mississippi, is the position of the African-American community in the larger society, and as a group, they tend to take liberal political positions. One who does not, Allegra Bennett, a writer for the conservative Washington Times, sounds a controversial call in suggesting that the welfare state demeans African-Americans; she argues that blacks must think of themselves not as victims of history but as ""extraordinary survivors"" who are owed nothing but equal opportunity, and that the time has come to dispense with the old, paternalistic way of doing things. Richmond Times-Dispatch writer Michael Paul Williams rejoins, ""By weaving dreams from nightmare, African-Americans--more than any other group--represent the American ideal,"" an ideal, in his view, that includes the governmental safety net that Bennett rejects. And Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writer Gregory Stanford, in a nice turn of argument, opines, ""Education is a valuable, albeit intangible, asset that white America really does not want you to have. So getting an education is an act of rebellion."" Other columnists deal with less politically charged subjects: Betty DeRamus writes affectionately of her mother's life, Claude Lewis of the legacy of James Baldwin, Lisa Baird of being a light-skinned black, wholly accepted by neither white America nor African America. A good and useful anthology of voices not widely heard.