THE HORNES: An American Family by Gall Lumet Buckley
Kirkus Star

THE HORNES: An American Family

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A unique blend of a book--part personal memoir, part family saga, part social history--with all parts beautifully written by Buckley, daughter of Lena Horne. Biographies often claim to use their subjects to ""capture an era""; this one actually does. By tracing her family tree back to its antebellum roots, Buckley charts the development of America's black bourgeoisie. This close-knit caste presented ""an almost flawless mirror image of upper middle-class white life,"" cherishing the same values of upward mobility and social responsibility, college degrees and country clubs. While they formed something of a world unto themselves, extra-elite families like the fair-skinned, fashionably dressed Homes acted as ambassadors into white circles. Buckley's great-grandfather Edwin was a loading journalist and a delegate to the 1884 Republican Presidential Convention; her uncle Frank was a member of FDR's ""Black Cabinet."" The clan was also intimate with other illustrious blacks, like W.E.B. DuBois (who had a college crush on Edwin's sister-in-law) and Paul Robeson (whose friendship with the family began when Buckley's great-grandmother helped him win a college scholarship). Half of The Homes is devoted to Lena, the family's brightest jewel. When she began her professional career as a Cotton Club chorine, her sedate Brooklyn relatives and friends were scandalized. Yet she became the most famous of the Home pioneers: ""Lena was the first black Hollywood star--a title of great symbolic value, though she actually did very little in movies,"" her daughter writes. The chronicle falters towards the end, when it becomes primarily autobiographical. By her own admission, Buckley's accomplishments pale in comparison to her ancestors', and she seems unwilling to discuss, much less put into sociological perspective, aspects of her own life. A comparison of her marriage to director Sidney Lumet in the 1960's to her mother's interracial marriage in the 1940's would have been compelling stuff indeed. Still, Buckley's obvious intelligence and way with a phrase (""By the early 1970's, the acorn of black civil rights had become the oak of everyone's rights"") make The Homes a hard one to put down.

Pub Date: June 30th, 1986
ISBN: 1557835640
Publisher: Knopf