A collection of vignettes about the black experience in the United States and around the globe.
In 1957, respected Pittsburgh Courier journalist Joel A. Rogers published a book, 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro with Complete Proof, based on research he had conducted for his columns. His work provided a counter to white supremacist myths and proved to be a source of pride for the black community, which too often read and heard histories that excluded them. Gates (Life upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513-2008, 2011, etc.), the prolific scholar and popularizer of black history, presents this book as an homage and update to the work of “Mr. Rogers.” Indeed, just as Rogers had compiled his brief essays for his book from his columns, Gates similarly draws from his series, which carried the same title as this volume and ran in the online magazine The Root, which Gates co-founded. The entries are brief, averaging about four pages. In his acknowledgments, the author also reveals that these essays, though ultimately bearing his name, are the product of the research team he leads at the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard. The pieces range widely in chronology, theme, and geography, and his facts about the “Negro” (the anachronism is intentional, part of the tribute to Rogers) most heavily emphasize the African-American experience but also explore Africa and the diaspora across the Americas and in Europe. The pieces are generally well-written and engage with secondary sources and occasional primary documents on his topics. The title of each entry is a question. The first—“which journalist was among the first to bring black history to the masses?”—introduces Rogers and thus the book. The rest range widely and are fairly consistent.
It will not be necessary for readers to tackle this book from front to back; it rewards dipping into occasionally, as Gates sometimes surprises, sometimes intrigues, and rarely disappoints.