A distinguished scholar surveys, with lavish illustrations, 500 years of the African-American experience.
Few readers will consult this text for the last word on any of the hundreds of entries it contains, but students might well begin here to understand the sweep of African-American history. Gates (African and African-American Studies/Harvard Univ.; Black in Latin America, 2011, etc.) arranges his history chronologically, with each chapter successively packed with more information, reflecting the ever-increasing impact of African-Americans on the nation. From the conquistadors and the origins of slavery in the Americas, through the Revolutionary period, the rise of abolitionism, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, the Great Migration, both World Wars and the 20th century’s civil-rights movement, up to President Obama’s election, the supremely qualified Gates guides us through centuries of history with encyclopedia-style, mini-essays on a vast array of topics. No significant figure in African-American history goes untreated, and many names are rescued from neglect. Gates takes the “looking” part of his subtitle seriously. The stunning illustrations—photos, paintings, engravings, posters, broadsides, drawings, maps, advertisements, cartoons and film stills—perfectly supplement a text in which individual entries are necessarily abbreviated to permit single-volume coverage of so vast a topic. More than 800 images, many unforgettable, instantly convey, for example, the charm of Billy Eckstine, the fierce dignity of Frederick Douglass, the grace of Arthur Ashe, the intensity of Richard Wright and the anguish of Martin Luther King Jr. They powerfully capture the brutality of a slave coffle, the horror of lynching, the heedless cruelty of the sambo caricature and the absurdity of Jim Crow prohibitions.
A striking, comprehensive guide to the breadth and depth of African-American history.