A history of the African-American experience from the origins of slavery to the present day.
Frequently using individual lives to put a face on the dry facts, James Horton (History/George Washington Univ.) and Lois Horton (History/George Mason Univ.) begin with the story of a noted freed slave, Olaudah Equiano, born in 1745 in what is now Nigeria. There as a child he was seized by local slave traders, worked for an African chief, and then sold to white traders and taken to the West Indies. Later he would earn his freedom, become a member of the antislavery movement in Britain, and in 1789 publish an influential autobiography that recalled the cruelties of slavery and described life in 18th-century Africa. Equiano’s story is important in the evolution of American slavery, for, as the authors note, it “is the recapitulation of the development and codification of racial slavery and the story of cultural resistance to that hardening system.” As they depict this evolution, as well as the post–Civil War and civil-rights eras, they describe such familiar events as Nat Turner’s revolt, the Underground Railroad, and the March on Selma, as well as familiar personalities like Crispus Attucks, Sojourner Truth, and Fannie Lou Hamer. But they also include some less familiar facts: in the 18th century New York City was the largest urban slaveholding center after Charleston; by 1810 almost 58 percent of the nation’s free blacks lived in the southern states; and the Depression, which reduced white incomes by as much as 50 percent, devastated already-scant black incomes by 75 percent.
Not groundbreaking, but a useful and readable record of the African-American experience.