An anthology of notable African-American figures throughout history.
Harriet Tubman, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Arthur Ashe, and Billie Holiday are only a few of the many celebrated names that make up this anthology of black life in America. Retired teacher Whitlow chronicles the lives of African-Americans who are still written about and celebrated today, from Louis Armstrong’s early dive-bar days to Rosa Parks’ famous act of civil disobedience in Montgomery, Alabama. As even this small sample of names suggests, the author doesn’t limit her scope to political agitators, but includes artists, musicians, athletes, and other figures from all walks of public life, presented in alphabetical order. Thus dancer Josephine Baker appears next to writer James Baldwin, while musician and entertainer Fats Waller precedes educator and author Booker T. Washington. Some entries stretch far back in time—Pierre Toussaint, a freed slave turned New York City philanthropist, was born in 1766—while others, such as musician Michael Jackson, are more modern. Whitlow has compiled a collection of resources that one can imagine a young student finding useful for a school project, as each entry contains detailed biographical information and spans each subject’s life comprehensively. However, most entries read as dry factual summations of her subjects’ often thrilling and vital lives. Although the author does occasionally describe a scene in more detail (Parks’ famous bus ride, for instance), most of the entries are so short that they don’t have time to get into the more idiosyncratic details of these lives and personalities. A more engaging style of writing might have made the chapters’ brevity a less serious problem, but it’s hard to imagine young readers getting drawn into this book. As an educational resource, though, it could prove useful; although much of this information can be found online, teachers and librarians may still find it a handy addition to school libraries.
A well-meaning, thoroughly researched, but ultimately redundant historical survey.