BLACK STARS by Stanlee Brimberg


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This undistinguished collective biography of twelve prominent black Americans as different as Harriet Tubman and cowboy Nate Love would have been better appreciated a few years ago before the surge in output of black biographies. But Brimberg, as a white teacher of black children in Bedford Stuyvesant, apparently still sees a need for another easy, moderate ""sampling."" His good-natured liberalism leads to confusion and contradiction even within the same sketch (W. E. B. DuBois ""was from the north. In his town the color of a man's skin was not so important"" -- but shortly afterwards his pre-NAACP convention met in Niagara Falls, Canada because American hotels ""wouldn't let in black people.""). He is consistent though in playing down the militance of his subjects' speeches and positions. DuBois' case against Booker T. Washington's Tomism is summarized as ""If we are to grow the white people must open their hearts to us""; Malcolm X was ""not really"" teaching black people to hate white people as some accused (though his adoption of brotherly love after the Mecca pilgrimage is still represented here as a conversion) and what Malcolm said about the Kennedy assassination was that ""he was not really surprised."" And Brimberg's similar reticence about heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, who was sentenced to a year in jail because his former white girlfriend told police ""that Jack had taken her places even when she didn't want to go"" (""it was not true"") will be mystifying at best. Finally his artificially fictionalized style -- with entries beginning ""Now look here boy, you got to eat"" (Frederick Douglass), ""Little Booker was tired that winter moming"" and ""Billie's mother cried, 'Don't put my little gift away, Judge. She's only ten. Please, Judge. I'm begging you'"" -- insures that though this might be a convenient tool for other teachers like Brimberg it makes at best a minimal contribution.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1974
Publisher: Dodd, Mead