Looking at African American History: 1513–2008

Henry Louis Gates Jr, Author
Henry Louis Gates Jr. Knopf, $50 (416p) ISBN 978-0-307-59342-9
Paperback - 487 pages - 978-0-307-47685-2
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With nearly 900 illustrations (formal portraits, news photos, historic lithographs, broadsides, flyers, posters, newspaper clippings, advertisements) complemented by a succinct but informing text, Harvard professor Gates (Black in Latin America) provides a visual sojourn through African-American history, a generally upbeat march from Juan Garrido, accompanying Cortés in 1519, to Barack Obama taking the presidential oath in 2008. Gathered in this chronologically arranged compendium, with its focus on the accomplishments and moments of achievement in the African-American community, is a wealth of materials about the historical, political, social, literary, and scientific events influencing American social and political culture. Scant attention is paid to the oft-told tale of plantation slavery, although the devastations wrought upon the African-American community are not neglected: “the infamous Middle Passage,” Fort Pillow massacre, the convict lease system, the Tulsa race riot, the Tuskegee syphilis study, the police attack on the Selma marchers, Hurricane Katrina. The familiar and famous are in Gates’s encyclopedic reach, but so are the less known and nearly forgotten. (How hard it is today to imagine that a 1950 photograph of Billy Eckstein with “white female fans” could be “revolutionary.”) “Although we cannot change the past,” Gates observes in one entry, “we can change how we remember it.” In this sumptuous volume, Gates assembles an affirming, illuminating, and needed tribute. (Nov.)
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