A history by scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. surveys black life in America through photos and essays ranging from the slave trade to the importance of hip-hop.
Coffee-table books are supposed to be heavy, on photos and in pounds. This latest history of black life in America by Henry Louis Gates Jr. is both, with more than 750 photos on nearly 500 pages.
But it offers something more: The distinguished Harvard University professor packs intellectual heft around the pictures. His book updates black history with recent scholarly research, from detailed estimates of the human cargo during the Atlantic slave trade to the DNA test proving almost conclusively that Thomas Jefferson fathered at least one child by his slave Sally Hemings. Interpretive gems are sprinkled throughout.
Besides cataloging achievements, Gates traces the evolution of black thought, activism, and culture, particularly literature and music. The TV dance show Soul Train, he writes, “shaped the tastes of popular American culture in a way that no single program has done before or since.”
Gates makes a grander claim about hip-hop music: “With the exception of the Internet, hip-hop is arguably the most important cultural phenomenon in the world over the past thirty years” because “it has manifestations on every continent and in virtually every country in the world.”
His introduction extols “the sheer diversity of African American expression throughout our nation’s history – how there has never been only one way to be black, religiously, politically, socially, artistically, professionally, sexually, or socially.”
This perspective has grown popular since the national emergence of President Obama, the biracial Hawaiian who both surfs and plays hoops and had no ancestors enslaved “upon these shores.”
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer | Kenneth J. Cooper