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Find more Top 10 Black History Nonfiction
The 10 best-reviewed black history nonfiction books between February 15, 2008, and January 1 & 15, 2009, cover half-a-millennium of history and an even larger span of achievement.
The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood. By Ta-Nehisi Coates. 2008. Spiegel & Grau, $22.95 (9780385520362); paper, $14 (9780385527460).
Coates grew up in a tough Baltimore neighborhood, but his father kept his sons on the right path with the Knowledge, beginning with the need to confront and beat fears and bullies to live in peace.
Crossing the Continent, 1527–1540: The Story of the First African-American Explorer of the American South. By Robert Goodwin. 2008. HarperCollins, $25.95 (9780061140440).
The story of enslaved explorer Esteban Dorantes is also concerned with the writing of history, for why did someone so prominent in Spanish exploration from Florida to California go unrecognized for centuries?
Freedom’s Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers. By Richard S. Newman. 2008. NYU, $34.95 (9780814758267).
Colonial slave Richard Allen bought his freedom and eventually founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Championing abolition, racial uplift, and immigration to Haiti and Africa, he prepared the ground for modern black nationalism.
Hard Driving: The Wendell Scott Story; The American Odyssey of NASCAR’s First Black Driver. By Brian Donovan. 2008. Steerforth, $25.95 (9781586421441).
Like other early-1950s stock-car racers, Wendell Scott was a poor boy averse to mill, mine, and farm work who had driven moonshine around a bit. But he broke the color line in his sport alone.
The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. By Annette Gordon-Reed. 2008. Norton, $35 (9780393064773).
The sequel to Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings (1997) powerfully limns the African American family whose labors helped make Monticello a font of American culture, despite biracial relationships that immensely complicated everyday life.
Ida: A Sword among Lions; Ida B. Wells and the Campaign against Lynching. By Paula J. Giddings. 2008. HarperCollins/Amistad, $35 (0-06-051921-5); paper, $19.99 (9780060797362).
Journalist Wells, not always celebrated by contemporaries because of her difficult personality, crusaded against lynching, not least by revealing the connection between racism and sexuality.
In Search of Our Roots: How 19 Extraordinary African Americans Reclaimed Their Past. By Henry Louis Gates Jr. 2009. Crown, $27.50 (9780307382405).
In this PBS series companion, Gates details the long, arduous efforts that the disruption of the Middle Passage and the secrets of race-mixing required of researchers tracing the genealogies of 19 prominent African Americans.
Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist. By Nancy Goldstein. 2008. Univ. of Michigan, $35 (9780472116249).
Goldstein’s exciting profile of the glamorous activist who entertained, inspired, and provoked mid-twentieth-century black-newspaper readers with her unique female characters includes an excellent selection of her cartoons.
The Scurlock Studio and Black Washington: Picturing the Promise. Ed. by Paul Gardullo and others. 2009. Smithsonian, $35 (9781588342621).
Addison Scurlock’s photography studio opened in 1911 and pictorially chronicled Washington, D.C.’s black community into the 1990s. Showcasing more than 100 images, this is a proud celebration, indeed.
The Slaves’ War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves. By Andrew Ward. 2008. Houghton, $28 (0-618-63400-2).
Presenting testimonials, diaries, and letters in chronology, Ward conveys the experiences and attitudes of slaves who endured the Civil War from before hostilities commenced to the aftermath of Appomattox.
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