This year brings the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and the fiftieth anniversary of the birth of the Black Power era, including the
founding of the Black Panther Party—landmarks explored in three
of these incisivie illustrated volumes, while the fourth showcases the
strong link between poetry and human rights during a time of renewed
calls for equality and justice.
The Black Panthers: Portraits from an Unfinished Revolution.
Ed. by Bryan Shih and Yohuru Williams.
Sept. 2016. 288p. illus. Nation, $24.99 (9781568585550). 322.4.
Founded in Oakland in 1966 by college students Huey Newton
and Bobby Seale, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense established chapters across the country and around the world. Fifty years
later, photojournalist Shih and historian Williams
observe that the party remains “one of the most
misunderstood organizations of the twentieth century.” To dispel this fog, they met with 45 surviving
rank-and-file members, men and women who went
on to become educators, attorneys, elected officials,
and founders of not-for-profit organizations. Each is
present here in striking photographic portraits and
revelatory oral histories. As they share their “hidden
stories,” the essential roles women played become clear, as do the
demands of their social activism, from publishing a newspaper to
opening schools, feeding the hungry, and providing health and legal
assistance. They also recount violent police raids; vicious FBI harassment; the imprisonment, death, and exile of leaders; and the party’s
traumatic self-destruction. Incisive essays provide a larger historical context. Charlotte “Mama C” O’Neal reflects, “It was a modern
Underground Railroad.” Brian Hunter says, “The party helped me
develop into a man of morals and principles.” The Black Panthers’
guiding principle, Jamal Joseph explains, was an “undying love for
the people.” —Donna Seaman
YA: Teens interested in black history, race issues, and social activism
will be fascinated by these candid personal recollections of a now
urgently relevant revolutionary organization. DS.
Black Power 50.
Ed. by Sylviane A. Diouf and Komozi Woodard.
Sept. 2016. 160p. illus. New Press, paper, $24.95 (9781620971482). 323.119.
The entire spectrum of the Black Power movement, from its in-
Dream a World Anew: The African American Experience and
ception 50 years ago through 1975, is freshly defined and analyzed
in this picture-rich companion to a major retrospective exhibition
at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the New
York Public Library. Historian and curator Diouf and history profes-
sor Woodard provide a set of meticulously detailed and complexly
informative essays that elucidate the beliefs, missions, and influ-
ence of the Black Panther Party; Pan-Africanism, including Us, the
group that established Kwanzaa; the original Rainbow Coalition;
and the Black Arts Movement. These in-depth looks are punctu-
ated by “Testimonies” from participants in the movement, including
Black Panthers Ericka Huggins and Kathleen Neal Cleaver, as well
as activists Muhammad Ahmad and José (Cha Cha) Jiménez. Con-
tributors also offer bracing discussions of the impact of the racially
biased criminal-justice system on the Black Power movement, how
the “black is beautiful” affirmation changed fashion, and how diverse
human-rights groups around the world were inspired by this rise of
activism, leading up to today’s Black Lives Matter. A compelling and
invaluable illustrated history. —Donna Seaman
the Shaping of America.
Ed. by Kinshasha Holman Conwill.
Sept. 2016. 288p. illus. Smithsonian, $40 (9781588345684). 973.
History will be made and embraced when the National Museum of
African American History and Culture, a long-in-the-works and crucial
addition to the Smithsonian Institution, opens on the National Mall in
Washington, D.C., in September 2016. This richly researched, clarion,
and visually exciting volume introduces the museum’s encompassing approach to the depth and complexity of the African American experience.
With 275 color illustrations and essays brief and extended by two dozen
scholars and curators, this welcoming overview covers a broad spectrum
of subjects from slavery, emancipation, and desegregation to African
Americans in the military, African American churches and educational
institutions, the black press, “black meccas,” black entrepreneurs, and
African American artists and athletes. As valuable as the cultural perspectives are, the numerous portraits of individuals stand out, such as
enslaved Bridget “Biddy” Mason, who successfully sued for her freedom
and became a millionaire, and once-enslaved Robert Smalls, who became a Civil War Hero and a five-term U.S. congressman. “Helping the
public discover a meaningful past” in order “to understand the present”
is the museum’s mission, and it is splendidly launched by this magnetic,
many-faceted book. —Donna Seaman
YA: This well-illustrated and invitingly designed volume is a superb,
student-friendly introduction to African American history. DS.
Of Poetry & Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin.
Ed. by Philip Cushway and Michael Warr.
2016. 288p. illus. Norton, paper, $21.95 (9780393352733). 811.
“To All Those Who Have Died Because of the Color of Their Skin” is
the dedication to this large and magnetizing poetry anthology inspired
by today’s “new iteration” of the civil rights movement coalesced in
protest against police killings of African American boys and men. Warr,
himself a poet, explains in his introduction that this is an “unapologeti-
cally political” collection showcasing more than 40
living African American poets of “black diversity
and creative individualism,” from Elizabeth Alex-
ander (“Narrative: Ali, a poem in twelve rounds”)
to Al Young (“Blues for Malcolm X”), engaged in
“the transformative work of truth-telling.” Each
poet is present in black-and-white photographs by
Victoria Smith, a reverberating poet’s statement,
and his or her poem appearing on page spreads
so expansive readers can fall headlong into these haunting works of
love, family, community, hate, fear, violence, sorrow, outrage, and de-
termination. This exceptional and powerful gathering includes Rita
Dove, Cornelius Eady, Nikky Finney, Terrance Hayes, Angela Jackson,
Tyehimba Jess, Yusef Komunyakaa, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Haki Mad-
hubuti, Patricia Smith, Natasha Trethewey, and devorah major, who
writes, “i’m not going to carry banners of defeat / and wear shackles of
resignation / i say i want to give thanks for community / that is birth-
ing new freedoms / not burying fresh kill.” —Donna Seaman
YA/M: Teens will be moved and informed by the African American
experiences and emotions explored so creatively in these intense and
relevant poems. DS.
Celebrating African American
History & Culture