Monday, May 19, 2014

Book Review: Discovering Black America

Discovering Black America: From the Age of Exploration to the Twenty-first Century, Linda Tarrant-Reid, Abrams Books for Young Readers, New York, 2012.
This book starts out very well, but I don’t care for where it ends.  It tells the story of Black Americans from the beginning of European contact with the New World.  It starts with black included in the exploration of America, such as with Cortez or Pizarro, and then gives a history of slavery in the New World.  It talks about blacks who performed in the Revolutionary war, including as spies or regular soldiers.  This was one path to freedom, as those who served were given their freedom. 
It gives a history of those who escaped to freedom, and many who returned and helped others.  It gives a brief history of the Civil War, and emancipation.  Frederick Douglas and other escaped slaves took up the casue of abolition.  Much of the anger of the draft riots in New York was expressed against African Americans, and many perished.  Even more so, a very large percentage of Blacks actually served in the war.  Some African women helped as spies. 
Initially, right after the Civil War, reconstruction took into account the needs of the African American.  There were some who served in public office.  However, as Jim Crow laws began to take effect, we entered one of the darkest times in American history.  Racism is never right, but we went through a period of institutionalized racism with the concept of separate but equal.  Of course it was not equal.  Along with this was the limitation of voting rights through various means including literacy tests etc. 
Although willing to fight, the African American community was very limited in their contribution during WWI.  WWII saw the same discrimination in the military.  However there was progress.  One of my favorite stories is that of Dorie Miller, a sailor who was confined to being a cook because of his race, but on the day of Pearl Harbor commandeered a machine gun, and with that gun downed three enemy aircraft. 
The story of the Tuskegee airmen is another story of overcoming racial suppression during WWII.  These men were able to overcome everyone trying to make sure they would fail.  They were able to provide a great service in the war.
After WWII, civil rights were still an issue for African Americans.  The 60s were a troubled time, but slowly people began to see things differently, and many African Americans and a few white people stood up for equal rights.  Marin Luther King and Malcolm X were prominent in this effort.  They had different methods, but both were successful.  Both were assassinated. 
This book refers to the election of President Obama.  It almost gives the feel that only those who were able to put off racism voted for Obama.  In doesn’t talk about basic philosophical differences which have nothing to do with race.  “Some observers regarded the election of Obama as evidence that most American voters are now more influenced by a candidate’s political platform than by his or her racial identity.”  I am not sure if that statement is true.  Many voted for Obama because he is black, not because of his platform.
I enjoyed this history book, which gives a different perspective.  The book throws in a genealogy chapter at the end, which didn’t seem to fit with the story.  My thoughts is the first of the b ook is great, but the end is only so-so.

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