As comprehensive a collection as now exists and one that should be required reading in history and literature courses.

UNSUNG

UNHERALDED NARRATIVES OF AMERICAN SLAVERY & ABOLITION

Wide-ranging anthology of narratives and literary works related to slavery and its abolition in the U.S.

“Focusing on the voices and actions of formerly enslaved Black people and lesser-known abolitionists,” volume editor Commander writes, this collection draws on the holdings of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, where she is a curator. (Kevin Young is the director of the Schomburg and the series editor.) Built on the Schomburg’s extensive archive of African American literature, the anthology incorporates excerpts from rare and little-known documents, among them courtroom testimonials concerning a 1740 “Negro plot” of arson and murder in New York and, 40 years later, an uprising laid at the door of “Denmark Vesey, a free black man,” which resulted in dozens of supposed conspirators being “hung on the Lines.” Other documents contrast the insurrections of John Brown and Nat Turner, the latter of whose fighters, a chronicler wrote, “were humaner than Indians or than white men fighting against Indians—there was no gratuitous outrage beyond the death-blow itself, no insult, no mutilation.” Precipitants of the Civil War, such uprisings and insurrections were far from isolated, though often accompanied by quieter acts of resistance. In 1849, for instance, one brave man shipped himself north from Louisiana to Pennsylvania in a coffinlike box, tossed and tumbled to a freedom that was not complete thanks to the Fugitive Slave Act: “I now stand before you as a free man, but since my arrival among you, I have been informed that your laws require that I should still be held as a slave.” (Fortunately, he escaped to England.) Commander’s well-chosen collection also includes literary works by Black writers such as Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins, who wrote a play of the Underground Railroad excerpted here whose use of dialect (“I doesn’t like to say it, but Ise might ’fraid you’s gwine to lose your gal”) is unusual among the stirring oratory of the earlier abolitionists but that certainly has its place among the dozens of voices here.

As comprehensive a collection as now exists and one that should be required reading in history and literature courses.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313608-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Penguin Classics

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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