America, the diverse, the able—John Wideman has brought together the greatest of the great of African American authors from our nation’s infancy up to the beginning of the last century. 1,270 pages of biographical essays and poetry, written by the very men and women who they are about. The list stretches from Richard Allen (1760-1831) to Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) and includes Phillis Wheatley, Jarena Lee, Olaudah Equiano, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Nat Love, Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. DuBois, and James Weldon Johnson.
It is a glimpse through a clear glass—a direct link to the past—a ticket to a time much darker than now, but still filled with the hopes and dreams of the special people who built their country into what it is now. Each essay, many of them originally published by the authors in a time when it was illegal for slaves in the United States of America to read and write, gives the reader a feeling of what the author went through, endured—the happiness of life’s richness, and the torments of its shortcomings—and felt themselves.
The diverseness of the writing itself is something to be marveled at.
The kidnapping of Olaudah Equiano from Africa and his sea voyages throughout his life, the religious exertions of Richard Allen—a very prominent black preacher in his time—and of Phillis Wheatley. The hardships of being a mother and a slave—Sojourner Truth—the cowboy—Nat Love—and the intellectual who formed one of the greatest African American institutions in the form of The Tuskegee Institute—Booker T. Washington.
Their lives and many others were formed of hard work, sweat, and more often than not—blood. Their testimonials to what it means to be a slave in the land of the free are priceless pieces of literature. And those who were not slaves, but still endured the hardships of a racist climate give justice to the fact that America is what you make it.
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