Books for Black History (part 1) The Publisher’s Bookshelf

February 26, 2014

By Lynda Jackson Conyers
Publisher for the Milwaukee Times

Our history is a rich one, filled with individuals who were pioneers, movers and shakers, leaders, and rebels. During the month of Black History we focus on those that fought for civil rights or were pioneers as black first this or that. There are those though with deep and rich stories that help shaped black history and are influencers to this day. Here are four books on amazing men for Black History month or any time of the year.


Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues

By Elijah Wald
HarperCollins, Jan 6, 2004
Biography & Autobiography
342 pages
Robert Johnson’s story presents a fascinating paradox: Why did this genius of the Delta blues excite so little interest when his records were first released in the 1930s? And how did this brilliant but obscure musician come to be hailed long after his death as the most important artist in early blues and a founding father of rock ‘n’ roll?
Elijah Wald provides the first thorough examination of Johnson’s work and makes it the centerpiece for a fresh look at the entire history of the blues. He traces the music’s rural folk roots but focuses on its evolution as a hot, hip African-American pop style, placing the great blues stars in their proper place as innovative popular artists during one of the most exciting periods in American music. He then goes on to explore how the image of the blues was reshaped by a world of generally white fans, with very different standards and dreams.
The result is a view of the blues from the inside, based not only on recordings but also on the recollections of the musicians themselves, the African American press, and original research. Wald presents previously unpublished studies of what people on Delta plantations were actually listening to during the blues era, showing the larger world in which Johnson’s music was conceived. What emerges is a new respect and appreciation for the creators of what many consider to be America’s deepest and most influential music.

n-bxuXGSuXgCStepin Fetchit: The Life & Times of Lincoln Perry
By Mel Watkins
Random House, Nov. 14, 2006
Biography & Autobiography
368 pages
In the late 1920s and ’30s Lincoln Perry, aka Stepin Fetchit, was both renowned and reviled for his surrealistic portrayals of the era’s most popular comic stereotype–the lazy, shiftless Negro. Perry was hailed by critic Robert Benchley as “the best actor that the talking movies have produced,” and Mel Watkins’s meticulously researched and sensitive biography reveals the paradoxes of this pioneering actor’s life, from Perry’s tremendous popularity to his money troubles and rowdy offscreen antics. As later generations come to recognize Perry’s prodigious talent and achievements, in Stepin Fetchit, Mel Watkins brilliantly and definitively illuminates the life and times of a legendary figure in American entertainment.




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Black Titan
By Carol Jenkins, Elizabeth Gardner Hines
Random House LLC,
Apr 2, 2009
Biography & Autobiography
336 pages
The grandson of slaves, born into poverty in 1892 in the Deep South, A. G. Gaston died more than a century later with a fortune worth well over $130 million and a business empire spanning communications, real estate, and insurance. Gaston was, by any measure, a heroic figure whose wealth and influence bore comparison to J. P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie. Here, for the first time, is the story of the life of this extraordinary pioneer, told by his niece and grandniece, the award-winning television journalist Carol Jenkins and her daughter Elizabeth Gardner Hines.
Combining rich family lore with a deep knowledge of American social and economic history, Carol Jenkins and Elizabeth Hines unfold Gaston’s success story against the backdrop of a century of crushing racial hatred and bigotry. Gaston not only survived the hardships of being black during the Depression, he flourished, and by the 1950s he was ruling a Birmingham-based business empire. When the movement for civil rights swept through the South in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Gaston provided critical financial support to many activists.


The Negro Baseball Leagues, 1867-1955:
A Photographic History
By Phil Dixon and
Patrick J. Hannigan
Amereon House, Jun 1, 1992
Sports & Recreation
329 pages
More than a decade of research went into the making of this coffee table-style book. The first comprehensive history of black baseball, it follows Simpson Younger, the first Black to play college baseball, to Jackie Robinson breaking the Major Leagues’ color barrier after World War II and the subsequent death of the Negro Leagues in the mid-1950s. There’s a lot of little-known history along the way. The great players, like Smokey Joe Williams, who once struck out 27 batters in a 10-inning game and was the pitcher Satchel Paige said he admired most. Cool Papa Bell, so fast it was said he could “turn out the light and get in bed before the room got dark”; and Rube Foster, regarded as the father of the Negro Leagues, whose pitching prowess was matched only by his managerial and organizational skills. Then there are the great teams — the Kansas City Monarchs, who pioneered night games through the use of a portable lighting system; the Pittsburgh Crawfords featuring Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, the slugging catcher, in the 1930s; the Chicago Giants were led by Rube Foster, both on the mound and At The Helm. Winner Of The Spitball Magazine’s Casey Award; One Of The Best Sports Books Of 1992 By The Sporting News: Best Research 1992 By USA Today’s Baseball Weekly.

Continued next week: