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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Quite Frankly, We Would Love Your Support!

This blog is a companion to BlackPast.org, and is another tool to explore and appreciate all the information on the website. The blog offers an opportunity to see how the reference material, insights, and opinions of the website can relate to other contexts. BlackPast.org has been a fulfilling experience and a labor of love of all the many volunteers and staff who have contributed. Even though the website relies heavily on the goodwill of its volunteers, cold, hard cash is still necessary to maintain and improve the site. Below is the Official BlackPast.org Fact Sheet, compiled by Quintard Taylor, the Scott and Dorothy Bullitt Professor of American History at the University of Washington, Seattle.  I am hoping that once you have read through it, you will consider making a donation to this very valuable 501(c)3. Thanks.

The future:school children who will benefit from BlackPast.org
BlackPast.org (www.blackpast.org), founded on February 1, 2007, is broadly conceived to provide reference information on people of African ancestry in the United States and around the world. BlackPast.org is supported by a volunteer staff of twelve and nearly 500 volunteer contributors from six continents.  The website has more than 10,000 pages and is free and ungated.  New features are added regularly. 

BlackPast.org includes:
1)      An online encyclopedia featuring nearly 3,000 entries which describe people, places and events in African American History, African American History in the West, and global African history. 
2)      The complete text of more than 300 speeches by African Americans and other people of African ancestry from 1789 to 2009. 
3)      More than 120 full text Primary Documents—court decisions, laws, organizational statements, treaties, government reports and executive orders.
4)      Nine major timelines that show the history of people of African ancestry from five million B.C.E. to today. 
5)      Nine bibliographies listing more than 5,000 major books categorized by author, title, subject, and date of publication.   
6)      Six “Gateway” Pages with links to digital archive collections, African and African American museums and research centers, genealogical research websites and more than 200 other website resources on African American History, African American History in the West, and global African history.
7)      Perspectives Online Magazine which features commentary of important but little known events in black history often written by the individuals who participated in or witnessed them.  To date more than 100 articles have appeared.           
8)      Special Features include The Blog Roll, TheBarack Obama Page, Major Black Officeholders since 1641, The Black National Anthem, 101 African American Firsts, the LGBTQ page, By the Numbers and links to all of the major newspapers, magazines, and journals of African America, Africa, and the West Indies.
BlackPast.org Website Statistics:

Total Visits for 2007 (First year)
455,963
Total Visits for 2009
 1,982,442
Total Visits for 2011
2,870,568

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Woman Who Unwittingly Made & Affected History

Henrietta Lacks. She was living just an ordinary life when the seemingly ordinary event of illness had extraordinary results that would forever change science and cancer research.

Henrietta Lacks
Dr. Clarence Spigner has written a powerful essay for BlackPast.org entitled Henrietta Lacks and the Debate Over Ethics in Bio-medical Research. Dr. Spigner's essay provides an overview of Mrs. Lacks' life, the treatment of her cancer, and the subsequent cancer research based on the cancerous cells taken from her body at the time of diagnosis. The importance of her cancerous cells became apparent when, unlike other failed attempts at propagating cells for research, her cells (called HeLa cells) not only lived, but self-propagated at an extraordinary rate. The journalist Rebecca Skloot's work "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew." (excerpted from the website of Rebecca Skloot, referenced above). To purchase a copy of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, click on the book title and you will support BlackPast.org (thank you!). Ms. Skloot has made efforts to assist the family of Henrietta Lacks. Information on the family may be found at The Henrietta Lacks Foundation and also The Lacks Family website.

Addendum: The New York Times published an opinion piece by Rebecca Skloot on Sunday March 24 2013 on the continuing issues with donor and family consent. To read this piece, click on this link.

HeLa cells dividing
HeLa cells showing other diseases
Interest in Henrietta Lacks as a person and as an object lesson in the importance of ethical research,  has not diminished  over time. Her cells continue to be used in research. One of the researchers, Dr. Paul Andrews, University of Dundee in Scotland, has taken amazing photos of HeLa cells, including the one at the left. Many other researchers have taken photos such as the one above right.
Further attestation to the enduring legacy of Henrietta Lacks is the establishment of a new high school in Vancouver, Washington: the Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School!
Henrietta Lacks Health & Bioscience High School


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Lincoln: the man, the movie, the rest of us

President Abraham Lincoln
The recent release of Steven Spielberg's movie  Lincoln, has engendered renewed interest in the 16th President of the United States and the issues of slavery and race and the ongoing impact of the Civil War on our civic life today. The film is based on the book by Doris Kearns Goodwin: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, and its focus is the drama surrounding adoption of The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and its subsequent grouping with related amendments that became known as The Reconstruction Amendments.

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley
The film brings to light major players (e.g. Thad Stevens) and minor characters (e.g. Charles Sumner), highlighting the geographic, socioeconomic, and racial tensions in the country. Two people central to this drama are Mary Todd Lincoln and her companion Elizabeth Keckley (a link to Keckley's book can be found here) and their importance/influence in Lincoln's life.

A reading of three speeches over a four year period highlights the nature of these divisions and elucidates Lincoln's clear and profound thinking vs the contorted thought process of those opposed to acknowledging the common and equal humanity of all people: Alexander Stephens's Cornerstone Speech; Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation; and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address.

Here are some more links to websites which offer information and ideas for exploration in various contexts: Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and information from the White House archives.

Lincoln the movie
Historical dramas can be excellent teaching tools and a jumping off point for further reading and conversation. To continue exploring this topic with others who have seen the movie, visit LincolnMovie on Facebook.

A great number of novels have been written about the Civil War, not all of equal quality and value. Four choices to set people thinking are: Black Flower by Howard Bahr; March by Geraldine Brooks; The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara ; and Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks. A work of non-fiction sure to raise questions is America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation by David Goldfield. Any of these books may be purchased through this link here and BlackPast.org will benefit.

And finally, for a stunning collection of photographs of African Americans who fought in the Civil War (below), see a story about Ronald Coddington's book African American Faces of the Civil War, An Album at  this link here.
John & Isaiah Owens of the 60th U.S.Colored Infantry



Monday, November 26, 2012

#GivingTuesday: what it is, what it means

Thoughtful  community activists hatched the idea that after Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the people need an antidote! That was the impetus for #GivingTuesday, November 27th, a day for people, businesses, groups to give their time, treasure, and attention to people in need, ideas to be explored, conversations to be had on dealing with thorny problems in our communities. There are opportunities and suggestions at the link above for ways to share and learn.

There are people in dire straights in our neighborhoods, cities, counties, states and around the world. It is perfectly logical to focus mainly on our own communities, but there is much to learn and ways to be involved with those outside our borders.

Helping hands
Humanitarian crises are a disaster for those in them and overwhelming to contemplate for those outside them. It is so tempting to turn away and say "it is not our problem" or "I don't know who or how to help". A first step is information gathering on different issues, finding a connection or interest in a particular place, problem, or group. A first stop in information gathering may be the UNHCR, The UN's Refugee Agency.  A list of current crisis areas (Sudan, Congo, Syria to name three) are catalogued and described with how to be involved links. Doctors Without Borders provides information on their work sites.

While some organizations are geared to providing food, shelter, and medical assistance, others are issues oriented. One issue that is currently on the minds of many people, is the life-and-death situation for gays and lesbians in Africa in general and Uganda in particular. To read an overview of what this legislation would do, please click here and here. The non-profit organization vey active is this area is Avaaz: for what to know and how to help, click on the link. Also check the post on this blog dated October 15th.

Censorship, detention, and death are often the consequences facing journalists who dare to confront power with truth. To learn more about these brave people, click here. In many communities, women who speak out are punished; to learn more about this subject and others, click here.

The first most important step in working on these problems is to learn about them and share the information with friends and neighbors.

And lastly, BlackPast.org is a 501 (c) 3 and would also appreciate consideration of your support! Thank you.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Books and Art: Beauty, Heritage, Posterity

Reading and books: the gifts of a lifetime. Art: creating and viewing are not passive activities, they hold, store, and explain the past and the present.

Portrait of an African Slave Woman, ~1580, attr. to Annibale Carracci
Portrait of a Wealthy African, ~1540, Flemish or German
The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore currently has an exhibit titled Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe.There are sculptures, cameos, drawings, and paintings, including this one on the left, that show African people of all walks of life interacting with peers, servants, and masters in Europe.The book accompanying this exhibit is excellent and can be found at this link here.

Holland Cotter, art critic for the New York Times, has an abiding interest in African art. He recently reviewed three books published just in time for the holiday season. The fourth volume in the series The Image of the Black in Western Art, edited by David Bindman and Henry Louis Gates Jr.: this series is available for purchase: if the reader wishes to purchase it through this link, BlackPast.org will receive six percent of the purchase price.The second book reviewed by him is based on the exhibit at the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution called African Cosmos:Stellar Arts. And finally, the catalogue for the exhibit In Extremis:Death and Life in 21st Century Haitian Art at UCLA's Fowler Museum will provide a basis for plenty of thought and discussion. Both the above books are also available through this link.

And, of course, the children should not be neglected! A thorough selection is available for children and youth at this link and also here.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Legendary Classical Musician of African Descent

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, 1905
This past September 2012 marked the centenary anniversary of the death of the Black English musician Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Professor Coleridge-Taylor was celebrated in his short (37 years) life as a composer, conductor, teacher, and adjudicator. Early in his career, he met the African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and became very interested in exploring African history through music. One of his most popular and famous works was Hiawatha's Wedding Feast. His compositions numbered more than 85 pieces.

If you missed these events, there are 26 videos listed at this site of performances of his works as well as this one above.

During the fall of 2012 there have been commemoration concerts held at Harvard, Virginia State University, The Moores School of Music, and the University of Houston, amongst other places.

The links at the top of the page provide references to articles, biographies, musical notes, and historical contexts about this important and fascinating man.

And, during the 2012-13 operatic season, New Orleans' Opera Creole is also celebrating the Centenary with several performances.
Scene from the opera Thelma performed by the Opera Creole

Monday, October 29, 2012

Food: Life, Art, Culture, Science

What we eat, how we eat, and who we eat with, reflects and refracts history, current affairs, the personal and the political. As the holiday season approaches, with all the focus on food that it brings, contemplating the nature of food and the larger role it plays beyond basic survival may provide some interesting conversation at the dinner table.

African American chefs, food historians, and heritage gardeners have long extolled the importance of understanding not only where the foods one purchases today come from, but also the culinary history of African Americans. It is a rich history shaped by place of origin, travails of enslavement, and cultivating the soils in the new land.

George Washington Carver, agronomist and scientist, laid the groundwork allowing today's food historians and chefs to embrace and share this rich food heritage.  Carver was an early promoter of helping black farmers better understand their land and crops to give them greater economic power, knowledge, and control of their resources.

Burgundy okra
Edna Lewis was a seminal figure in the food landscape of the 20th century. She was a ground breaker as a female chef, a black female chef no less, as she fed New Yorkers simple, elegant Southern cooking. Her legacy is the creation of the Edna Lewis Foundation dedicated to "honor, cultivate, and preserve, the rich African-American culinary history by offering a variety of events and programs designed to educate, inspire, entertain, and promote a deeper understanding of Southern culinary culture and heritage." And as importantly, to educate, train, and mentor young African American chefs.

There currently are a number of black chefs whose restaurants and books have made an impact on American food enthusiasts. These include  Marcus Samuelsson in New York; Wayne Johnson and   Daisley Gordon in Seattle. There have been awards and ceremonies celebrating black chefs, including black chefs of the White House.

And last, but not least, there is you, dear reader. If guidance and inspiration is needed, check out Black America Cooks for ideas about cookbooks celebrating African American cooking, dishes new to you, and what other food enthusiasts are thinking about. And, if you want to go back to primary sources, here is a link to a discussion of the first African American Cookbook (1866!) by Mrs. Malinda Russell. Fifteen years after Mrs. Russell published her book, Mrs. Abby Fisher, an ex-slave, published "What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Southern Cooking". She subsequently started a catering business in San Francisco. Have any family stories about particular recipes, food events, vegetable gardening?.....post a comment!

Monday, October 15, 2012

We are Them, They are Us.

In early October, BlackPast.org launched, with support from the Pride Foundation, a new section on the history of African Americans and people of African descent in other parts of the world who are LGBTQ (Lesbian,Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Queer). This is a major milestone in affirming the rights and humanity of all. It is unfortunate that all LGBTQ people do not find this support from their fellow citizens. To understand just what peril so many people face who just want to live their lives in peace with those they love, this map of Africa is an eye-opener.

Same-sex sexual activity legal
  Same-sex marriage recognized
  Other type of partnership (or unregistered cohabitation) recognized
  Foreign same-sex marriages recognized
  No recognition of same-sex couples
Same-sex sexual activity illegal
  Penalty
  Life in prison
  Death penalty
(to see a breakdown by country of this data, go to this link here)
 There is a rich history in literature and the arts by and about LGBTQ African Americans and Africans in the diaspora. Many of these are found at this link on BlackPast.org
An excellent place start reading is Shade: An Anthology of Fiction by Gay Men of African Descent
A second choice is Black Like Us: A Century of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual African American Fiction
For another list of fiction and contextual description, check here.
And finally, a moment of silence for all those hounded to misery and death by hate and ignorance.
Two references appeared in the news today (months after this post appeared) that will give the reader some more current information. The first link is to a series of articles in allAfrica.com, the online news service.  The second article was in the Seattle Times reporting the fine line US diplomats and President Obama have to tread when promoting gay rights in African nations.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Meditation on the Anniversary

September 11 2001. There is little new to be said, there is much to left to ponder. That terrible day was an equal opportunity story of horror, loss, and bravery. The world lost many of its citizens. The world gained new heroes, many who became victims themselves, as they tried to help their fellow humans. There are personal and public memorials attesting to the lives lost. Putting a name or a face on one individual and honoring that person in the name of those lost allows each of us to recognize that tragedy has a name, a family, a country.

Cote d'Ivoire
Democratic Republic of Congo
Ethiopia
Ghana
South Africa
There were 2,977 casualties from the four planes, the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon. More that 90 countries lost citizens. Of those, six countries were in Africa: Cote d'Ivoire (1person), Democratic Republic of Congo (2 people), Ethiopia (3 people), Ghana (2 people), Nigeria (1 person), and South Africa (2 people).

Nigeria
 One of the victim/heroes of that terrible day was a young Nigerian man, Godwin Ajala. Mr. Ajala, a lawyer in Nigeria, had emigrated to New York in 1995 in the hopes of becoming a US-trained lawyer. Passing the New York bar is very difficult by any account, let alone for a person who has not been trained in a US law school. Mr. Ajala was not to be deterred! He studied nights and was a security guard by day, at the World Trade Towers. On that fateful day, he could have left when the Towers were hit. Instead, he gave assistance to his fellow humans and attempted to get them to safety. The world lost an honorable man.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Labor Day: Summer's Last Hurrah

Autumn does not start officially until September 22nd. Traditionally, families and friends gather for one last big barbeque, family reunion, or day on the beach over the Labor Day weekend, and this signifies the end of summer. It was not that long ago, that a day at the beach for African Americans was as fraught as the back of the bus, the lunch counter, the road trip that required so much planning because so few hospitality facilities were available.

Idlewild Resort, Michigan
Starting in the 1890's, one solution to the "beach problem" was the development of resorts for African American families and the creation of public beaches by successful black entrepreneurs. As always, the poor had to just make do in most places. But for those of means or who were able to plan and make the trip, these resorts and beaches were major holiday destinations. Many of these resorts began to fall on hard times as desegregation offered black families more choices in where vacations could be taken. But until then, they were very successful. Watch a video here called A Place of Our Own: Black Resorts and the African American.

American Beach, Florida
There were at least thirteen beaches and resorts of note. These were Idlewild on the shores of Lake Michigan; Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts; Highland Beach, Maryland; American Beach, Florida; Pacific Beach Club, Los Angeles, California; Gulfside Assembly, Waveland, Mississippi; Freeman Beach, Wilmington, North Carolina; Sag Harbor, New York; Bruce's Beach, near Los Angeles, California; Buckroe Beach, Bay Shore, and Mark Haven, Virginia (click here for information on the previous six listings); and lastly, Lincoln Hills Country Club with the famous Winks Lodge in Colorado.

Highland Beach, Maryland
Each of these resorts has a unique history and starting point. Idlewild was started by two white couples from Chicago who saw a need and a business opportunity. Highland Beach was started by descendents of Frederick Douglass. American Beach was founded by Florida’s "first black millionaire, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, and his Afro-American Life Insurance Company". Famous entertainers, business people, intellectuals, and members of the working class all spent time at these resorts. The links throughout this post contain a wealth of information.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Graveyards Speak

Knowledge about our history, about our past, can show up in the oddest places and under the strangest circumstances. People trace and record their family history through found documents, government records, photos, and other memorabilia. More and more genealogical data bases are being constructed and added to. Be sure to check the resources at BlackPast.org when beginning a family genealogy search or for refining research already underway. And also check out this genealogy website for more information regarding descendents of the single largest manumission in U.S history until the Civil War: Robert Carter III manumitted 500 slaves on his plantation in 1791.

Graveyards can be tremendous repositories (pun intended!) if they can be found. The New York Times reported in May, 2012 that Walmart planned to build a new store in Florence, Alabama. The building site was situated next to a family cemetery where the grave markers for the white family were apparent but there were no markers for the slaves who had worked for the family. The concern was that the building would be over the graves of the slaves. Read the article to find out how the community rallied, how the City Council made decisions, how Walmart tried to do the right thing.

There have been many such instances of discovering graveyards covered by history and almost forgotten.
African Burial Ground Monument, NYC
Slave cemetery, cotton plantation, Florida
Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Roslyn, Washington
 From New York City's African Burial Ground (the African Burial Ground Monument is worth a visit to Lower Manhattan) to Virginia, all the way to slave cemeteries in Florida, back up to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, then all the way over to Roslyn, Washington where Mount Olivet Cemetery, also known as the Old Black Cemetery, can be found.

 The Chicora Foundation has assembled information on the history of African American cemeteries in the Carolinas. For more information related to cemeteries and segregation, be sure to check out this link at BlackPast.org. National Public Radio (NPR) is running a series called Dead Stop and recently featured Lincoln Cemetery in Montgomery, Alabama which had been established in 1907 for African Americans and had fallen on hard times. Again, community involvement and a sense of saving and understanding the past inorder to move forward into the future, makes for an interesting story.

Monday, August 13, 2012

NASA and the Legacy of Eminent Black Scientists and Engineers

This summer marks another milestone in NASA’s Mars exploration efforts: the landing of the Curiosity Rover. Space craft, space stations, and the astronauts who operate and populate them are the newsflash and news splash people love to read about. Astronauts Mae Jemison, Michael Anderson, Frederick Gregory, Ronald McNair have thrilled many a school child with dreams of space.  The forerunners of these astronauts are the black aviators, whose courage and daring can be read about in these two books by Von Hardesty.
from the book Black Wings
But, none of this would have been possible without the years of dedication, experimentation, and problem-solving by the ‘worker bee brains’ behind the public face of NASA. 

Several years ago, Mae Jemison narrated an audio documentary called Race and the Space Race (the link takes you to the transcript, but you can listen to it by clicking on the title) produced by Richard Paul as part of a larger project called Cape Cosmos: be sure to explore the personal interviews within that site of many of the people mentioned below. A download of those documents may be found here. Jemison explains that the Space Age and the Civil Rights Movement became entwined when NASA chose to “base itself in the heart of the Old Confederacy”, Houston, Huntsville, Cape Canaveral, and therefore became a mirror of social change in America. 

Dr. George Carruthers
The key players in this story who broke the color barrier are Julius Montgomery (the second African American hired at Cape Canaveral and who was involved in building circuits and dealing with missiles and rockets that misfired), Otis King, Theodis Ray, Dr. Frank Crossley, Morgan Watson.  Interviews with Morgan Watson (the first African American engineer at NASA, who worked on heat transfer in rocket engines and helped design the heat shield that protected the liquified oxygen fuel from the heat of the escaping gases) and George Carruthers (who invented the first ultraviolet camera) can be heard and seen here, just click on the Interview tab. Jemison’s conversations with these scientists and engineers covers how they were recruited, the obstacles to promotion they faced, the initial social isolation, and the learning curve both they and NASA had to tackle to make the program and their involvement work. One of the ‘duh/light bulb’ moments occurred when one of the NASA administrators tried to understand why the African American scientists never attended the career development workshops. These seminars were held in hotel conference rooms, these hotels were segregated!
Mary Winton Jackson,1921-2005
Other prominent scientists were Emmett Chappelle (information about his inventions and his NASA career can be found at the linked words); Shelby Jacobs; and Mary Winston Jackson, an early "computer" at NASA, as women mathematicians were called in the 1960s.

And the next frontier? The obvious segue here is to go from someone whose mathematical skills were such that she was called a computer to those pioneering African Americans who are working as software engineers with computers. The torch has been literally passed from Mary Jackson to Trish Millines Dziko first African American woman employed at Microsoft as a software engineer. But, that is a post for another time: stay tuned!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Thinking of Travel: Armchair and Otherwise


There are many reasons to travel. Two of them are relaxation and education. Many people plan trips to countries and/or cultures of origin; trips within their own country to learn about the lives and histories of family and friends; visits to museums and other cultural institutions. If physical travel is not an option, there is much to recommend the practice of armchair exploration through books, both fiction and non-fiction. 

Margaret Busby
Can’t decide where to start? Pick up a copy of Margaret Busby’s magnificent compendium, Daughters of Africa  An International  Anthology of Words and Writing by Women of African Descent from the Ancient Egyptian to the Present: reading an excerpt from any one of these women, from any place in the world, will be a jumping off place for adventurous travel! Pick a place, pick a time period, and you’re off! 

Traveling in the United States and Canada: the Black Museum page at BlackPast.org is a great resource. The museums are organized by state, making trip planning easier. BlackPast.org also has a Bibliography of 101 African American  novels. There are sure to be inspirations for exploration and travel on this list. These books help create a context and sense of place and people that adds richness to information found in the museums. The website Discover Black America  has current listings for events, exhibitions, tours, restaurants, as well as listings for Black Colleges: visiting colleges is a great organizing principle for a family vacation. Be sure to check out photographer Dawoud Bey’s retrospective Portraits of 1970s Harlem currently showing at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Seeking travel to lost worlds and  back in time? Check out, Once Upon A Time When We Were Colored by Clifton L.Taulbert, about life in small town Mississippi when segregation meant a town was either black or white. Three books by Edward P. Jones, Lost in the City, The Known World, and Aunt Hagar’s Children are stunning in their descriptions of urban life in Washington, D.C. and a fictional county in Virginia during slavery.  

From When London Was Capital of America
 For a different slice of early American life, read When London Was Capital of America by Julie Flavel. Prior to the American Revolution, wealthy plantation owners took their families and slaves off to London for…shopping trips and other forms of cultural enrichment! These visits lasted three months or more. A portion of the book deals with one of these slaves, Scipio, who renamed himself Robert Laurens and ended up staying in London, feeling comfortably at home in a place with the 15,000 other black inhabitants.

Gullah basket, South Carolina
Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God  are good examples of fiction based in and on Gullah Culture in and around South Carolina and the Islands.

Peek into rarefied worlds by reading Stephen L.Carter’s Emperor of Ocean Park, set in Martha's Vineyard. It is both a story of suspense as well as a look at upper crust African American society and an Ivy League law school. Step into the 1960s and identity politics in the black middle class bourgeoisie when reading Darryl Pinkney's High Cotton.

Travel to the Caribbean by armchair, boat, or plane through the eyes of Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory and Krik? Krak. Britain’s Caryl Phillips’ Crossing the River offers yet another point of view. Jamaica Kinkaid will take you to the West Indies with her highly acclaimed books Lucy and Annie John. Any thoughts of historical Haiti would not be complete without reading Madison Smartt Bell’s All Souls’ Rising, Master of the Crossroads, and biography of Toussaint Louverture.

Paris or Berlin? Check out Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues, a book that straddles Baltimore, Berlin, and Paris from the 1930’s to the 1980’s. Based on a true story about a Black German musician and the rise of Nazi Germany. Until the Second World War, there were a significant number of Black Germans tracing their origins back to Germany's colonies in Africa: they were recruited to fight in the Napoleonic Wars. Paris is a great place to explore the lives of African American expat artists as well as the rich cultural addition of immigrants from former French colonies in Africa. So much so, that an enterprising travelista has created guided tours for individuals and groups.
For more info on Black Paris Tours click here.

Still need ideas? Find a map, find some books, create your own adventure.

Antique map of Africa