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Black America: A Photographic Journey - Smith, Marcia A.


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From the Civil War years to the present day, here is a startling and comprehensive visual record of the African-American story. Over 400 photographs and a series of short overview essays take us through the years, starting with “contraband” slaves fleeing the South, where they have been no more than tradable commodities. Then comes the struggle to create new lives during the Reconstruction era cut short by the withdrawal of federal support which results in lynchings, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and the resurgence of the plantocracy. Some blacks courageously become “exodusters,” moving west to Kansas and Nebraska; others adopt Booker T. Washington’s belief in self-improvement.
Between 1915 and 1930 one-and-a-half million move northwards in the Great Migration when they encounter urban mob violence as the First World War ends. One answer to this is the founding og the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (the NAACP), fighting lunch law and Kim Crow segregation laws in the South. Another is the creative upsurge of the Harlem Renaissance, until it is stifled by the Great Depression, when fifty percent of all African Americans find themselves out of work.
In the Second World War, as in the First, the armed forces are segregated—and there are riots back home. Sportsmen like Jesse Owens, Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson keep self-respect alive until the modern civil rights movement emerges in the mid-1950s. Alongside Martin Luther King’s non-violent integrationist message, there is the Black Power movement and its powerful preacher Malcolm X. Despite the fact that this dichotomy continues to the present day, the African-American community is increasingly buoyed up by figures like Will Smith, Tiger Woods and many other African Americans, who are not merely black achievers but act as models for all of America, as well as providing influence on the world stage. Above all, the example before black America today is that of Barack Obama, after his resounding election to the Presidency.

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