- Faith & Family
As Black History Month draws to a close, most of us have probably found ways to celebrate and honor the rich tradition of the Black experience in the U.S. and throughout the Diaspora. From Black dance troupes to theatrical or spoken word presentations, our minds have been challenged and our souls have been inspired. But if you’re the kind of person that enjoys curling up with a good book and want to know more about Black history, you should add Thomas C. Holt’s book, “Children of Fire: A History of African Americans,” to your library.
Holt, a professor of history at the University of Chicago, past president of the American Historical Association and author of several other books on Black history, has dedicated his life contributing to our understanding of race and the significance of Blacks in the history of the U.S. His book follows in the impressive intellectual tradition of Lerone Bennett, Jr. and John Hope Franklin. As Yale University historian David W. Blight says of the book, “In each case and time period we see Black people transplanted, transformed and sometimes triumphant in a history that is always unfinished and conflicted.”
Like most historical texts written by Black Americans, Holt starts with the Middle Passage and the slave trade, then weaves his way to rarely shared stories of some of the first Blacks born in the U.S. He then turns to the two-class system of Blacks that existed in the mid to late 18th century. As many remember, the irony of the American Revolution was that while Blacks joined whites and risked their lives for independence from Britain, as the colonies became a country, they denied Blacks equal status as humans.
In the second half of the book, Holt includes provocative accounts of men and women who fought for the end of slavery and asserted themselves in the short-lived Age of Reconstruction. An exploration of those who used various forms of the arts to communicate their messages of pain and hope, follows. The latter portion of the text takes us back to what Holt calls “a second emancipation,” where Blacks fled the oppressive regime of the South hoping for a true taste of freedom and justice during the Great Migration of the early 20th century. His stories of ordinary men and women who contribute in meaningful ways to the generations-old fight for Black equality make up the chapter referred to as “A Second Reconstruction: The Freedom Movement.”
Finally, he looks at Blacks in the U.S. and beyond as they take ownership as citizens of this nation and the world in the 21st century.
Holt includes those names and faces that have we have grown to love and cherish: Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and President Barack Obama. But he also includes some who are often overlooked if recognized at all. There is Anthony Jackson, a 17th century slave who bought his freedom in Virginia and built an impressive farm, only to have it stolen from his heirs by a racist court system. And there is Frank Moore, a World War I veteran and sharecropper who dared to sue his landlord for unfair practices, only to find himself charged with murder after defending his family from a belligerent white posse.
It’s these stories and more, taken from four centuries of Black history, that make up this groundbreaking novel — stories that once read them you will be unable to forget.
By D. Kevin McNeir