Legacy: Treasures Of Black History, edited by Thomas C. Battle and Donna M. Wells
There is an issue with a book like this that demonstrates the hazards of institutions seeking to conflate a subject of general interest to readers with their own particular and narrow interest as an institution. This is a book that seeks to present a series of essays on black history, but it does so from the point of view of Howard University. This presents the reader who may not give one whit for Howard University and its claims to leadership within the black community as a noted HBU with a bit of an odd situation, in that one may find it perfectly interesting to read material from an unfamiliar perspective and see some use in knowing how others see themselves even where one might disagree but has little interest in praising an institution for seeking to focus on those elements that bring it to most attention. Do we really need to see people viewing black figures based on how their relationship with the university is? Is a praise of black studies or the Black Panthers an appropriate stance to take in a world where such things rightly come under criticism by those who decry double standards and hypocrisy in the support of ethnic pride? This book has some mystifying choices in its content because it is unaware of the potential audience of its works and seems to think that this book is only going to be found by those who support and endorse its dubious choices.
This book is a bit more than 200 large pages with a fair amount of glossy photographed material that suggests a high degree of attention being paid to the aesthetic reminders of photographic and material history present within the Howard archives. The contents of the book are divided into twelve chapters that are organized roughly in a chronological fashion. The book begins with preface and an introduction by the editors. After that comes a look at African exploration and trade starting in the 15th century with essays on the sources of the African diaspora as well as the image of Africa in the age of exploration. After that comes a couple of essays on the Transatlantic slave trade, including the formation of the identity of African American. This leads to two essays on the experience of slaves from 1619 to 1865 in America, including slavery and the Americas and the experience of children in slavery. After that there are a couple of essays on the Antebellum period, one of them focusing on the nascent black press. Two essays detail the underground railroad and the Church’s role in 19th century abolition. After that comes a look at the Civil War era as well as the black soldiers and sailors of the Union. Two essays discuss the post-civil war period with the quest for freedom and reconciliation as well as the place of Howard University itself. Two more essays discuss life and war under Jim Crow with an essay on the American black military experience during the Spanish-American War and the two world wars as well as the Moens affair in Washington between the wars. There are two essays about the “new Negro,” including the great migration and one on Alain Locke, two essays on Civil Rights (one of which involves political philosophy and the other being about the Black Panthers, two essays about the Black Arts movement, including Howard University’s role in it and the space between research and advocacy, and finally a look at the leadership of the black culture, The book then ends with an Afterword, list of contributors, acknowledgements, bibliography, illustrations, and an index.
One of the central problems, apart from the political perspective this book has, which is self-serving to the purveyors of leftist racist violence, is the fact that a substantial part of this book focuses its attention on Washington DC. Again, this decision makes sense on some level. Washington DC is our nation’s capital and happens to be where Howard University is located. Yet at the same time Washington DC and its politics are not something that most sane people would want to draw attention to themselves, and this book seems to say that the location of Howard in Washington DC is a positive element of its legacy and of its importance to the black community as a whole. This decision is certainly an odd one, and it demonstrates a profound difference in values between the writers of this book and potential readers. It would be interesting to know if the wide distribution of this book and the knowledge of that to the writers would have changed the way that certain subjects were written about. Do we change our behavior as writers when we are aware that we are receiving attention outside of their expected range? If so, is that necessarily a bad thing?