Writing African American history is as much a glorious uncovering of information as it is an opportunity to use the power of the pen—or in this technological age, the computer— to shape a story. There are countless ways to document our story. Perhaps one of the most widely known ways is the publication of a multivolume set that recounts in some detail the events that mold African American history from beginning until now. Our history has been told also in chronologies, documentaries, regional accounts, periods in history, political works, by professions, stories for dummies, and even “cute” ways, such as day-by-day stories, which is also a type of chronology. The focus of this work is on convenience of access to facts; hence, The Handy African American History Book. As easy as it may be to glean a cursory view of our history from this work, the aim is also to highlight many of the significant developments in the formation of an African American culture.
As I compiled this work, I remained deliberate in my coverage of information on women. Some call it “herstory.” I did so because women, particularly African American women, are still underrepresented in too many published works; sometimes what is included is in scattered sources. There are, of course, many works with a singular focus, such as those in music, religion, civil rights, sports, and so on, that tell “herstory,” but I continue to find a need to include our women in general accounts of African America. Like our general accounts, African American history is old as well as current. Here I trace our development from Africa to America and show how our people have been greatly influenced by African developments in sports, medicine, music, the arts, religion, and in other areas. But the shaping affects general American culture as well, for what has impacted African American culture has helped also to shape American culture.
Although the timeline that appears early in this work gives a cursory view of the book’s contents and of the historical development of African Americans, we must piece together the story that the timeline tells, for, as intended, it is merely a skeleton. Still, skeletons are important, for they sketch the information covered throughout the work and help the writer know early on where there are important gaps that need to be filled. Timelines tell us also that history repeats itself, sometimes continuously, sometimes sporadically, as we will see, for example, in the civil rights struggles that appear over and over again.
Beginning with a summary chapter called “Upon America’s Shores,” The Handy African American History Book is further arranged into fourteen chapters, each devoted to a different subject: Arts & Entertainment; Business & Commerce; Civil Rights & Protest; Education; Journalism; Literature; Military; Music; Organizations; Politics & Government, Religion; Science, Medicine & Inventions; and Sports. Readers will find the references used to compile this work, which concludes the text, especially helpful for additional information on African American history and culture.
While it is impossible to fully cover the scope of African American history in a single volume, what is given here is a quick study of our history written in an engaging question-and-answer style that immediately catches one’s attention. It should be the first, good place to start learning about African American history. Its aim also is to attract the interest of anyone who wants a quick introductory or refresher course on this subject.
Protocol prevents me from taking full credit for this work, nor do I want to do so. At the outset I lift up and thank wholeheartedly my good friend of long standing, and the former academic dean of Fisk University who once was my supervisor, Dr. Carrell Peterson Horton, who read the entire manuscript and gave insightful comments, criticisms, and suggestions. She is a scholar with a passion for exactness and clarity, and both this book and I have benefited immensely from her careful oversight.
Thank you Cheryl Hamberg, my next-in-charge person in the John Hope and Aurelia Elizabeth Franklin Library at Fisk University, for exploring leads for me, clearing up some ambiguities, and helping to fill in the blanks, thus adding to the quality and accuracy of this work. And to my other library staff members at Fisk University, who always show support and an interest in what I am writing, and who aided my work in various ways, thank you for being there and for your uplift. And to all of my friends out there, thank you for your continued inquiry in what I do, as you ask, “What are you working on now?” Thank you for asking. This work had also some familial involvement. Thank you, my niece, Dr. Duane Patrice Lambeth, for your helpful suggestions for the sports chapter. Thanks to my brother Ray Carney, my perpetual #1 fan. My son Ricky remains my mainstay in whatever use I make of the computer. Thank you, computer wizard and my very own computer nerd.
To Visible Ink Press and its leader, Roger Jänecke, thank you for extending an offer to me to compile this work and for saying “yes” when I said “no,” for showing me that I did have time for this fascinating work when I said that I did not, and for your long and abiding faith in my work. Managing Editor Kevin Hile, I continue to appreciate your guidance and the work of your editorial staff as we continue to produce works in African American history and culture.