Read about a family, learn about an era

The Black Calhouns: From Civil War to Civil Rights with One African American Family by Gail Lumet Buckley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This detailed and long-ranging history of an extraordinary family is, at least for me, the best way to read history — through the perceptive eye of a uniquely-placed narrator. Buckley weaves social and family history into a journey as suspenseful as a novel, but grounded in hard truths. Seeing how individual members of the Calhoun family navigated the Jim Crow laws in the South and more subtle forms of racism in the North, and how their descendants initiated change and activism during the 1950s and 60s, was sobering and awe-inspiring.

I found this book because I was curious about Lena Horne, but this was a much richer read than a biography. Or, maybe, it’s the way I wish more biographies were written, with close attention to multiple relationships, in the context of which certain portraits of individuals stand out.



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