Christmas 2009 Pick: The Black Book

After I learned about The Black Book in graduate school, I searched for it on eBay. I lost two auctions and decided it wasn’t meant to be. My luck still prevails because the book was re-released in a 35th Anniversary edition for all to see and it looks as though I’ll finally get my hands on a copy. Know what I’m talking ’bout—understand more from NPR:

The Black Book, which was first published 35 years ago, was like a scrapbook of the African-American experience: In its pages, there were photographs of black men being lynched while white men stood by and smiled. There were advertisements for the public sale of Negroes, and other ads for items like spool cotton and Sunlight soap that featured caricatures of black children. But there were also images of families dressed in their Sunday finest and soldiers who helped break the color barrier in the U.S. military. The book was the first of its kind, a breakthrough and a New York Times best-seller. Now, it has been republished in a 35th anniversary edition.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison tells NPR’s Michele Norris that when she first compiled the book in 1974, African-Americans yearned for a closer examination of their history, even though it was a painful one. She says that at the time, there was a perception that books directed at African-Americans didn’t sell. “And I thought, well, maybe we haven’t published anything that the larger African-American community wanted,” she says. “What about something that’s really popular and is about African-American life? And that’s when I began to put it together. … All I had were these pictures and newspaper clippings and sheet music and postcards.”

The book contains a large section on patents for all kinds of things, including typewriters and washing machines. Morrison says she did that to show that African-Americans were “busy, smart and not just minstrelized. “I remember my mother used to say, ‘Do you know that a Negro invented shoes?’ And I said, ‘Mama, everybody invented shoes. How could you not think of how to cover your feet?’ ” Morrison says, laughing. “But when I was doing this book, I saw a ‘shoe-lasting machine.’ … So she was sort of right.” (Source)


The Black Book: 35th Anniversary Edition by Middleton A. Harris et al. – Seventeenth-century sketches of Africa as it appeared to marauding European traders. Nineteenth-century slave auction notices. Twentieth-century sheet music for work songs and freedom chants. Photographs of war heroes, regal in uniform. Antebellum reward posters for capturing runaway slaves. An 1856 article titled “A Visit to the Slave Mother Who Killed Her Child.” In 1974, Middleton A. Harris and Toni Morrison led a team of gifted, passionate collectors in compiling these images and nearly 500 others into one sensational narrative of the black experience in America: The Black Book. Now in a deluxe 35th anniversary hardcover edition, The Black Book remains a breathtaking testament to the legendary wisdom, strength, and perseverance of black men and women intent on freedom. Prominent collectors Morris Levitt, Roger Furman, and Ernest Smith, as well as Middleton Harris and Toni Morrison (then a Random House editor, now a two-time Pulitzer Prize—winning Nobel laureate) spent months studying, laughing at, and crying over these materials–from transcripts of fugitive slaves’ trials and proclamations by Frederick Douglass and other celebrated abolitionists to chilling images of cross burnings and lynchings, patents registered by black inventors throughout the early twentieth century to vibrant posters from “Black Hollywood” films from the 1930s and 1940s. A labor of love and a vital link to the richness and diversity of African American history and culture, The Black Book honors the past, reminding us where our nation has been, and gives flight to our hopes for what is yet to come. Beautifully and faithfully presented, and featuring a new Foreword and original poem by Toni Morrison, The Black Book remains a timeless landmark work.

This is one book I’d love to see wrapped up in shiny paper this year. I hope Santa reads blogs. Happy reading, y’all.


3 thoughts on “Christmas 2009 Pick: The Black Book

  1. I have had this book for years, but I think I’m gonna have to get a copy of this anniversary edition. Every Black person should have it on their bookshelf IMO.


  2. I haven’t seen any mention about them adding updates? Do we not need to add even more historical documentation and photos to this book? This is 35 years later. I’m definitely interested in copy.


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