Defining Moments in Black History: Reading Between the Lies

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NAACP 2017 Image Award Winner

With his trademark acerbic wit, incisive humor, and infectious paranoia, one of our foremost comedians and most politically engaged civil rights activists looks back at 100 key events from the complicated history of black America.

A friend of luminaries including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Medgar Evers, and the forebear of today’s popular black comics, including Larry Wilmore, W. Kamau Bell, Damon Young, and Trevor Noah, Dick Gregory was a provocative and incisive cultural force for more than fifty years. As an entertainer, he always kept it indisputably real about race issues in America, fearlessly lacing laughter with hard truths. As a leading activist against injustice, he marched at Selma during the Civil Rights movement, organized student rallies to protest the Vietnam War; sat in at rallies for Native American and feminist rights; fought apartheid in South Africa; and participated in hunger strikes in support of Black Lives Matter.

In this collection of thoughtful, provocative essays, Gregory charts the complex and often obscured history of the African American experience. In his unapologetically candid voice, he moves from African ancestry and surviving the Middle Passage to the creation of the Jheri Curl, the enjoyment of bacon and everything pig, the headline-making shootings of black men, and the Black Lives Matter movement. A captivating journey through time, Defining Moments in Black History explores historical movements such as The Great Migration and the Harlem Renaissance, as well as cultural touchstones such as Sidney Poitier winning the Best Actor Oscar for Lilies in the Field and Billie Holiday releasing Strange Fruit.

An engaging look at black life that offers insightful commentary on the intricate history of the African American people, Defining Moments in Black History is an essential, no-holds-bar history lesson that will provoke, enlighten, and entertain.

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About the author

Richard “Dick” Claxton Gregory was an African American comedian, civil rights activist, and cultural icon who first performed in public in the 1950s. He was on Comedy Central’s list of “100 Greatest Stand-Ups” and was the author of fourteen books, most notably the bestselling classic Nigger: An Autobiography. A hilariously authentic wisecracker and passionate fighter for justice, Gregory is considered one of the most prized comedians of our time. He and his beloved wife, Lil, have ten kids.

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Additional Information

Publisher
HarperCollins
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Published on
Sep 5, 2017
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Pages
256
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ISBN
9780062448729
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Education / Multicultural Education
History / African American
History / Social History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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A searing history of how racist ideas were created, disseminated, and entrenched in America

Winner of the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction
A New York Times Bestseller
A Washington Post Bestseller
Finalist for the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction
Named one of the Best Books of the Year by the Boston Globe, Washington Post, Chicago Review of Books, The Root, Buzzfeed, Bustle, and Entropy
"The most ambitious book of 2016."-The Washington Post

Some Americans cling desperately to the myth that we are living in a post-racial society, that the election of the first black president spelled the doom of racism. But racist thought is not just alive and well in America--it is more sophisticated and more insidious than ever. And as award-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi argues in Stamped from the Beginning, if we have any hope of grappling with this stark reality, we must first understand how racist ideas were developed, disseminated, and enshrined in American society.

In this deeply researched and fast-moving narrative, Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti-black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. Stamped from the Beginning uses the life stories of five major American intellectuals to offer a window into the contentious debates between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and antiracists. From Puritan minister Cotton Mather to Thomas Jefferson, from fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to brilliant scholar W.E.B. Du Bois to legendary anti-prison activist Angela Davis, Kendi shows how and why some of our leading pro-slavery and pro-civil rights thinkers have challenged or helped cement racist ideas in America.

Contrary to popular conceptions, racist ideas did not arise from ignorance or hatred. Instead, they were devised and honed by some of the most brilliant minds of each era. These intellectuals used their brilliance to justify and rationalize deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and the nation's racial disparities in everything from wealth to health. And while racist ideas are easily produced and easily consumed, they can also be discredited. In shedding much-needed light on the murky history of racist ideas, Stamped from the Beginning offers us the tools we need to expose them--and in the process, gives us reason to hope.
The first edition of Joel Augustus Rogers’s now legendary 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro with Complete Proof, published in 1934, was billed as “A Negro ‘Believe It or Not.’” Rogers’s little book was priceless because he was delivering enlightenment and pride, steeped in historical research, to a people too long starved on the lie that they were worth nothing. For African Americans of the Jim Crow era, Rogers’s was their first black history teacher. But Rogers was not always shy about embellishing the “facts” and minimizing ambiguity; neither was he above shock journalism now and then.
 
With élan and erudition—and with winning enthusiasm—Henry Louis Gates, Jr. gives us a corrective yet loving homage to Roger’s work. Relying on the latest scholarship, Gates leads us on a romp through African, diasporic, and African-American history in question-and-answer format. Among the one hundred questions: Who were Africa’s first ambassadors to Europe? Who was the first black president in North America? Did Lincoln really free the slaves? Who was history’s wealthiest person? What percentage of white Americans have recent African ancestry? Why did free black people living in the South before the end of the Civil War stay there? Who was the first black head of state in modern Western history? Where was the first Underground Railroad? Who was the first black American woman to be a self-made millionaire? Which black man made many of our favorite household products better?
 
Here is a surprising, inspiring, sometimes boldly mischievous—all the while highly instructive and entertaining—compendium of historical curiosities intended to illuminate the sheer complexity and diversity of being “Negro” in the world.

(With full-color illustrations throughout.)
From Jackie Robinson to Muhammad Ali and Arthur Ashe, African American athletes have been at the center of modern culture, their on-the-field heroics admired and stratospheric earnings envied. But for all their money, fame, and achievement, says New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden, black athletes still find themselves on the periphery of true power in the multibillion-dollar industry their talent built.

Provocative and controversial, Rhoden’s $40 Million Slaves weaves a compelling narrative of black athletes in the United States, from the plantation to their beginnings in nineteenth-century boxing rings to the history-making accomplishments of notable figures such as Jesse Owens, Althea Gibson, and Willie Mays. Rhoden reveals that black athletes’ “evolution” has merely been a journey from literal plantations—where sports were introduced as diversions to quell revolutionary stirrings—to today’s figurative ones, in the form of collegiate and professional sports programs. He details the “conveyor belt” that brings kids from inner cities and small towns to big-time programs, where they’re cut off from their roots and exploited by team owners, sports agents, and the media. He also sets his sights on athletes like Michael Jordan, who he says have abdicated their responsibility to the community with an apathy that borders on treason.

The power black athletes have today is as limited as when masters forced their slaves to race and fight. The primary difference is, today’s shackles are often the athletes’ own making.
NAMED A BEST/MOST ANTICIPATED BOOK OF 2018 BY: Chicago Tribune • Time

A stunning follow up to New York Times bestseller Tears We Cannot Stop

Chris Matthews, MSNBC: "A beautifully written book."

Shaun King: “I kid you not–I think it’s the most important book I’ve read all year...It’s not just informative and enlightening; it tells a story of an essential moment in history.”

Harry Belafonte says: “Dyson has finally written the book I always wanted to read. I had the privilege of attending the meeting he has insightfully written about, and it’s as if he were a fly on the wall...a tour de force...a poetically written work that calls on all of us to get back in that room and to resolve the racial crises we confronted more than fifty years ago.”

Joy-Ann Reid says: A work of searing prose and seminal brilliance... Dyson takes that once in a lifetime conversation between black excellence and pain and the white heroic narrative, and drives it right into the heart of our current politics and culture, leaving the reader reeling and reckoning."

Robin D. G. Kelley says:“Dyson masterfully refracts our present racial conflagration through a subtle reading of one of the most consequential meetings about race to ever take place. In so doing, he reminds us that Black artists and intellectuals bear an awesome responsibility to speak truth to power."

President Barack Obama says: "Everybody who speaks after Michael Eric Dyson pales in comparison.”

In 2015 BLM activist Julius Jones confronted Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton with an urgent query: “What in your heart has changed that’s going to change the direction of this country?” “I don’t believe you just change hearts,” she protested. “I believe you change laws.”

The fraught conflict between conscience and politics – between morality and power – in addressing race hardly began with Clinton. An electrifying and traumatic encounter in the sixties crystallized these furious disputes.

In 1963 Attorney General Robert Kennedy sought out James Baldwin to explain the rage that threatened to engulf black America. Baldwin brought along some friends, including playwright Lorraine Hansberry, psychologist Kenneth Clark, and a valiant activist, Jerome Smith. It was Smith’s relentless, unfiltered fury that set Kennedy on his heels, reducing him to sullen silence.

Kennedy walked away from the nearly three-hour meeting angry – that the black folk assembled didn’t understand politics, and that they weren’t as easy to talk to as Martin Luther King. But especially that they were more interested in witness than policy. But Kennedy’s anger quickly gave way to empathy, especially for Smith. “I guess if I were in his shoes...I might feel differently about this country.” Kennedy set about changing policy – the meeting having transformed his thinking in fundamental ways.

There was more: every big argument about race that persists to this day got a hearing in that room. Smith declaring that he’d never fight for his country given its racist tendencies, and Kennedy being appalled at such lack of patriotism, tracks the disdain for black dissent in our own time. His belief that black folk were ungrateful for the Kennedys’ efforts to make things better shows up in our day as the charge that black folk wallow in the politics of ingratitude and victimhood. The contributions of black queer folk to racial progress still cause a stir. BLM has been accused of harboring a covert queer agenda. The immigrant experience, like that of Kennedy – versus the racial experience of Baldwin – is a cudgel to excoriate black folk for lacking hustle and ingenuity. The questioning of whether folk who are interracially partnered can authentically communicate black interests persists. And we grapple still with the responsibility of black intellectuals and artists to bring about social change.

What Truth Sounds Like exists at the tense intersection of the conflict between politics and prophecy – of whether we embrace political resolution or moral redemption to fix our fractured racial landscape. The future of race and democracy hang in the balance.

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