Book Review: America I Am Legends: Rare Moments And Inspiring Words
by Smiley Books
Book Reviewed by Kam Williams
’’Would America have been America without her Negro people?’ W.E.B. Du Bois wrote those words shortly after the turn of the last century. More than 100 years after Du Bois’ question was posed, there is only one emphatic and unconditional answer. No!
America could not and would not be the America we have come to know’ without the deep and inseparable imprint of those people stolen from Africa and brought here on slave ships so many years ago. The individual genius and collective resilience of African-American people has shaped and nurtured American democracy, ensuring a more diverse, successful, creative society.’
’Excerpted from the Foreword (page ix)
What would America be without back folks? That is the underlying theme of America I AM, a traveling museum celebrating the contributions of blacks to the U.S. which will be touring the country for four years. Legends: Rare Moments and Inspiring Words is one of two companion books published by Tavis Smiley to augment the exhibition.
As much an educational tool as an oversized, coffee table keepsake, Legends features an array of visually-captivating photographs of 78 African-American icons of the 20th Century, with each one’s image being accompanied by a memorable phrase which embodies his or her spirit. These remarkable luminaries come from all walks of life, including the fields of politics, music, dance, literature and sports.
Among the honorees is the poet Maya Angelou, whose entry captures her at work writing alongside the quote ’There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.’ Then there is the evocative shot of Thelonious Monk which has the late jazz great composing at the piano next to the saying, ’Wrong is right.’
Equally-penetrating are the pictures and reflections about the rest, from Rosa Parks to Jackie Robinson to Dr. Martin Luther King to Muhammad Ali to James Baldwin to Thurgood Marshall to Quincy Jones to Barack Obama. Besides the portraits, Legends fleshes out of these groundbreakers further via brief biographies.
A valuable reminder about some brilliant black folks gifted and daring enough to make seminal cultural and social contributions to the nation in spite of their potentially-crippling, color-coded, second-class status.