The African American Century, by Gates & West
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The African American Century
How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Country
The African American Century
How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Country
by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Cornel West, Simon & Schuster, $30, copyright 2000.
The African American century was the one "in which African American life
was transformed--and the century in which African Americans changed
America." When it began, only 35 years after the end of slavery, few
could envision what the 20th century would hold for black Americans. The
100 men and women described in this compendium, written by two of the
most prominent black scholars and social commentators in America,
represent important moments in the struggle to deepen America's
democratic roots against the overwhelming forces of racism and bigotry.
By choosing 100 (10 per decade), Gates and West ensured that they would
have to omit important black figures. Nevertheless, the profiles achieve
their purpose: to demonstrate and celebrate the multifaceted and profound
achievements of African Americans in fields as diverse as science,
politics, the military, literature, entertainment, and academia.
From W.E.B. Du Bois, probably the greatest African American intellectual
of the 20th century, to Tiger Woods, golf's first black superstar, the
well-written, fact-filled profiles present those who have lived
extraordinary lives and shown tremendous courage. The roster includes the
well-known, such as Louis Armstrong, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, and
Oprah Winfrey, as well as the more obscure but no less important. These
include Carter G. Woodson, who pioneered the historical study of black
America; Charles Richard Drew, who founded two of the world's largest
blood banks and in so doing prevented millions of deaths; and Barbara
Harris, the first woman bishop. Gates and West also embrace controversial
figures such as Louis Farrakhan, Tupac Shakur, and Angela Davis,
emphasizing their positive imprints while acknowledging their complexity.
With this valuable addition to black history collections, the authors
(both controversial in their own rights) continue their quest to fill the
aching gaps in public awareness about African Americans and remind us
that self-confidence, dignity, and excellence are the essential virtues
in the great historical drama of American democracy. --Lesley Reed
The following African Americans are profiled in the book.
(Thanks to Deborah Butler of Lighthouse Ministries for annotation following each name.)
- Louis Armstrong - Satchmo (Armstrong made Jazz America's Music -and America's Greatest Aesthetic Gift to the World).
- Junius Austin - The Dancing Political Preacher ( Pastor for forty-two years of the third largest Baptist Church in Black America).
- Josephine Baker - The Cleopatra of Jazz (African-American Dancer and Comic).
- Bessie Coleman - Aviator ( Known as "Brownskin Bess"and "Bess the Brave" The First Black Woman Aviator).
- Marcus Garvey - The Black Moses (Incorporated a Shipping Company, The Black Star Line).
- Langston Hughes - The Poet (The Most Prolific Black Writer of his era).
- Ernest Everett Just - The Biologist (He Sought Freedom From Racism in the Objective Truth of Science).
- Oscar Micheaux - Cinematographer (He ran his own Production Company and he also Wrote, Directed, Filmed, and Edited his own Films).
- Bessie Smith - The Empress of the Blues (The Greatest Blues Singer in the World).
- Jean Toomer - A New Negro (Author).
- Charles R. Drew - The Blood Man (He became the Director of the Red Cross and he founded two of the world's largest Blood Banks).
- Katherine Dunham - The Dancing Anthropologist (Scholar, Choreographer, Dancer, and Teacher).
- Duke Ellington - The Duke (The King of Swing).
- Billie Holiday - Lady Day (She had her own way of singing).
- Lena Horne - "Lena" (She was the first Black Female Star).
- Jacob Lawrence - The Painter (Brought the History of Black Life to Life in Paint).
- Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. - King of Harlem (Minister, Politician, and Public Figure).
- A. Philip Randolph - Union Man (Union Leader, Magazine Editor, and Grassroots Activist. He campaigned for decades for economic equality.
- Jackie Robinson - The Chosen One (He Broke the Color Line in Baseball).
- Richard Wright - Inside-Outsider (He was the first commercially successful Black Novelist, and the first to unveil the terrors of Ghetto Life).
- Ralph Bunche - The International Diplomat (The first African American to win the Nobel Peace Prize).
- Nat "King" Cole - The Suave Mellow Crooner (A Virtuosos Jazz Pianist and Trio Leader).
- Miles Davis - The Birth of the Cool ( He Gave Birth to the Cool, and to a Whole New Sound).
- Ralph Ellison - The True Native Son (He wrote the novels Invisible Man and Juneteenth and add to that his rich essay collections, Shadow and Act and Going to the Territory).
- Althea Gibson - The Tennis Player (During the 1950s she became the number-one-ranked female tennis player in the world. She was the first African American to win The French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open Singles titles in 1957-1958. The Associated Press named her Female Athlete of the Year in 1957-1958. She was the first black woman to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. She also became the first black woman to hold a Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Players Card when she finished in the top 80 percent in the three tournaments).
- Lorraine Hansberry - The Black Humanist (She was one of the greatest African-American playwrights. She is known primarily for her classic work A Raisin in the Sun (1959). She was also a prolific writer of essays, film scripts, and a semiautobiographical novel).
- Willie Mays - Say Hey Kid (He moved like a Dancer when he Played Baseball).
- Rosa Parks - Mother of Civil Rights (She made her Historic Stand for Justice by, famously, sitting down).
- Art Tatum - The Pianist (He was the Greatest Jazz Pianist of the Twentieth Century).
- Sarah Vaughan - The Divine One (She was Jazz's only Diva. The Greatest Voice in Jazz History).
- Muhammad Ali - The Butterfly (In 1987, The Ring named him the Greatest Heavyweight Champion of All Time. In 2000 he was voted the Greatest Athlete of the Century several times.)
- James Baldwin - Intellectual Activist (He became the voice of Black America when he published his prophetic warning The Fire Next Time).
- John Coltrane - The Jazz Prophet (He Made His Musical Journey Solo. He was one of the most important Saxophonists and Stylistic and Compositional Innovators of the late Twentieth Century).
- Angela Davis - Crusader for Social Justice (She became a Black Power Icon).
- Fannie Lou Hamer - Grassroots Activist (She taught America a lesson in Democracy).
- Jimi Hendrix - Electric Gypsy (He took us higher with his Guitar).
- Martin Luther King, Jr. - Soul Force (He is the prophet of the Century. Today, King is a symbol of the triumphs of the civil rights movement, a man celebrated for his dignified nonviolent approach to fighting for justice against impossible odds).
- Thurgood Marshall - The Great Dissenter (He was the most important Black Lawyer of the Century, the man who used the law to dismantle Jim Crow. The first African American to sit on the United States Supreme Court).
- Sidney Poitier - The Leading Man (He has amassed an impressive cinematic resume: fifty-three movies, nine of which he directed; a Best Actor Academy Award for Lilies of the Field, the first ever received by a black American; and three books, the most recent of which is a spiritual autobiography entitled The Measure of a Man. Along with Harry Belafonte, Poitier created a space for black leading men in Hollywood).
- Malcom X - Black Nationalist Prophet (In the course of his life, he was many things: a Petty Crook and a Public Moralist, a Convict and a Devout Muslim, a Black Nationalist and a Pan-Africanist, and Ideologue and an Icon. His life, as he describes it in his autobiography, was a "Chronology of Changes."
- Hank Aaron - "The Hammer" (He mastered the difficult technique of the Home Run. He was one of American Baseball's most Accomplished Players, some even say he was the Greatest Player).
- Maya Angelou - The Voice (She found a Voice for all of us. As a Poet, Writer, Playwright, Civil Rights Activist, Producer, and Director, she has been a pioneer in fields that were choked by oppression).
- Romare Bearden - Experiential Artist (His paintings caught the quickened cadence of black life).
- James Brown - The Godfather of Funk ("Soul Brother Number One" he was the master of black funk for over two decades).
- Marvin Gaye - Soul Man (He was the brightest star in the Motown constellation, producing a string of chart-topping hits in the 1960s and 1970s and into the 1980s).
- Barbara Harris - "The Bishop" (She is the first woman bishop in history, and she is an African-American woman).
- Dorothy Height - The Club Woman (Through their organizations, they could provide for the sick and the destitute, care for orphaned children, establish beneficiary societies when no one else could).
- Barbara Jordan - The Nation's Conscience (She was the world's great wordsmiths. She was a Lawyer, Scholar, Author, and Presidential Advisor).
- Leontyne Price - Stradivarius Among Singers (She is a Diva. She defied race and class and region to pursue a life in the world of opera. Everyone it seems, who was privileged to meet her encouraged her on her way, and her soprano voice was rightfully likened to the finest of violins).
- Richard Pryor - The Comedian (He forced us to laugh at ourselves, black and white alike).
- Alvin Ailey - The Dancer (He brought the unique heritage of African American into the living tradition of American dance).
- Bill Cosby - The Father (He was the first African-American comedian to construct his routines around the ironies and foibles of the human condition rather than simply on race or race relations).
- John Hope Franklin - Academic ( He was recipient of more than one hundred honorary degrees and author of universally respected scholarly studies on black America, he is best-known and most influential black academic of his generation).
- Jesse Jackson - The Rainbow Man (He is the most visible and articulate successor to Dr. King. He has spent his lifetime fighting for recognition and equality on multiple fronts. He marched next to Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s. He ran for the president in the 1980s, and he battled for an increased black presence on Wall Street in the 1990s. Jackson has long been a voice for empowerment).
- Michael Jackson - Moonwalker (He is one of the most popular musical entertainers of the twentieth century. He sold over a hundred million records in the 1980s, including the biggest-selling album in music industry history, Thriller).
- Carl Lewis - The Victor (He ran the fastest and he jumped the furthest even when he was older than anyone else in the field).
- Jessye Norman - Diva (She draws from a vast ocean of ability, Voice, and Dignity to elevate us with her rich Soprano Voice).
- Martin Puryear - The Sculptor (He is a poet of Massive Forms).
- Alice Walker - Womanist Embracing the Color Purple (She has dedicated her life to writing and to social change).
- August Wilson - The Dramatist (He brings Black Lives to the Stage).
- Louis Farrakhan - The Charmer (He inspires, he enrages, he preaches, he inflames. He is the most recent and most powerful advocate for black self-reliance in a long tradition of black nationalists. His career is an unlikely one).
- Michael Jordan - Superman (His greatest virtues: his grace and intelligence on the court. Whether you imagine him soaring through the air, silhouetted like his iconic Nike image, or simply walking through the airport in an elegantly cut suit, it is impossible to deny the powerful physical presence that is his, the one who always makes the clutch play with grace under pressure).
- Spike Lee - The Director (He is the most visible and influential black film maker of this past century. He has made more commercial films about black people than any other African American except independent film maker Charles Burnett).
- Wynton Marsalis - Brother Swing (As the musical director of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, a post held since 1987, he has institutionalized a musical idiom that has thrived upon its insurgency).
- Toni Morrison - Laureate (She is the first African American to receive the Nobel Prize, in 1993, for literature).
- Colin Powell - The General (He is the first black person in American History who could actually become the president of the United States).
- Tupac Shakur - Hip Hop Existentialist (He was a Rap Artist)
- Denzel Washington - (In)visible Man (He has mounted an all-out assault on the limitations of black actors in Hollywood. Having worked his way through the repertory theater ranks and gained exposure on the hit television drama St. Elsewhere, Washington has built a body of work comparable to any actor of his generation. He is an actor of incomparable gifts).
- Oprah Winfrey - "Oprah" (She is the epitome of compassion, is an actress, producer, celebrity, and most important, television talk show host. She is the most famous and successful African-American woman in history).
- Tiger Woods - The Golfer (He is the first Golf's Black Superstar. A true Prodigy, he was demonstrating an already perfect swing on national television by the age of three).