African American Perspectives for Black History Month | November 1, 2012

Each year, in anticipation of Black History Month in February, LJ presents an overview of new and forthcoming titles on African American history and culture. In this year’s list of 38 especially promising works, three themes stand out sharply: African Americans’ active participation in American warfare from the beginning, emancipation as a primary concern in the Civil War, and multiracial identity as crucial to the American experience. As poet Elizabeth Alexander might say, look no further if you crave radiance.

Historical Perspective

Bloom, Joshua & Waldo E. Martin Jr. Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party. Univ. of California. Jan. 2013. 504p. ISBN 9780520271852. $34.95. HIST

Bloom, a Fellow at UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center, and Berkeley history professor Martin join forces (as Bobby Seale and Huey Newton once did) to offer a comprehensive history of the Black Panther party and its rejection of the American “empire.”

Branch, Taylor. The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement. S. & S. Jan. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9781451678970. $26. HIST

This work draws on Pulitzer Prize–­winner Branch’s best-selling Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954–63; Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963–65; and At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965–68 to sum up key moments of the Civil Rights Movement in one handy volume.

Coddington, Ronald S. African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album. Johns Hopkins. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9781421406251. $29.95. HIST

About 200,000 African Americans, whether free or escaped slaves, enlisted in the Union army or navy. A dedicated collector of Civil War photographs, Coddington presents cartes de visite, ambrotypes, and tintypes that bring us startlingly face to face with many of these individuals, each with a biographical profile by Coddington.

Levine, Bruce. The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution That Transformed the South. Random. Jan. 2013. 464p. ISBN 9781400067039. $30. HIST

An award-winning author and University of Illinois history professor, Levine portrays the Civil War as a revolution that radically altered the social, political, and economic institutions of the South. Among those most affected, of course: the newly freed slaves.

Oakes, James. Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861–1865. Norton. Jan. 2013. 608p. ISBN 9780393065312. $29.95. HIST

Lincoln Prize–winner Oakes argues that the Civil War was fought not to preserve the Union (the standard line) but primarily to end slavery; he also chronicles the immediate consequences of emancipation. See David Von Drehle’s just-published Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year for a different approach to the subject.

Parfitt, Tudor. Black Jews in Africa and the Americas. Harvard Univ. Feb. 2013. 236p. ISBN 9780674066984. $29.95. HIST

Drawing on his Nathan I. Huggins Lectures, Parfitt, Emeritus Professor of Modern Jewish Studies, University of London, explains how African people like the Ashanti came to regard themselves as descendants of the ancient tribes of Israel and how they have connected with black Jews in America.

Rawn, James, Jr. The Double V: How Wars, Protest, and Harry Truman Desegregated America’s Military. Bloomsbury, dist. by Macmillan. Jan. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9781608196081. $28. HIST

African Americans have served in the military since the Revolutionary War, but it took Harry Truman’s Executive Order 9981—after 150 years of tough moral and legal battles—to desegregate all branches of the military. Lawyer Rawn can provide a rigorous legal perspective.

Rediker, Marcus. The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom. Viking. Nov. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780670025046. $27.95. HIST

The 1839 Amistad slave rebellion is well known, but George Washington Book Prize–winner Rediker uses newly discovered information to tell the story anew, giving greater depth to the Africans’ background and highlighting individuals, whether rebel, captor, or abolitionist.

Simmons, Thomas E. The Man Called Brown Condor: The Forgotten History of an African American Fighter Pilot. Skyhorse, dist. by Norton. Feb. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781620872178. $24.95. HIST

Simmons spent over 20 years researching the remarkable life of John D. Robinson, who rose from segregationist Mississippi to become a distinguished pilot, founder of the Tuskegee Institute’s school of aviation, a bold defender of Ethiopia during the 1935 Italian invasion, and, finally, founder of the Ethiopian Air Force.

Smith, Gene Allen. The Slaves’ Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812. Palgrave Macmillan. Jan. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9780230342088. $27. HIST

Newly minted Americans fought several wars—most significantly, the War of 1812—and slaves often joined in. But just as often they used war as a way to secure freedom by siding with the Redcoats, the Spaniards, or the Indians. History professor Smith is also a curator at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

Stuart, Andrea. Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire. Knopf. Jan. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9780307272836. $27.95; eISBN 9780307595461. HIST

Winner of the Enid McLeod Literary Prize for The Rose of Martinique: A Biography of Napoleon’s Josephine, the Caribbean-born Stuart draws on her own family history to show how sugar, slavery, and New World colonization were intimately linked.

Willis, Deborah & Barbara Krauthamer. Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery. Temple Univ. Jan. 2013. 240p. ISBN 9781439909850. $35. HIST

By examining images of African American from the 1850s, when many were slaves, to the 1930s, Willis, a leading scholar of African American photography at New York University, and University of Massachusetts, Amherst, assistant history professor Krauthamer capture several generations of change.

Personal Stories

Davis, Sampson with Lisa Frazier Page. Living and Dying in Brick City: An E.R. Doctor Returns Home. Spiegel & Grau: Random. Feb. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9781400069941. $25; eISBN 9780679605188. MEMOIR/MEDICINE

Growing up in Newark, NJ, Davis vowed with friends George Jenkins and Rameck Hunt to rise above hardship. They all became doctors—and best-selling coauthors of books like The Pact. Here, Davis goes it alone to recount his return to the Newark Beth Israel Hospital, where he was born.

Mozingo, Joe. The Fiddler on Pantico Run: An African Warrior, His White Descendants, a Search for Family. Free Pr: S. & S. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9781451627480. $25.99. MEMOIR

Told that his family name originated in the Congo, blue-eyed, fair-skinned Mozingo—a Robert F. Kennedy Award winner at the Los Angeles Times—tracked his ancestry back to Edward Mozingo, probably a prince from the Kingdom of Kon, who came here as a slave in 1644. After winning his freedom, Edward set up a tobacco farm on Pantico Run and married a white woman—the start of the family’s crossing of the color line.

Ransby, Barbara. Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson. Yale Univ. Jan. 2013. 424p. ISBN 9780300124347. $35. BIOG

Award-winning author Ransby, a professor of African American studies and director of the Gender and Women Studies Program, University of Illinois, Chicago, ranges over Essie Robeson’s life—from her influence on her husband’s career to her battle against racism.

Raboteau, Emily. Searching for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora. Atlantic Monthly. Jan. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780802120038. $25. SOC SCI

A well-regarded novelist, the biracial Raboteau considers the concept of home by probing both her own effort to fit in and, more broadly, the hunt for Zion—the Promised Land—which has specific meaning for Africans and the African diaspora as well as for Jews.

Theoharis, Jeanne.The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks. Beacon. Jan. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780807050477. $27.95. BIOG

It’s time for a big new biography of Rosa Parks, whose refusal to cede a bus seat helped launched the Civil Rights Movement. From the author of four books on civil rights issues.

Remembering Whitney Houston

Houston, Cissy. Remembering Whitney: A Mother’s Story of Life, Loss, and the Night the Music Stopped. Harper: HarperCollins. Feb. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780062238399. $27.99; eISBN 9780062238412. lrg. prnt. MEMOIR

“The world lost one of the most beautiful voices and an extraordinarily beautiful and charitable woman,” says Houston of daughter Whitney’s death in February 2012. Cissy offers a forthright account of her daughter’s life and death.

Houston, Pat & Clive Davis (text) & Randee St. Nicholas (photogs.). Whitney: Tribute to an Icon. Atria: S. & S. Nov. 2012. 192p. ISBN 9781476711249. $39.99. eISBN 9781476711263. PHOTOGS

The book opens with tributes by music industry mogul Davis and closes with more tributes from Pat Houston, Whitney Houston’s sister-in-law and manager, but at the core are images by noted photographer St. Nicholas and others. St. Nicholas also talks about working with the star.

The New Millennium

Carr, Sarah. Hope Against Hope: Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle To Educate America’s Children. Bloomsbury. Feb. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9781608194902. $27. ED

Carr tracks a teenaged student, a new teacher, and a new principal in post-Katrina New Orleans, offering a perspective on 21st-century American education that will be of special interest to African American parents.

Joseph, Ralina L. Transcending Blackness: From the New Millennium Mulatta to the Exceptional Multiracial. Duke Univ. Nov. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9780822352921. $23.95. SOC SCI

Multiracial identity, ever more prevalent in America, is generally represented as either a source of confusion or a post-racial triumph. University of Washington professor Joseph argues that both views are wrong, because they presuppose that blackness is something bad to be overcome.


Sweat, Keith. Make It Last Forever: The Do’s and Don’ts. Strebor: Atria. Feb. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9781593094065. $24; eISBN 9781451655773. PSYCH

Host of The Sweat Hotel, the No. 1 urban nighttime radio program in the nation, Sweat draws on his show to offer relationship advice. The title comes from his popular R & B album and single.

Walton, Nikki with Ernessa T. Carter.Better Than Good Hair: The Curly Girl Guide to Healthy, Gorgeous Natural Hair! Amistad. Jan. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9780062123763. pap. $14.99. GROOMING

A licensed psychotherapist who blogs about natural hair at, Walton shows African American women everywhere how to toss out the chemical relaxers and the weaves and go with what they’ve got.


Blue, Treasure. Fly Betty: A Harlem Girl Lost Novel. Cash Money Content: Atria. Feb. 2012. 336p. ISBN 9781936399314. pap. $14.95; eISBN 9781936399321. CD: Blackstone. f

An Essence magazine best-selling author, Blue returns with the third installment in the “Harlem Girl” series. Betty Blaise—Fly Betty to her friends—is looking for something more than being the wife or mistress of a rich man. But unexpected love means that her defenses are being used against her.

Due, Tananarive & Steve Barnes. Domino Falls. Atria: S. & S. Feb. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9781451617023. pap. $15; eISBN 9781451617030. f

Due is the American Book Award–winning, Essence best-selling author of Blood Colony, Barnes is the Hugo-nominated, New York Times best-selling author of The Cestus Deception, and here’s the second in a series about an alien invasion of Earth signaled by a sweeping infection that causes victims to bite, bite, bite.

Everett, Percival. Everett Percival by Virgil Russell. Graywolf. Feb. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9781555976347. pap. $15. f

An elderly man pens the novel he thinks his son would write—or perhaps it’s the novel his son thinks his father might write were he writing like the son—as a contractor dreams about Nat Turner imagining the life of William Styron. A meditation on old age, truth and illusion, and the meaning of life from the PEN USA award winner.

Hobbs, Allison. Big Juicy Lips: Double Dippin’ 2. Strebor: Atria. Nov. 2012. 416p. ISBN 9781593092122. pap. $7.99. f

Welcome back Misty and Brick, who broke out in best-selling author Hobbs’s Double Dippin’, nominated for the Romantic Times 2006 Reviewers’ Choice Award. Misty has a money-making scheme that involves showing off Brick’s particular attributes, but she complicates matters by falling for a guy who looks like ex-lover Shane.

Iceberg Slim. Death Wish: A Story of the Mafia. Cash Money Content: Atria. Jan. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9781936399178. pap. $14.99; eISBN 9781936399185. f

Billed as the original Mafia story, this 1977 work is the last novel by longtime pimp–turned–writer Robert Beck (better known as Iceberg Slim). A classic reissued in a snazzy new big-publisher edition; as gritty as it gets.

Johnson, T. Geronimo. Hold It ’Til It Hurts. Coffee House, dist. by Consortium. 2012. c.340p. ISBN 9781566893091. pap. $15.95. Kindle $9.99 f

Two black brothers, born of different parents and adopted by a white couple, go on a quest: Troy to find his birth parents and Achilles to find Troy. Johnson’s touching first novel is rigorously detailed.

Kincaid, Jamaica. See Now Then. Farrar. Feb. 2013. 192p. ISBN 9780374180560. $23. CD: Macmillan Audio. f

Fans of Lannan Literary Award winner Kincaid’s Lucy and Mr. Potter have waited more than ten years for this novel, about a couple and their two children living in small-town New England. But Kincaid is less interested in their everyday lives than what goes on in their minds.

Mansbach, Adam. Rage Is Back. Viking. Jan. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780670026128. $25.95. Downloadable: Penguin Audio. f

Biracial Brooklynite Kilroy Dondi Vance, a prep-school scholarship student who deals pot, is the son of renowned graffiti writer Billy Rage. Now Rage is back, having vanished for decades after clashing with Metropolitan Transit Authority chief Anastacio Bracken, who’s running for mayor. From the author of the hugely best-selling Go the F**k To Sleep.

Newland, Courttia. The Gospel According to Cane. Akashic. Feb. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9781617751332. pap. $15.95. f

Beverley Cottrell’s life was shattered when her little boy, Malakay, was kidnapped. Now the young man following her claims to be Malakay. A multi-award nominee, Newland has been called “one of Britain’s most important black novelists” by Time Out London. Read up, Americans!

Roby, Kimberla Lawson.The Perfect Marriage. Grand Central. Jan. 2013. 192p. ISBN 9780446572507. $19.99. f

Roby again takes on a serious social issue within the context of entertaining popular fiction. Denise and Derek Shaw have it all: a happy marriage, successful careers, a beautiful house, a beautiful daughter‚ and a serious addiction to drugs. As their lives start coming apart, their daughter intervenes to save them.

Sister Souljah. A Deeper Love Inside: The Porsche Santiaga Story. Emily Bestler Bks: Atria. Jan. 2013. 432p.ISBN 9781439165317. $26.99. f

Everyone who knows and loves hip-hop star Sister Souljah’s best-selling The Coldest Winter Ever will remember the beautiful, bedeviling Porsche Santiaga, Winter’s little sister. Now Porsche gets her own story. Fans are waiting.

Weber, Carl. The Man in 3B. Grand Central. Feb. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9781455505265. $24.99. CD: Hachette Audio. lrg. prnt. f

New York Times and Essence best-selling novelist, as well as 2005’s Blackboard Publisher of the Year (he founded Urban Books), Weber lets us speculate about the mysterious man in 3B. After the deeply reticent Darryl Graham moves into a Queens, NY, apartment building, the neighbors are curious. Then he turns up dead.


Alexander, Elizabeth. Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990–2010. Graywolf. Sept. 2012. 272p. ISBN 9781555975685. $28. pap. ISBN 9781555976309 $18. POETRY

“We crave radiance in this austere world,” says Alexander, perhaps best known as President Obama’s inaugural poet but a favorite of poetry lovers everywhere. This collection includes over 20 pages of new work.

Douglas, Mitchell L.H. \blak\ \al-fe bet\: Poems. Persea. Feb. 2013. 80p. ISBN 9780892554218. pap. $15. POETRY

As 2011 winner of the Lexi Rudnitsky Editor’s Choice Award, this book comes well recommended, but the poems speak for themselves. Douglas details a Southern family’s reaction to the death of its matriarch.

Johnson, Roxane Beth. Black Crow Dress. Alice James. Jan. 2013. 80p. ISBN 9781882295951. pap. $15.95. POETRY

Even as she reflects on the self, Johnson aims to embody the voices of emancipated slaves, moving from churchyard to church in a roundelay of spirituals. The winner of the 2005 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry shows her stuff.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.