Cover image for Autobiography of a people : three centuries of African American history told by those who lived it
Autobiography of a people : three centuries of African American history told by those who lived it
Boyd, Herb, 1938-
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Doubleday, 2000.
Physical Description:
xviii, 549 pages ; 25 cm
Added Author:
Format :


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E185 .A97 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
E185 .A97 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
E185 .A97 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
E185 .A97 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
E185 .A97 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
E185 .A97 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E185 .A97 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ
E185 .A97 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Benjamin Banneker on Thomas Jefferson's hypocrisy * Old Elizabeth on spreading the Word * Frederick Douglass on life in the North * Sojourner Truth on black women's rights * W.E.B. Du Bois on the Talented Tenth * Matthew Henson on reaching the North Pole * and many more. "It has been said, 'He who does not know history is doomed to repeat it.' We as African Americans must put forth a concerted effort to know and to write our own history...We have the knowledge, the know-how, the resources, and we were there." --Rev. Bernice A. King Celebrating the spirituality, courage, and intellectual achievements of African Americans, Autobiography of a People is the first anthology to effectively trace the history of the African American experience--from the Middle Passage to Emancipation, from the Civil War to Vietnam, from the Little Rock Nine to the Million Man March--by telling the story in the words of the men and women who lived it. Editor Herb Boyd has combined a powerful chorus of voices from the past and present to create a compelling portrait of how African Americans have survived--and shaped--some of the most important events in United States history. The misery of slavery, the bloodshed of war, and the struggle for civil rights are just some of the pivotal experiences described in vivid detail throughout the book. Many of the most revered historical and intellectual figures, writers, religious leaders, and activists appear within these pages, such as Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Elaine Brown, Margaret Walker, and General Colin Powell. Yet this remarkable collection also includes riveting scenes from the lives of ordinary men and women whose accomplishments may not have been recorded in the history books, but whose experiences are equally important to the African American story. Offering a wealth of historical detail and emotion, Autobiography of a People is a stunning accomplishment that brings African American history to life, in all its tragedy and triumph, in a brilliant testament to the black experience in America. The book boasts an astounding roster of important historical and intellectual figures, writers and religious leaders, such as Phyllis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., General Colin Powell, and Angela Davis, as well as a generous selection of riveting accounts from ordinary people. The misery of slavery, the bloodshed of several American wars, and the struggle for civil rights are just some of the pivotal experiences described in vivid detail throughout the book. Linked by editor Herb Boyd's informative narrative bridges, these powerful voices from the past and present combine to create a compelling portrait of how African Americans have survived-- and shaped--some of the most important events in U.S. history. A monumental achievement, AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A PEOPLE brings African-American history to life in all its tragedy and triumph, in a brilliant testament to the black experience in America. --> From the Hardcover edition.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

"Go to the source," wise teachers counsel; anthologists like Boyd--coeditor of Brotherman: The Odyssey of Black Men in America, which won the 1995 American Book Award for Nonfiction--allow readers to explore many sources in one volume. Here, Boyd offers more than 100 excerpts from three centuries--from slave narratives, diaries, poems, and letters in the first half of the nation's life to autobiographies, memoirs, letters, and speeches from the century now ending. Boyd includes the writers one would expect, such as Phyllis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Dubois, Reverend King, Malcolm X, and Colin Powell. But his collection may be most valuable to twenty-first-century readers for the less familiar voices he gathers: slaves, freedmen and -women, and, later, intellectuals, workers, and activists, whose experiences are captured in a protest or letter or memoir. Many twentieth-century contributors' names will be familiar, but readers may not expect the eloquence and insights these less-publicized writers supply. A worthwhile addition to most libraries' African American history collections. --Mary Carroll

Library Journal Review

In this anthology, journalist Boyd (Brotherman) celebrates the spirituality, courage, and intellectual achievements of African Americans by tracing the history of their experience in the words of important leaders like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Colin Powell. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Pre-Revolutionary Voices African captives, ruthlessly torn from their homeland, registered their complaint in a number of ways, most violently in countless mutinies aboard the slave ships that plied the Atlantic during the brutal Middle Passage. Much of what we know of these bloody episodes has been distilled from the logs and journals of the slave captains, particularly such notorious slavers as Captain Canot, John Hawkins, and John Newton. These records, however, provide scarcely any information about African tribal life or the circumstances of the captives before they were marched off to the coastal fortresses and subsequently crammed into the fetid holds of the ships. It is from a few priceless slave narratives that we gather some notion of what village life was like in certain regions of West Africa in the latter part of the eighteenth century. James Albert (Ukawsaw Gronniosaw) was the rambunctious grandson of the King of Bornu. From his narrative we are afforded a brief glimpse of African life and the events that led to his captivity. A restless and inquisitive young man, Gronniosaw's preoccupation with the existence of a Supreme Being will follow and sustain him throughout his ordeal. As we will see in many of the selections in this book, God and religion are common topics for an oppressed people seeking liberation. Olaudah Equiano also credits the Creator for helping him survive the hellish experience of being sold into slavery. Equiano, who also went by the name Gustavus Vassa, wrote perhaps the most anthologized slave narrative. His vivid reminiscence of village life in his native Guinea is hardly exhaustive but does give the reader an excellent idea of the African life so many were forced to leave behind. Among his most remarkable and painful stories is the one included here, which tells of the horrors he witnessed aboard the slave ship that carried him from his homeland. Although Phillis Wheatley was also born in Africa, she never wrote a slave narrative. Her two most famous poems signify a complex but conflicted writer who was ambiguous about her African heritage. While it is not certain why she began to write poetry, it may have been to emulate Alexander Pope and other favorites from the neoclassical tradition. Her critics contend she failed to express a stronger concern for the plight of her people; her supporters that it is necessary to read between the lines to detect her subversive intentions. Whatever the case, we cannot ignore the role she played as a literary pioneer. Noted for being America's first black preacher to an all-white congregation, Lemuel Haynes wrote the "ballad" that follows in a burst of patriotic pride. Though he did not participate in the Battle of Lexington, he hurried to the scene shortly after it occurred. Unwavering in his critique of slavery, he often noted the hypocrisy of slaveholders protesting British oppression. Even now, 225 years later, the defiant message of Haynes's poem (shortened for this book) still resonates with power and conviction. More than five thousand African Americans fought in the Revolutionary War, and a good number of them--Peter Salem, Salem Poor, Barzillai Lew, and Pomp Blackman--did so with great honor. Unfortunately, distinguishing themselves on the battlefield did not automatically confer citizenship to the veterans and their families. Many petitions were launched by African Americans such as John and Paul Cuffe and others in 1780, asserting "no taxation without representation." By 1815, the latter Cuffe, a prosperous ship owner, had given up on the States and become an ardent colonizationist and at his own expense transported thirty-eight African Americans to Sierra Leone, many of whom worked as missionaries. James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw From A Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, An African Prince, Written by Himself AFRICA AND NEW YORK, 1720-1730 I WAS BORN IN THE CITY OF BAURNOU, my mother was the eldest daughter of the reigning King there. I was the youngest of six children, and particularly loved by my mother, and my grand-father almost doated on me. I had, from my infancy, a curious turn of mind; was more grave and reserved, in my disposition, than either of my brothers and sisters, I often teazed them with questions they could not answer; for which reason they disliked me, as they supposed that I was either foolish or insane. 'Twas certain that I was, at times, very unhappy in myself: It being strongly impressed on my mind that there was some GREAT MAN of power which resided above the sun, moon and stars, the objects of our worship.--My dear, indulgent mother would bear more with me than any of my friends beside.--I often raised my hand to heaven, and asked her who lived there? Was much dissatisfied when she told me the sun, moon and stars, being persuaded, in my own mind, that there must be some Superior Power.--I was frequently lost in wonder at the works of the creation: Was afraid, and uneasy, and restless, but could not tell for what. I wanted to be informed of things that no person could tell me; and was always dissatisfied.--These wonderful impressions began in my childhood, and followed me continuously till I left my parents, which affords me matter of admiration and thankfulness. To this moment I grew more and more uneasy every day, insomuch that one Saturday (which is the day on which we kept our sabbath) I laboured under anxieties and fears that cannot be expressed; and, what is more extraordinary, I could not give a reason for it.----I rose, as our custom is, about three o'clock (as we are obliged to be at our place of worship an hour before the sun rise) we say nothing in our worship, but continue on our knees with our hands held up, observing a strict silence till the sun is at a certain height, which I suppose to be about 10 or 11 o'clock in England: When, at a certain sign made by the Priest, we get up (our duty being over) and disperse to our different houses.--Our place of meeting is under a large palm tree; we divide ourselves into many congregations; as it is impossible for the same tree to cover the inhabitants of the whole city, though they are extremely large, high and majestic; the beauty and usefulness of them are not to be described; they supply the inhabitants of the country with meat, drink and clothes; the body of the palm tree is very large; at a certain season of the year they tap it, and bring vessels to receive the wine, of which they draw great quantities, the quality of which is very delicious: The leaves of this tree are of a silky nature; they are large and soft; when they are dried and pulled to pieces, it has much the same appearance as the English flax, and the inhabitants of Bournou manufacture it for clothing, &c. This tree likewise produces a plant, or substance, which has the appearance of a cabbage, and very like it, in taste almost the same: It grows between the branches. Also the palm tree produces a nut, something like a cocoa, which contains a kernel, in which is a large quantity of milk, very pleasant to the taste: The shell is of a hard substance, and of a very beautiful appearance, and serves for basons, bowls, &c. . . . About this time there came a merchant from the Gold Coast (the third city in Guinea) he traded with the inhabitants of our country in ivory, &c. he took great notice of my unhappy situation, and inquired into the cause; he expressed vast concern for me, and said, if my parents would part with me for a little while, and let him take me home with him, it would be of more service to me than any thing they could do for me.--He told me that if I would go with him I should see houses with wings to them walk upon the water, and should also see the white folks; and that he had many sons of my age, which should be my companions; and he added to all this that he would bring me safe back again soon.--I was highly pleased with the account of this strange place, and was very desirous of going. . . . Excerpted from Autobiography of a People: Three Centuries of African American History Told by Those Who Lived It All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Forewordp. xvii
Introductionp. 1
Part I. Pre-Revolutionary Voices
James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw (1710-?)p. 17
Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797)p. 22
Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)p. 29
Lemuel Haynes (1753-1833)p. 31
John Cuffe (c. 1755-?)p. 34
Part II. The Lord Will Provide
Richard Allen (1760-1831)p. 41
Old Elizabeth (1766-?)p. 44
Jupiter Hammon (c.1711-1806)p. 48
Belinda (c. 1717-?)p. 50
Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806)p. 52
Prince Hall (1748-1797)p. 56
Part III. From the Cotton Patch to the Big House
Jenny Proctor (c. 1845-?)p. 61
Peter Williams (?-1849)p. 65
Abd ar-Rahman (c. 1790-?)p. 68
Austin Steward (1793-1860)p. 70
Part IV. Let Your Motto Be Resistance!
Nat Turner (1800-1831)p. 81
Henry Highland Garnet (1815-1882)p. 86
Harriet Jacobs (1815?-1897)p. 90
Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)p. 93
John Parker (1827-1900)p. 97
Osborne Anderson (1830-1872)p. 103
Part V. Caught Between the Blue and the Gray
Mattie J. Jackson (1800-?)p. 113
William Wells Brown (1814-1884)p. 118
Robert Purvis (1810-1898)p. 120
Harriet Tubman (1820-1913)p. 121
Elizabeth Keckley (1824-1907)p. 122
John Boston (c. 1842-?)p. 126
Charlotte Forten (1837-1914)p. 127
Ann (c. 1835-?)p. 132
Octave Johnson (1840-?)p. 133
Patsey Leach (1843-?)p. 134
Part VI. No Land, No Mules, and for Millions, No Vote
John Mercer Langston (1829-1879)p. 139
Sojourner Truth (c.1797-1883)p. 144
Samuel Larkin (c. 1840-?)p. 146
John R. Lynch (1847-1939)p. 148
Part VII. Dawn of a New Century
Booker T. Washington (1857?-1915)p. 155
Lewis Latimer (1848-1928)p. 161
Henry McNeal Turner (1834-1915)p. 164
Anna Julia Cooper (1858/9-1964)p. 168
Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954)p. 171
Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)p. 175
Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson (1875-1935)p. 177
Part VIII. And Some of Us Are Bold
James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938)p. 185
W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963)p. 191
Ida B. Wells Barnett (1862-1931)p. 198
Matthew Henson (1866-1955)p. 204
Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton (1890-1941)p. 207
Jack Johnson (1878-1946)p. 211
Ethel Waters (1896-1977)p. 215
Part IX. Seeking a Wider World
Addie Hunton (1875-1943)p. 223
Harry Haywood (1898-1985)p. 226
Era Bell Thompson (1906-1986)p. 229
Dorothy West (1909-1998)p. 234
Richard Wright (1908-1960)p. 237
Marcus Garvey (1887-1940)p. 244
Part X. The Harlem Renaissance and Beyond
Langston Hughes (1898-1967)p. 251
Howard "Stretch" Johnson (1915- )p. 257
Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)p. 262
Pauli Murray (1910-1985)p. 266
Nate Shaw (c. 1900- )p. 272
Haywood Patterson (1913-1952)p. 276
James Cameron (1914- )p. 280
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (1908-1972)p. 285
Part XI. On the Home Front
Conrad Lynn (1908-1995)p. 295
Marian Anderson (1900-1993)p. 298
Nelson Peery (1923- )p. 301
Althea Gibson (1927- )p. 305
A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979)p. 309
Clarence Atkins (1922- )p. 313
Charles Denby (1907-1983)p. 317
Maya Angelou (1928- )p. 323
Coleman Young (1918-1998)p. 326
Part XII. The Calm Before the Storm
Curtis Morrow (1933- )p. 335
Jane (1914- )p. 340
Paul Robeson (1898-1976)p. 343
Sunnie Wilson (1908-1999)p. 350
Coretta Scott King (1927- )p. 355
Constance Baker Motley (1921- )p. 360
Part XIII. Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Us Around
Rosa Parks (1913- )p. 369
Ella Baker (1903-1986)p. 371
James Forman (1928- )p. 375
Melba Pattillo Beals (1942- )p. 379
Part XIV. Breakthroughs and Personal Intimacies
Ossie Davis (1917- ) and Ruby Dee (1924- )p. 389
Anne Moody (1940- )p. 394
Sharon Robinson (1950- )p. 398
Malcolm X (1925-1965)p. 401
General Gordon Baker (1942- )p. 407
Gordon Parks (1912- )p. 409
David Parks (1944- )p. 414
Part XV. To Die for the People
Kwame Ture (1941-1998)p. 421
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)p. 427
H. Rap Brown (1943- )p. 434
Angela Davis (1944- )p. 438
George Jackson (1941-1971)p. 441
Elaine Brown (1943- )p. 445
Randall Robinson (1941- )p. 448
Part XVI. A Way With Words
LL Cool J (1968- )p. 455
Johnnie Cochran (1938- )p. 459
Margaret Walker (1915- )p. 462
Lee Stringer (1950- )p. 468
Sam Fulwood (1956- )p. 471
Tyrone Powers (1961- )p. 474
Part XVII. Bitter the Chastening Rod
Audre Lorde (1934-1993)p. 481
Jill Nelson (1953- )p. 486
Johnnetta B. Cole (1936- )p. 490
Max Roach (1924- )p. 494
Alvin Ailey (1931-1989)p. 497
Colin L. Powell (1937- )p. 500
Part XVIII. "No Justice, No Peace!"
Al Sharpton (1954- )p. 507
Bari-Ellen Roberts (1953- )p. 511
Anita Hill (1950- )p. 516
Gary Franks (1953- )p. 522
James McBride (1957- )p. 527
Mumia Abu-Jamal (1956- )p. 531
Kevin Powell (1966- )p. 533
Rev. Bernice King (1963- )p. 538
Selected Bibliographyp. 544
Permissionsp. 546