Cover image for African American lives
African American lives
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr.
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xxvi, 1025 pages : illustrations ; 29 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E185.96 .A446 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating
E185.96 .A446 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Reference material
E185.96 .A446 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ
E185.96 .A446 2004 Adult Non-Fiction New Materials
E185.96 .A446 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E185.96 .A446 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Reference material
E185.96 .A446 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Reference material

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African American Lives offers up-to-date, authoritative biographies of some 600 noteworthy African Americans. These 1,000-3,000 word biographies, selected from over five thousand entries in the forthcoming eight-volume African American National Biography, illuminate African-American history through the immediacy of individual experience. From Esteban, the earliest known African to set foot in North America in 1528, right up to the continuing careers of Venus and Serena Williams, these stories of the renowned and the near forgotten give us a new view of American history. Our past is revealed from personal perspectives that in turn inspire, move, entertain, and even infuriate the reader. Subjects include slaves and abolitionists, writers, politicians, and business people, musicians and dancers, artists and athletes, victims of injustice and the lawyers, journalists, and civil rights leaders who gave them a voice. Their experiences and accomplishments combine to expose the complexity of race as an overriding issue in America's past and present.

African American Lives features frequent cross-references among related entries, over 300 illustrations, and a general index, supplemented by indexes organized by chronology, occupation or area of renown, and winners of particular honors such as the Spingarn Medal, Nobel Prize, and Pulitzer Prize.

Author Notes

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of Humanities, Chair of Afro-American Studies; Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research, Harvard University. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham is Professor of History and Afro-American Studies, Harvard University; Editor, Harvard Guide to African American History.

Reviews 5

Booklist Review

More than 600 black Americans who have made a distinctive imprint on American society and culture are profiled in this reference source. Edited by two widely published and respected Harvard scholars--cultural critic Gates and historian Higginbotham--and written by a broad selection of scholars, this volume is intended as a forerunner to an eight-volume encyclopedia entitled African American National Biography0 , which is scheduled to be published in 2006; it will contain biographies of 6,000 notable African Americans. The alphabetically arranged biographical entries are well written and focus on the subject's contributions to both the subculture and history of black Americans, as well as the person's effect on the general history and culture of the U.S. The entries highlight the lives of both well-known (e.g., George Washington Carver, W. E. B. DuBois, Dizzy Gillespie, Martin Luther King) and lesser-known African Americans (e.g., Olympic rower Anita DeFrantz, rodeo entertainer Bill Pickett, nursing administrator and activist Mabel Doyle Keaton Staupers), and they represent many cultural, political, and scholarly fields of interest. Averaging one to three pages in length and sometimes complemented by a small black-and-white photo or artwork reproduction, entries include the person's dates of birth and death and conclude with a very short list of further reading, obituary references where applicable, and an author byline. The entries are accurate and clearly written and confront controversy directly and fairly. For example, the essay on O. J. Simpson impartially discusses his guilt or innocence in the murder of his former wife and how this controversy has overshadowed the football player's gridiron accomplishments, and the entry on Amira Baraka discusses the poet's controversial views of American whites and Jews in the context of his contributions to American poetry. African American Lives0 is an excellent complement to Gates' one-volume encyclopedia Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience 0 (Basic, 1999) because it provides authoritative biographical detail about important black Americans as opposed to the latter's more general focus on the interrelationships between the African culture and American history. African American Lives0 also provides adult readers with more comprehensive biographical information than what is found in the eight-volume African American Encyclopedia0 (2d ed., Marshall Cavendish, 2001), which is intended for high-school and lower-level college students. Relatively inexpensive, African American Lives0 offers accessible and authoritative biographical and critical information on a well-selected representative group of influential black Americans. It also offers all libraries a glimpse into what promises to be a major publishing event in 2006--the publication of a multivolume biographical encyclopedia on African Americans. African American Lives0 is highly recommended for most academic and public libraries, as well as some high-school libraries. -- RBB Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

This substantial compilation offers thorough, accessible biographies of 611 African-Americans over more than four centuries, beginning with Esteban, the first African known to have set foot in North America, up through writers, academics, artists, activists and more of today. A few of these profiles have been written by notable names-Gerald Early on Muhammad Ali, Clayborne Carson on Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, John Szwed on Miles Davis-though most are by lesser-known contributors. Usefully, the biographies contain multiple cross-references to others in the book and list sources at the end. The 1,000-3,000-word entries are generally well-written, even lyrical, and balanced, for example assessing controversies regarding O.J. Simpson or preacher Daddy Grace. This achievement has flaws. Some biographies include unnecessary lists of awards and cheerleading: why tell us of Condoleezza Rice being honored by the NAACP but not of her role in the Iraq war? Wasn't Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. a tyrant as well as a genius? Former energy secretary Hazel O'Leary is described as "strikingly attractive and warm" while academic Cornel West embodies a "profound love for and faith in humanity." Some 257 of the entries have been reprinted from American National Biography (Oxford, 1999); Gates and Higginbotham's volume is part of the African-American National Biography project, which will include 6,000 profiles. While this book has resurrected numerous figures-Onesimus, slave and medical pioneer; Daniel Coker, a founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; etc.-it undoubtedly will inspire debate about more contemporary choices. Why Tupac Shakur but not Russell Simmons (or anyone else from the rap world)? Why Suzan-Lori Parks but not George C. Wolfe? Why Sharon Pratt Kelly, the first African-American female mayor of a major city, but not her more controversial predecessor, Marion Barry? Oh, and if his former colleague West is included, where's editor Gates himself? Despite such quibbles, this documenting of major power and achievement will undoubtedly be a standard reference work. Agent, Lynn Nesbit. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

If there is no history, only biography, then this work opens multiple fresh vistas on proper African American history. Ranging from black explorer Esteban, who arrived on these shores in 1528, to the Rev. Al Sharpton and his 2004 Democratic presidential campaign, the 600-plus mini-biographies presented here offer content and context for both the prominent and the lost-and-found. Brief bibliographies accompany the 1000- to 3000-word entries, and multiple cross references relate them. Chronological and topical indexes connect individuals by categories such as occupation or accomplishment (e.g., Nobel or Pulitzer prize winners). For cramming so much into so little space, the team from Harvard University's W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research, led by Gates and Higginbotham, merits applause. This work easily supplants Rayford Logan and Michael Winston's Dictionary of American Negro Biography (1982) while also serving as a tantalizing appetizer to the feast promised in 2006 with the release of a 6000-entry, eight-volume African American National Biography. Essential for any serious African American collection. Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6 Up-Published two years in advance of the 10-times-more-massive African American National Biography (Oxford, scheduled for 2006), this sampler profiles more than 600 men and women, from Esteban to Tupac Shakur. The signed entries, about 250 of which are reprinted from The American National Biography (Oxford, 1999), are ordered alphabetically; range from one to five triple-columned pages in length; include cross-references as well as, when feasible, small, muddy black-and-white portraits; and close with short but rich reading lists, heavy on primary sources. Back matter includes a list by general category or occupation (e.g., "Science," "Slaves," "Sports"), complete lists of prize winners (with entrants in this volume indicated in boldface), and an admirably detailed index. As relatively few of the subjects here are still living, this resource has a distinctly historical bent-but the scholarship is current, the approach is incisively analytical, and the writing is anything but dry: the entry on expatriate pygmy Otabenga, for instance, opens by describing him as an "elephant hunter, Bronx Zoo exhibit, and tobacco worker." World-class collections that already own this volume's monumental predecessor should be able to hold out for its full version. For the rest of us, though (despite editorial assertions to the contrary), there are alternatives, such as R. Kent Rasmussen's African American Encyclopedia (Marshall Cavendish, 2001) or, at least for the women's side of the story, Darlene Clark Hine's Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia (Carlson, 1993; o.p.). Still, it's an exciting, and affordable, new resource.-John Peters, New York Public Library (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The first segment of a projected eight-volume work, African American National Biography, to be completed in 2006, this volume contains 611 biographical sketches that range from several paragraphs to several pages and cover both living and deceased individuals. Although the work profiles the most prominent African Americans (e.g., Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass), it also includes many lesser-known but fascinating personalities, among them Wentworth Arthur Matthew, a black rabbi who led a Jewish congregation in Harlem, and "Blind Tom," born Thomas Greene Wiggins, a sightless musical prodigy who was a slave. Particularly useful are bibliographic references after each entry, which frequently note where manuscripts are deposited. Engagingly written, this well-designed work has a fine selection of photographs, art reproductions, and illustrations. It concludes with an occupation index, lists of major award winners, and prominent African American officeholders in US legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. The main index helps by providing detailed terms and descriptions. Although more than a third of the entries are reprinted from American National Biography (24v., CH, Sep'99), this outstanding volume will still be useful for libraries that already own that set. One minor quibble: the roster of contributors needs brief biographies and academic or institutional affiliations. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. All collections. D. Altschiller Boston University

Table of Contents

Introductionp. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xiii
Directory of Contributorsp. xv
Subjects in African American Livesp. xxiii
African American Livesp. 1
Subjects by Category or Area of Renownp. 927
African American Prizewinners, Medalists, Members of Congress, and Judgesp. 935
Indexp. 943