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In the not-too-distant past, most publishers released nearly all of the few books they had about or of interest to Black people justin time for Black History Month. With the huge growth and diversification of the Black book market in the last decade or so, that has changed. Black readers can look forward to book launches all year long. Still, the weeks leading up to February bring box loads of new books our way, because publishers often save major Black history releases for this month and make a big push to promote earlier ones. This year’s offerings offer both variety and depth.

Particularly of note is the African American National Biography, an eight-volume reference work from the Oxford University Press, edited by Drs. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham of Harvard University’s W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. This extraordinary accomplishment has been 10 years in the making.

With more than 4,000 entries about African-Americans of note, living and deceased, the publishers say it is “the largest repository of black life stories ever assembled. It is the first biographical reference on African-Americans in 25 years, since the Dictionary of American Negro Biography by Rayford Whittingham Logan and Michael R. Winston, W. W. Norton & Company, in February of 1983. That work was not nearly as extensive.

This set comes beautifully bound with authoritative, highly detailed and readable summaries. Each entry is signed by a scholar, and each cites books and primary sources for further study. The subjects include the famous and the not so readily recognized who deserve remembrance, from Aaron, born 1811, an antislavery lecturer, to Paul Burgess Zuber, 1926-87, a lawyer known for school desegregation cases in the North. One thousand black-and-white photographs and images illustrate the text. Several indexes and listings of honors are included.

This is destined to be an important acquisition for libraries and institutions, invaluable to scholars, journalists and other researchers. It is also addictive reading, making it difficult to refer to one biography without lingering to reflect on several more discoveries.

Within a year, the contents are expected to be available online by subscription through the Oxford African American Studies CenterWeb site, Publishers also plan to add new biographies to the Web site.

A succinct, warts-and-all assessment of the civil-rights leader by a New Hampshire author and professor reflects on where Dr. Martin Luther King’s views on economic equity and peace were taking him and the nation at the time of his death.

One who was there, Charles E. Cobb Jr., a former organizer and field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, has compiled a travel guide with maps, photographs and facts on places that were central to the civil rights movement. D

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