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Reviews: Catching Up on the Black History Book Bounty

Black History Month shouldn’t be the only time to catch up on reading about the African-American experience. Fortunately, recent selections from university and scholarly presses, released in February to coincide with Black History Month, have been varied and noteworthy. So much so that is offering extra reviews this month, in addition to the usual Diverse Issues Bookshelf column, to include the titles that were missed last month.


Princess Noire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone, by Nadine Cohodas, $30, Pantheon, February 2010, ISBN-10: 0375424016, ISBN-13: 978-0375424014, pp. 464.

This author, who has previously written about jazz and personalities involved in it, including Dinah Washington, tackles perhaps the most mysterious and mercurial of all jazz artists: Nina Simone. Legends about her abound, but Cohadas cuts through the myths to provide insight on the classical pianist turned jazz/pop diva and icon of the civil rights Movement. Born Eunice Waymon in Tryon, N.C., she invented a new name and transformed herself and her music into entities that are difficult to define and impossible to ignore. Prone to outbursts on stage and off, she also channeled her visible anger over professional disappointments and racial injustice into some of the most unforgettable anthems of the era.

Forty Minutes of Hell: The Extraordinary Life of Nolan Richardson, by Rus Bradburd, $24.99, Amistad, February 2010, ISBN-10: 0061690465, ISBN-13: 978-0061690464, pp. 336.

The title refers to the style of basketball this legendary coach mastered during his rise to national prominence as the first African-American in the Old South to win an NCAA basketball championship as coach of a predominantly White school, the University of Arkansas in 1994. He was named national coach of the year and took the team to the Final Four two more times. The author, a former coach himself, and now assistant professor at New Mexico State University, conveys the victories and the pain that Richardson experienced in life and in sports. Richardson grew up as the only Black kid in the Mexican-American barrio of El Paso, Texas, integrated the local high school and honed his basketball skills at what is now the University of Texas at El Paso. His career ended abruptly after a public outburst at a news conference in which he alleged that the University of Arkansas had discriminated against him.

Foot Soldiers for Democracy: The Men, Women, and Children of the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement, edited by Horace Huntley, John W. McKerley, University of Illinois Press; October 2009, ISBN-10: 0252076680, ISBN-13: 978-0252076688, pp. 264.

Powerful oral histories from the archives of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute allow participants in some of the bloodiest battles of the movement to share what it was like when the children of one of America’s most-segregated cities took to the frontlines. The participants recorded here were the witnesses to and victims of Bull Connor’s cruelest resistance, the bomb attacks on churches (including the infamous killing of four little girls) and the mass arrests of black youth. Their stories, along with commentary by the historian Robin D.G. Kelley and former student activist Rose Freeman Massey, tell how the events molded the freedom fighters and changed history. “Such events must have life-altering effects on the psyche of a young child,” Kelley writes. “How long does it take for the psychological wound to heal”? This book allows some of the children, as well as adults, to answer the question themselves. One recalls feelings of helplessness after the bombing that took her friends at the 16th Street Baptist Church. An earlier volume from the institute focused on the role of labor unions in the war on segregation.

Remembering Brown at Fifty: The University of Illinois Commemorates Brown v. Board of Education, edited by Orville Vernon Burton and David O’Brien, $35, University of Illinois Press, November 2009,  ISBN-10: 0252076656 , ISBN-13: 978-0252076657, pp. 456.

In 2004, the University of Illinois devoted a year to commemorating the Brown v. Board of Education decision, providing various forums and avenues to discuss its impact across a wide range of issues. The programming included conferences, lectures and art events. This book pulls together the various threads through the papers presented at the conference, as well as others drawn from the campus events throughout the year. Among those contributing were historians such as Drs. John Hope Franklin and Darlene Clark Hine, as well as scholars in various other disciplines, including Lani Guinier and Julian Bond, reflecting on what the landmark decision did and did not achieve. 

A New Track: Fostering Diversity and Equity in Athletics
American sport has always served as a platform for resistance and has been measured and critiqued by how it responds in critical moments of racial and social crises.
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A New Track: Fostering Diversity and Equity in Athletics