By Stuart Mitchner
My only problem with a ceremonial institution like last month’s celebrating black history is in the way “history” implicitly detracts from the ongoing immediacy of the African American experience. “Lives” in my title can be read both as a reference to the lives of people and to the force that lives in the present, which happens when we listen to Charlie Parker or Billie Holiday, read James Baldwin or Frederick Douglass, admire a painting by Jacob Lawrence or a photograph by Gordon Parks, or go online to watch First Lady Michelle Obama’s stirring speech at the 2016 Democratic Convention.
The good news is that millions of people have been reading Obama’s memoir, Becoming (Crown $32.50), and David W. Blight’s Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (Simon and Schuster $37.50).
Blight’s landmark biography begins with President Barack Obama’s September 24, 2016 dedication speech at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in which he delivered “a clear-eyed view” of the “tragic and triumphant” experience of “black Americans in the United States.” After referring to “the infinite depths of Shakespeare and scripture” in black history, Obama paid tribute to “the fight for our freedom … a lifetime of struggle and progress and enlightenment … etched in Frederick Douglass’s mighty leonine gaze.” more