Book Review: Letters from Black America — Across the Diaspora

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Through the centuries, societies in civilized and educated countries have long discovered the creative innate retrospective culture manifested in Africans. In “Letters from Black America — Across the Diaspora,” edited by Pamela Newkirk, this

Through the centuries, societies in civilized and educated countries have long discovered the creative innate retrospective culture manifested in Africans. In “Letters from Black America — Across the Diaspora,” edited by Pamela Newkirk, this exquisite publication searched and explored hundreds of letters sent by those who were not able to write to someone who possessed the patience to prepare the passionate expressions of a lonely individuals’ desire to communicate.

These letters reach back from the 17th century through the 20th century. Some letters showed those who had suffered and even died for want of companionship. One notable letter was about an African who became interested in a Black opera star, a soprano who appeared in Verdi’s opera “Aida.”

Other interesting letters: Hannah Grover who wrote to her son Cato whom she hadn’t seen in twenty-years; George Pleasant and Agnes Hobbs penned a letter to their daughter Elizabeth Keckley who served as a seamstress for Mary Todd Lincoln; Lucy Smith told her sister about their mother’s death in 1942; and the famous poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar demonstrated that he always remembered his mother who was born into slavery in Kentucky from Dayton, Ohio. 

Other famous writers included the 18th century poet Phillis Wheatley to the Rev. Samson Occon; Frederick Douglas to President Abraham Lincoln; Annie Davis to President Lincoln; Adam Clayton Powell to John F. Kennedy; and Claude A. Barnett to Jean Toomer.

During the 20th century, the author discovered two intriguing letters—one was from Robert H. Terrell to Mary Church Terrell, his wife from Washington, D.C., and the other one was from W.E.B. Du Bois to Yolande, his daughter from Atlanta, Ga.

Black American poets and literary individuals were featured as well, such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson, Ralph Ellison, Hughes and Arna Bontemps. There’s also an interesting complimentary correspondence from Dr. Booker T. Washington to Emily Howland concerning the diligence of C.J. Calloway who served as principal in an Alabama school.

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Copyright 2009 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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