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BOOK REVIEW: Still I Rise: A Graphic History of African Americans

stilliraise

It is difficult for most

to recognize that African-American history evolves by the second. Though a

consensus of its milestones has not been reached, perfect shoe-ins would

include Harriet Tubman’s underground railroad, Ida B. Wells’ campaign against

lynching, Marcus Garvey’s UNIA movement, the Harlem Renaissance, and Martin

Luther King’s fight for Civil Rights, among others.

 

Not one of those moments

defines the entire African-American struggle and none of them exists without

the events before it, but each are characterized by the overcoming of racism during dire times when it seemed like societal rules would

not budge. For that, the African-American experience has been one of both pride

and humiliation, progression and regression, firsts and delayed firsts.

 

Still I Rise (Sterling), written by

Roland and Taneshia Laird and illustrated by Elihu “Adolfo” Bey, seems like a natural document of the times. In its second

edition, the graphic novel covers slavery in America all the way to President

Obama’s election in November 2008. The original book culminated with the

Million March, but once again Black History unfolds by the second and the

Lairds are right there with it.

 

Every tale in Black History

needs a legend, and the Lairds effectively pinpoint the heroes of each era.

They lay out the rich African-American tradition of resilience through the

lives of Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Madame CJ Walker, Ida

B. Wells, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., men and women who have transcended

their own lives and have become enduring icons of perseverance. “No matter

where we wind up,” remarks the wizened cartoon couple who narrate the comic book,

“One thing our history has taught us is that though we may have started in

America at the bottom of the ladder, any of us can climb our way to the top….”

Those who already are familiar with the landmarks in African-American history

will find the stories in Still I Rise both

historically accurate and politically reflective of that mantra.

 

The Lairds, with their

prudent sense of Black History’s canonical events, dedicate adequate time to

each. The units describing the rise of slavery, the Transatlantic trade that

started it all, and the Black soldiers who fought for the Union during the

Civil War, are intricately told, as are the stories of the nameless individuals

who participated in the freedom rides in the 60s. The Lairds have also done

commendable research, detailing both the primary and secondary characters of

the Civil Rights movement; while reporting on that epoch, they shine light on

Bayard Rustin and A. Phillip Randolph, principle role players often

overshadowed by the accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

 

All bases are covered,

which classifies Still I Rise as a

bona fide resource. It doubles up as a reliable classroom tool as a

non-intimidating introduction to African-American history. Readers get

everything from Nat Turner’s Rebellion to Hurricane Katrina. In short, Still I Rise is a worthwhile companion

to Black History month that readers young and old should index.

 

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