BOOK REVIEW: Still I Rise: A Graphic History of African Americans
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 Tubmans underground railroad, Ida B. Wells campaign against
lynching, Marcus Garveys UNIA movement, the Harlem Renaissance, and Martin
Luther Kings 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
Obamas 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 Historys 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 Turners Rebellion to Hurricane Katrina. In short, Still I Rise is a worthwhile companion
to Black History month that readers young and old should index.