Magazine article Ebony

New Book, 'The African Americans,' Presents Striking Images of Black Achievement

Magazine article Ebony

New Book, 'The African Americans,' Presents Striking Images of Black Achievement

Article excerpt

The African Americans, which will be published this month by Viking Studio Books, is a comprehensive photographic portrait of African American achievement - contemporary and historical. The large-format gift book was conceived by business and community leader Charles M. Collins and David Cohen, director of the best-selling Day in the Life series of photography books.

Collins wanted to respond to an American media which often narrowly depicts Blacks at the extremes, as either sports heroes and entertainment superstars on the one hand, or victims and threatening characters on the other. His question was: Where are the Black doctors, lawyers, school teachers and public servants, the hardworking parents and honor students he encountered every day? A book of first-rate photo-reportage about real-world African American achievement would tell their story ... but like many good ideas, it was put on the back burner.

Then came the Rodney King verdict. As Los Angeles burned, the country was presented with a grim reminder of the social cost of misconceptions about the African American community. A lack of knowledge about role models and achievable goals on the part of disenfranchised young Blacks contributed to the despair and violence. Ignorance on the part of other Americans led to oppression and fear.

At that point, Collins and Cohen met with community leaders like National Urban League Director John Jacob and Washington attorney Vernon Jordan. Together, they identified corporations that would help bring forth a first-rate comprehensive portrait of African American achievement. These included the Anheuser-Busch Companies, AT&T, the Coca-Cola Company and the Hilton Hotels Corporation. Leading photojournalists around the country were commissioned, and work began to spotlight Black leaders, role models and "everyday heroes."

The African Americans contains a rich treasury of text and historical photographs and contemporary portraits and a stirring introduction by the noted scholar and historian John Hope Franklin. It holds a mirror to the African American community, emphasizing its significant achievements and vital role in American society. It provides a window that allows other Americans to view the Black community in all its diversity. It opens the doors of self-esteem by presenting young African Americans with positive role models and achievable possibilities. It follows Washington Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly's advice that "we must stop defining ourselves by our most troubled element."

Almost a century ago, the libelous attacks against African Americans were so crude and blatant that even the most optimistic and tolerant among them seemed discouraged.... Today, the situation is different. It is not that racism has been eradicated, or that its multiple offspring of discrimination, segregation and exploitation have disappeared. It is that African Americans have learned how to better cope with the forces that operate against them, and they have learned how to turn the opposing forces into challenges that they can meet fearlessly and with confidence.

Over the years, African Americans have experienced moods that almost simultaneously lifted them to the heights of optimism only to be dashed into the depths of despair. Too often that has been what the life of African Americans has been about, a kind of counterpoint that gave meaning to the realism of their sometimes desperate existence and at the same time provided some hope for the future. In 1780, the well-to-do Paul Cuffe of Massachusetts could not vote because he was Black. He was more bemused than outraged when, in response to his refusal to pay his taxes, the town fathers threw him into the Taunton jail. …

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