How do we balance the desire for tales of exceptional accomplishment with the need for painful doses of reality? How hard do we work to remember our past or to forget it? These are some of the questions that Jonathan Scott Holloway addresses in this exploration of race memory from the dawn of the modern civil rights era to the present. Relying on social science, documentary film, dance, popular literature, museums, memoir, and the tourism trade, Holloway explores the stories black Americans have told about their past and why these stories are vital to understanding a modern black identity. In the process, Holloway asks much larger questions about the value of history and facts when memories do violence to both.
Making discoveries about his own past while researching this book, Holloway weaves first-person and family memories into the traditional third-person historian's perspective. The result is a highly readable, rich, and deeply personal narrative that will be familiar to some, shocking to others, and thought-provoking to everyone.
What do we tell our children? What stories do we pass along so they know their history? These questions permeate Yale historian Holloway s riveting account of how we see, study, and learn about racial identity, and how we acquire the memories that shape that identity. Holloway (Confronting the Veil) surveys the social, political, and cultural milieu of race in the latter half of the 20th century, from a review of various sociologists perspectives and the controversies surrounding them in light of the explosion of social science literature in the 1940s, to the role played by the Johnson family of magazines, the impact of 1960s documentaries, and the development of Black Studies programs in the 1970s. He visits American plantations, museums, and other important sites before taking his research to places such as Ghana and Liverpool. The book is noteworthy for the clarity with which Holloway treats historical events and persons buried in ephemera, and for its abundance of detail. Part jargon-free academic treatise and pertinent personal memoir, the result is an evocative bildungsroman in which we see the social scientist as a young man become the provocative historian. 18 illus.