Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In his preface to the 1976 revised edition of Great Black Americans, William Fahey quotes Langston Hughes’s echo of Walt Whitman—“I, too, sing America”—and states that it is the “ample voice, large subject” of what he calls “great black America” that is the source of inspiration for the book. Nothing the changes in American life since the book was initially published in 1945 as Great American Negroes, Fahey explains that his revisions of Ben Richardson’s original conception are designed to “express these changes as they are reflected in the lives of the men and women whose accomplishments are here set forth.” Nevertheless, the book retains the structure of Richardson’s first edition. There are seven categories of achievement: music, theater, art, literature, education and public affairs, science, and sports. In each one, a brief sketch of the lives and accomplishments of some of the most prominent figures in American history contributes to a composite picture of the significant role of African Americans in the development of the nation.

The basic pattern that the authors follow is to begin with either a moment of dramatic achievement in the life of the subject (such as Willie Mays’s great catch to save the first game of the 1954 World Series, Katherine Dunham’s dramaturgical revelation in Haiti, or Daniel Hale Williams’ landmark heart surgery), the specific circumstances of birth (especially when...

(The entire section is 453 words.)