LEST WE FORGET Book Review – Thoughtful Annals of Black History

Editor’s Note:  Read related interviews in the George Floyd: In Memoriam roundup.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. joins other leaders during the March on Washington. With locked hands and joined arms they move along Constitution Avenue on August 28, 1963. Courtesy: CSU Archives/Everett Collection

You too will likely spend some time just lingering on the LEST WE FORGET’s cover.  Faces peer out at you from a collage of archival photos and illustrations announcing that this is both a book with personality and of personalities.  Then, your fingers might wander to the folder inside the back cover to unearth ten removable pieces of memorabilia—from a receipt of a young slave girl sale, to the FBI poster of MIA Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner insisting that you see how young and fresh faced they are, even in poor quality faded images, and more.  Know that you will likely want to return to these treasures when you finish your first reading of the book, if not also at stops along the way.  Perhaps you too will put your finger up to measure it against Rosa Parks’ jailhouse fingerprints, wanting to touch her spirit, as she has touched yours.

A group of escaped slaves outside a cabin, at Cumberland Landing, Virginia in 1861. Escaped slaves were called contraband after the Union General Benjamin Butler (1818-93) announced that any slaves in land controlled by the Union Army would be regarded as contraband property © Everett Collection Historical/Alamy Stock Photo

It is actually the pen and archival talents of Velma Maia Thomas that touch you the most.  She was the curator of a famed Black Holocaust exhibit in Atlanta.  It spawned three earlier books, and now this compilation and condensed version.  Her voice peppers the text here and there throughout reminding you of her storyteller’s quest to get you to take in her words.  After explaining the slave auction she says, for example, “…This was the pain of my ancestors, the loneliness, rage, fear and helplessness whose depths can never be told.”

Two former enslaved children, date unknown © Public Domain

LEST WE FORGET Travels from Slave Ship to Today’s Protests

There are two or more pictures on every two pages of this 110 pages of story. Also, there are treasures scattered about the chapters that fold out—the type written instructions on how to comport oneself during a lunch counter sit in; letters from slave owners, bills of sale and more.  These are transcribed for easy reading before the book’s end notes, but their facsimile preserves the true historic feel of these archival reference points.

The sheer breadth of the material that the book covers strikes this writer as being both its weakness and strength. Any topic that you bring a more detailed foreknowledge of might leave you vaguely disappointed with what was omitted. No, one can’t possibly convey the horrors of the Middle Passage in but a page or so. Then again, a more detailed dive into that one moment or other perhaps works against connecting it properly to the zeitgeist of today’s Black Lives Matter movement, and all stops in between. By covering so much ground so quickly, it feels like then and now are of the same piece.

That said, this professional writer or editor sorely hopes that a future edition will be enriched by better editing out of things like chapters stringing repeat opening paragraphs in sequence.  Most readers will likely let such glitches sail by without a worry.

Jack and Abby Landlord, aged 100 and 110, circa 1868 Photo by O. Pierre Havens, 1838-1912/New York Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building/Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs

A Find for Family Time

One pictures a gaggle of children gathering around to hear parents read the stories aloud.  They are ten and older perhaps.  They are Black, they are White, Asian, or any Other on a US Census form.  They like to talk about the memorabilia and the pictures.  One can envision any photo-rich page spawning hours of discussion.

For parents who want to set the historic record straight, and also to convey the optimism that powers fights for social justice, LEST WE FORGET is Highly Recommended.  Its photo- and memorabilia-rich format makes it a top pick for family book collections. More advanced students of African American history may find it a mismatch with their interests.

Cotton plantation scene with pickers at work in Georgia, circa 1900 © Hulton Archive/Getty Images


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For more information and directions on how to purchase, visit the Quarto Press webpage for LEST WE FORGET

Amy Munice

About the Author: Amy Munice

Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.

Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.


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