Skip to main content

And Still I Rise: Black America Since MLK - An Illustrated Chronology


And Still I Rise: Black America Since MLK - An Illustrated Chronology

“Of course, a more common mistake is to suggest that Ferguson is an isolated incident; that racism is banished; that the work that drew men and women to Selma is now complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play ‘the race card’ for their own purposes. We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true. We just need to open our eyes, and our ears, and our hearts to know that this nation’s history still casts its long shadow upon us.”

So spoke President Obama shortly after the extrajudicial execution of Michael Brown, one of the thousands of innocent African Americans who have fatally faced the white supremacy within the police and judicial systems of this country since Martin Luther King Jr. This quote, from the concluding pages, encompasses the necessity of AND STILL I RISE. Our country was founded on the brutalization of nonwhite bodies, and it continues to exist upon that brutalization, as well as its systemic erasure from our history books and conversations.  Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Kevin M. Burke create an immersive, inclusive account that is at once timeless and all too timely.

AND STILL I RISE details a modern history of America filled with truths typically and historically untold in our education and news coverage. The book names, contextualizes and sources the unnamed, as well as illuminates crucial facts about historical players we often neglect. It’s not all encompassing --- it certainly is an overview of the history --- but it’s a clear, powerful and engaging volume, the companion to the PBS series of the same name, also hosted by Gates.

"The text weaves moments of historical and social triumph with experiences of the most extreme violence and hatred, a necessary and powerful choice."

The text weaves moments of historical and social triumph with experiences of the most extreme violence and hatred, a necessary and powerful choice. The authors alternate incredible “firsts,” both known and unknown --- Maya Angelou’s first publication, Mayor David Dinkins’ inauguration, Beverly Johnson’s first black Vogue cover --- with the assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., systemic disenfranchisement, the prison industrial complex, and the police brutality that took the lives of Eric Garner, Amadou Diallo, Trayvon Martin and far too many more. This juxtaposition is a crucial one. The white supremacy, racism and continued oppressions that black communities face absolutely must be spoken about, illustrated clearly and contextualized within the larger movement that has arisen in response, as Gates and Burke emphasize. However, it is also critical to celebrate successes and triumphs, as well as to commemorate how far we have come. In order for us to recognize how much work is left for us all to do in the name of true freedom and equality, we must understand the fights that have been fought before us, and for us.

That being said, for a book on black America, AND STILL I RISE has a distinct emphasis on intersectionality and inclusivity, deliberately recognizing the homophobia and misogyny in the civil rights and Black Power movements, and calling for allyship and understanding. The unique oppressions at the intersections of race, class, gender and sexuality are paramount. Black America includes fighting for the class oppressions black people systemically face --- black women, black gay people, black trans people, disabled black people, etc. These battles are not exclusive but are necessarily intersecting. Gates and Burke commemorate Marsha P. Johnson and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, the black transgender women who pioneered the Stonewall Movement and consequently the modern gay rights movement. Their presence marks AND STILL I RISE as a more inclusive and honest telling of history than, for example, the recent Stonewall movie that replaces them with young cis white men.

“And still I rise” indeed is the overarching message of this book, derived from Maya Angelou’s most famous poem. In this country, black communities often have to work four times as hard to be recognized half as much. As a nonblack reader, I hope this volume fosters community. I hope it serves as a support system and resource to any black person who seeks it. I hope nonblack readers like myself take the time to examine the footnotes, to peruse the pictures and, most importantly, to recognize how much of this bloody and unequal history is not taught. This is our history --- this is unconditionally one of the most important perspectives to illuminate the timeframe. We must recognize what has been erased from textbooks and our cultural consciousness in the name of white supremacy. We must fight back, not only politically but within each other, challenging the engrained racial and racist scripts left over from our country’s recent past and reinforced by our social and political present. “And still I rise,” says the black community, and it is our responsibility to support them.

We can begin with this book.

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on November 13, 2015

And Still I Rise: Black America Since MLK - An Illustrated Chronology
by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Kevin M. Burke

  • Publication Date: October 27, 2015
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco
  • ISBN-10: 0062427008
  • ISBN-13: 9780062427007