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Black Livingstone: A True Tale of Adventure in the Nineteenth-Century Congo (Pagan Kennedy Project) Paperback – September 1, 2013

3.9 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1890, a 24-year-old African-American and Southern Presbyterian missionary named William Sheppard left New York for the Congo. During the next 20 years, Sheppard explored that country and in the process discovered a lake that now bears his name; made the first meaningful Western contact with the Kuba kingdom, one of the last native African dynasties, and failed in his attempt to create a "utopia of African-American achievement in Africa." He also clashed with the Belgian colonial authorities, exposing their brutal, genocidal treatment of Africans and, as a result, found himself at the center of a charged, internationally monitored trial in which the powerful performance of lawyer Emile Vandervelde, the leader of the Belgian Socialist Party, overcame a claim that Sheppard had slandered the foremost Belgian producer of rubber. Kennedy (The Exes), a novelist, is captivated by her charismatic subject charisma evidenced by Sheppard's enduring presence in the oral histories of the Kuba and, like the novelist she is, offers fully developed portraits of others in Sheppard's orbit as well. She speculates with a modern feminist's perspective about the inner life of Sheppard's wife, Lucy, who saw two of her children die in Africa, and she examines the reactions to Sheppard of white missionaries, who were unable to succeed in the native culture as well as he. Kennedy also explores the irony of Sheppard, who was made a Kuba prince, facing segregation and discrimination at home. Kennedy is an engaging writer and ably captures the undercurrent of horror found everywhere in the late 19th-century Congo while honoring Sheppard's accomplishments, heroism and character. Photos not seen by PW. (On-sale: Jan. 14)

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Novelist Kennedy (The Exes) recaptures the incredible life and adventures of William Henry Sheppard, a submissively complex African American missionary funded by the segregated Southern Presbyterian Church in 1890 to explore unmapped regions of the Congo and win converts. When he returned to the United States, he was nicknamed "Black Livingstone" in reference to David Livingstone and spoke all over the country to raise funds for the church. But unlike that famous British explorer-missionary, Sheppard identified himself with the Congolese culture and people. When he went back to the Congo after King Leopold II sold the colony to the Belgian government, he realized that it had been turned into a company town and was in ruin, a testimony to the ravages of the rubber trade. (Adam Hochschild covers similar territory in his excellent King Leopold's Ghost, LJ 9/15/98.) Sheppard and other missionaries then worked to expose the exploitation and atrocities in the Congo. Ironically, when he finally returned home to stay, Sheppard, who fought for the rights of blacks in Africa, "lived under apartheid" at home in what was the Jim Crow era. Kennedy takes on racism and imperialism in this first book-length exploration of Sheppard and his life. For students of African American studies, Presbyterian Church history, and anyone interested in colonial Africa. Edward G. McCormack, Univ. of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Lib., Long Beach
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Pagan Kennedy Project
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Santa Fe Writer's Project; Reprint edition (September 1, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0988225263
  • ISBN-13: 978-0988225268
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,029,939 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I agree that Pagan Kennedy is an excellent storyteller, and her telling of William Sheppard's story is spellbinding. Contrary to what some reviewers think, however, there is much more primary material available to the researcher than Kennedy seems to have used. Unfortunately, Black Livingstone is marred by too many suppositions--maybe, probably, perhaps, could have, should have, etc.--and the author attributes attitudes both to Sheppard and his associates that cannot be substantiated from records. William Phipps's biography, William Sheppard: Congo's African American Livingstone, presents a much more balanced picture of this important man's life and service.
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Format: Hardcover
Stanley's presumption that the white man he stumbled upon in the wilds of the Congo must be the lost Dr Livingstone was at least based on some knowledge. The same however, can not be said about some of the assumptions that Pagan Kennedy makes regarding the thoughts and motives of Presbyterian missionary William Sheppard in BLACK LIVINGSTONE. As another reviewer has already pointed out there are too many instances of "he must have thought" "he would have believed" "perhaps he felt" and so on. Suppositions that because they are repeated so often only draw your attention to the reality that there seems to be an awful lot that the author doesn't know about her subject. It's also very distracting.
More research may have only helped a little as there does not seem to be a whole lot of information available about William Sheppard. Born in 1865 in Virginia he attended Hampton Institute and then entered the ministry in Alabama. After pastorships in Georgia, this young black man in the predominantly white Southern Presbyterian Church was offered a position as missionary to the Belgian Congo in 1890. He and a fellow missionary - 23 year old white Alabaman Samuel Lapsley set off for what would be a 20 year adventure for Sheppard. Lapsley on the otherhand lasted no time at all. He died from fever in 1892, eventually being replaced by William Morrison who came out in 1897.
Writing style and paucity of research material on the main subject notwithstanding, the book does a good enough job with the descrition of some of the adventures that Sheppard embarked on. Such as his journey to the land of the Kuba peoples "who lived at the end of a labyrinth of secret paths; anyone who told the way into the city would be beheaded.
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By A Customer on January 18, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Because of the fascinating nature of its subject, I eagerly awaited the publication of this book and excited started reading it, despite having at least a dozen other books waiting to be read. The story of William Sheppard's life and the sad history of Belgium's colonization - or rape - of the Congo were irresistably interesting, but Ms Kennedy's book is extremely disappointing. It is poorly documented and full of speculation. Even after the first few pages, it is exasperating, as it repeats constructions such as "He must have ...," "He would have ...," and "He must have thought ... ." In short, it is full of descriptions that could not possibly have been known by the author, and the result is that the book lacks authority because it makes one question the author's and the sources' credibility. This could have been a much, much better book had the author not filled it with so much speculation and such ridiculously imagined passages as: " By the time the train chuffed up to the station, Sheppard had trimmed his stogie. Climbing on board, he swayed past the Colored section and went on to Smoking. There, he veiled himself in a spicy-smelling shroud." Every page of this book is covered with similar imagined passages. It is just poorly written.
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Format: Hardcover
Pagan Kennedy writes an interesting story about William Henry Sheppard, black Presbyterian pioneer missionary to nineteenth-century Congo Africa. The book is laced with quotations from original sources that give something of the flavor of the man and his times, as well as comments from his colleagues. Often, one wishes for more of the quotations and less reading between and behind the lines by the author.
Clearly, this is a work of historical fiction, leaning more to the fiction side than the history side. Although Kennedy relies on historical sources, she is primarily a fiction writer. It becomes evident in the way she frequently imagines the thoughts and motives of Sheppard and the other players in his history. One soon recognizes that Kennedy has created William Henry Sheppard in her own image and likeness. The nagging question remains on every page: how does Kennedy know the thoughts and motives of Sheppard and his missionary colleagues unless they are recorded in their writings or conversations with others?
The picture of Sheppard that emerges is of a strong but flawed individual using African exploration to escape American racism and social ostracism. Traditional religious ideas of the missionary as one who sacrifices his or her life to deliver the Christian message to those who have never heard is largely absent from this book. One wonders why Kennedy didn't just write a novel about a black southerner who goes to Africa as a missionary explorer. Then, she would not have to use so many "probably he was thinking" or "imagine that he" or "it must have seemed to him" and the like.
In the end, a disappointing book. The "real" story of Sheppard and his mission remains to be written.
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