John Robert Bond, son of a white Englishwoman and a black laborer on the Liverpool waterfront, became a sailor in the American Union Navy and married Emma Thomas, a Virginia woman born into slavery, in 1865. Chronicling their lives and those of their children and grandchildren, the author (their great-granddaughter Adele Logan Alexander) presents a dramatic family saga intertwined with a sweeping account of the black experience in America from 1846, the year of John's birth, to 1926, when Emma died at age 80. Most of the Bonds were talented, determined, and successful beyond the norm--John and Emma's progeny included a prosperous businessman and a Radcliffe graduate who was a close friend of W.E.B. Du Bois--but Alexander firmly links their story to the struggles and suffering of all African Americans, delineating with blistering matter-of-factness the galling restrictions they faced every day in every generation. Alexander, a professor of history at George Washington University, provides a bracingly unsentimental perspective on events as big as the Civil War and as seemingly small as the installation of a new sewer system in Dedham, Massachusetts. She writes American history with a refreshing difference, reminding us of the richness that oft-maligned "multiculturalism" brings to our intellectual life. --Wendy Smith
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From Publishers Weekly
An emblematic account of the evolution of an African-American clan over three generations, this meticulously researched but stiffly written family history by a history professor at George Washington University reveals the role of black Americans in the evolution and definition of middle-class life in the U.S. Alexander's story begins with her maternal great-grandfather, John Robert Bond, an English-born seaman ("a black Anglo-Saxon Protestant") who, in a vivid contrast to the majority of blacks brought to the U.S. as slaves, arrived in Massachusetts in 1862 and joined the Union navy. Wounded in battle, Bond ended up in a hospital in Norfolk, Va., where he met Emma Thomas, a newly freed slave he married shortly after the Civil War. To set their story in context, Alexander explores the lives and mores of free blacks in 19th-century Virginia and New England (the couple returned to Massachusetts in 1870). In Boston, the Bonds' political beliefs developed amid suffrage and anti-lynching campaigns, the Spanish-American War and the surge of Southern blacks northward in the Great Migration. John Robert's first son, Percy, joined the staff of Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, his success supported in part by his marriage to a woman fair-skinned enough to "pass" for white. Alexander's careful examination of the lives of the subsequent generation of literate black women, who were involved in politically active Colored Women's Clubs in Washington, D.C., and who read widely about the artistic innovations of the Harlem Renaissance, illuminates both the family's color-consciousness and its spiritual and cultural advancement. 16 pages of b&w photos. (July)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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