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Black Jack Paperback – August 17, 2009
"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Pre-order today
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Black Jack is a fictionalized account of a real-life ancestor of Patton's, a Negro magician from 1920's Chicago who went by the stage name Black Jack Herman. (His true family name was Rucker.) Black Jack toured all over the United States during the height of the Jim Crow segregation laws, becoming very famous and wealthy as a stage magician. His assistant - and, much later, his wife - was Patton's great-aunt Eva, whom Black Jack (BJ) plucked from the audience during a Mississippi performance. While the book is essentially a romantic novel about BJ's philandering ways and Eva's unconditional love for this powerful figure in the black community, it reads like a very engaging historical biography. Black Jack was a fascinating man, an elite black performer at a time when Negroes were still considered second class citizens. The magician most famous for a trick called "Woman Buried Alive" - in which he hypnotized and then buried Eva alive in a sealed coffin underground for six hours - also had political aspirations. He was friends with Marcus Garvey and was very involved in the burgeoning black empowerment movement in the generation before Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. BJ was most passionate about raising the black community up from what he called economic slavery, and encouraged Negroes all over the US to exercise their purchasing power by buying from black-owned businesses. I found the inner workings of the black power structure of Capone-era Chicago most interesting, particularly from today's perspective with a black President from Chicago. Eva's innocence and loyalty are a perfect foil to Black Jack's polished and sometimes threatening presence. Black Jack dabbled in voodoo, and included elements of spiritualism and mentalism in his performances. Despite his reputation as a ladies' man, Black Jack is a very likeable and charismatic character.
Though the writing itself really needs the services of a professional editor, the story was nonetheless fascinating and really drew me in. I recommend this book for anyone interested in black history, the Roaring Twenties, stage magic, or night life during the Prohibition era.