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Book Review 319: One More River to Cross

May 11, 2014 - Harry Eagar
ONE MORE RIVER TO CROSS: An African American Photograph Album, by Walter Dean Myers. 166 pages. Harcourt Brace, $40.

It is often said that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America, and there’s truth in that; but it is just as true that black middle class life is almost invisible to white America.

In “One More River to Cross” Walter Dean Myers has culled archives, junk stores and other places where old photographs hide and assembled an album that would be merely nostalgic if the faces were white. But most of them are not, which means that for many readers, an America they never knew existed looks out at them: A lean and tough-looking young cowboy, complete with bandanna, chaps, cartridge belt, Winchester repeating rifle, saddle and lariat -- and a head full of wild, long but (apparently) processed hair. Part Indian, too, maybe.

The selection is rich and broad, with laborers in cotton fields, a lynched man and a gangster, and at the other end of the social scale, celebrities like Duke Ellington; but there is a weight toward scenes of middle class aspirations, recreations and work.

Always work. Myers, a poet, accompanies the photographs with a sparse but effective text that returns again and again to work.

This is worth repeating, since in 2012 we had a presidential candidate of a major party who claimed humble people avoid work; and in 2014 we have a large fraction of his party rallying around the same losing (but comforting to them) message.


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