Powerful, poignant, and ultimately celebratory. Let the church say, “Amen!”



A scholarly and intimate look at the Black Church’s prodigious history and potential future.

In a companion book to a PBS documentary, renowned historian Gates delves into the history of the Black Church, which Harvard historian Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham called “the single most important institution in the Black community.” For centuries, the church has been a source of hope and strength for Black people, first as a way to address the horrific cruelty of slavery. A better life awaited the enslaved; they just had to remain faithful. At the same time, Black Christianity spurred the nation’s largest slave rebellion, and, later, the church would become the physical and spiritual home of Black social protest and the civil rights movement. Through meticulous research and interviews with scholars as well as “believers, nonbelievers, musical artists, [and] pastoral leaders,” Gates paints a compelling portrait of the church as a source of “unfathomable resiliency” for Black ancestors as well as the birthplace of so many distinctly African American aesthetic forms, including “blues, jazz, rock and roll, soul and R&B, folk, rock, and even hip-hop.” With the advent of hip-hop came a “generational shift away” from the traditional church, which now finds itself at a crossroads in an era featuring the rise of both the “bling-bling” of prosperity gospel and the socially conscious Black Lives Matter movement—not to mention the pandemic, which affects Black, Native, and Hispanic people disproportionately. Refreshingly, the author’s lens is not uncritical: He writes of a still-relevant church, as diverse as the Black experience itself, with struggles and failings, including its treatment of women and the LGBTQ+ community and its dismal response to the 1980s AIDS epidemic. The book also includes generous photos, an engrossing epilogue revealing Gates’ personal religious experiences alongside additional research, and chapter-heading quotes from W.E.B. Du Bois, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., and other Black icons.

Powerful, poignant, and ultimately celebratory. Let the church say, “Amen!”

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2021


Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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