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In The Black Calhouns, Gail Lumet Buckley—daughter of actress Lena Horne—delves deep into her family history, detailing the experiences of an extraordinary African-American family from Civil War to Civil Rights. Beginning with her great-great grandfather Moses Calhoun, a house slave who used the rare advantage of his education to become a successful businessman in post-war In The Black Calhouns, Gail Lumet Buckley—daughter of actress Lena Horne—delves deep into her family history, detailing the experiences of an extraordinary African-American family from Civil War to Civil Rights. Beginning with her great-great grandfather Moses Calhoun, a house slave who used the rare advantage of his education to become a successful businessman in post-war Atlanta, Buckley follows her family’s two branches: one that stayed in the South, and the other that settled in Brooklyn. Through the lens of her relatives’ momentous lives, Buckley examines major events throughout American history. From Atlanta during Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow, to New York City during the Harlem Renaissance, and then from World War II to the Civil Rights Movement, this ambitious, brilliant family witnessed and participated in the most crucial events of the 19th and 20th centuries. Combining personal and national history, The Black Calhouns is a unique and vibrant portrait of six generations during dynamic times of struggle and triumph.


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In The Black Calhouns, Gail Lumet Buckley—daughter of actress Lena Horne—delves deep into her family history, detailing the experiences of an extraordinary African-American family from Civil War to Civil Rights. Beginning with her great-great grandfather Moses Calhoun, a house slave who used the rare advantage of his education to become a successful businessman in post-war In The Black Calhouns, Gail Lumet Buckley—daughter of actress Lena Horne—delves deep into her family history, detailing the experiences of an extraordinary African-American family from Civil War to Civil Rights. Beginning with her great-great grandfather Moses Calhoun, a house slave who used the rare advantage of his education to become a successful businessman in post-war Atlanta, Buckley follows her family’s two branches: one that stayed in the South, and the other that settled in Brooklyn. Through the lens of her relatives’ momentous lives, Buckley examines major events throughout American history. From Atlanta during Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow, to New York City during the Harlem Renaissance, and then from World War II to the Civil Rights Movement, this ambitious, brilliant family witnessed and participated in the most crucial events of the 19th and 20th centuries. Combining personal and national history, The Black Calhouns is a unique and vibrant portrait of six generations during dynamic times of struggle and triumph.

30 review for The Black Calhouns: From Civil War to Civil Rights with One African American Family

  1. 5 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    Rating: 3.5* of five, rounded up There is a television miniseries on its way via ABC Studios. Here's to hoping they do it justice. My goddesses. There is so much I personally don't know about the African American history of my own country. The saga of the Calhouns is epic, and an instructive look at the roots of white nationalism in the demagoguery of politicos hoping to be elected to office. Vile, disappointing, unsurprising given today's terrors. The author understandably focuses on her famous mo Rating: 3.5* of five, rounded up There is a television miniseries on its way via ABC Studios. Here's to hoping they do it justice. My goddesses. There is so much I personally don't know about the African American history of my own country. The saga of the Calhouns is epic, and an instructive look at the roots of white nationalism in the demagoguery of politicos hoping to be elected to office. Vile, disappointing, unsurprising given today's terrors. The author understandably focuses on her famous mother, Lena Horne, for specifics and anecdotes to enliven her historical thesis about the existence and condition of an African American elite in each decade following the American Civil War. That's inevitable, I suppose; had she done otherwise, assuming she possessed the information to do so, this book would've been as thick as a Bible and about as interesting. Gadzooks were there a lot of Calhouns and cousins and families and friends and husbands and...well, let's just say that a four-line summary of the huge majority of the dramatis personae still pumps us to over 300pp of relatively dry material. It's the relatively dry part that bothers me the most. I am entirely sure that Author Buckley possesses the chops to do more with even cursory mentions than is done here. I am even more sure that fewer names and more anecdotes/reminiscences/stories would've made for a deliciously readable, dare I say it novelistic, book. Not that there is a single thing *wrong* with this book. There's a slightly slippery slope in the alternating north/south chapter format; it starts to feel forced. Believe me when I tell you that this isn't anything more than a quibble. I don't at all want to give you the impression that the book isn't a terrific investment of your eyeblinks, especially my fellow white folks who are earnestly seeking some road signs in this complicated minefield that is race relations. It helps that Author Buckley has a background in history. Her potted course in American race relations is richer for it. Don't miss this chance to learn about race-related issues in a relatively painless way, from the "other" side of the issue.

  2. 4 out of 5

    JQAdams

    Gail Lumet Buckley isn't much of a writer, or perhaps she was merely failed by her editors: there are a lot of sentences here that seem like alien interpolations that were just sprinkled haphazardly around the text, having nothing to do with the sentences before and after. She also seemingly feels obliged to mention most of the biggest moments or themes in African-American history, regardless of how much they apply to the particular family she's discussing. But she's a decent raconteur, charming Gail Lumet Buckley isn't much of a writer, or perhaps she was merely failed by her editors: there are a lot of sentences here that seem like alien interpolations that were just sprinkled haphazardly around the text, having nothing to do with the sentences before and after. She also seemingly feels obliged to mention most of the biggest moments or themes in African-American history, regardless of how much they apply to the particular family she's discussing. But she's a decent raconteur, charmingly willing to say "I have no evidence whatsoever for this belief about one of my grandfather's cousins, but here's what I believe anyway." And this book, the history of her family, gives her a lot of material to work with. The history of one of the most prosperous African-American families from emancipation on is potentially very interesting, especially since the family early on split into Northern and Southern branches that allow Buckley to compare and contrast. However, her choices of focus are not the bits I was most interested in. Buckley's mother was Lena Horne, and Horne's celebrity rather takes over the book. Even if I did believe the claim that Lena Horne "unavoidably becomes the star of the [Calhoun family] story," the attention paid to the supporting players and their subplots doesn't have to be nearly as perfunctory as it is here; many of the cousins basically get a four-line personality sketch from some doggerel verse one of them wrote as a very young woman, then a couple of sentences about when they married and what their jobs were. Then they go away. I found that disappointing: sure, Buckley has most inside information about her mother, but Horne's the subject best-documented and easiest to learn about outside of this family history. Even when Buckley does hint at something interesting about her mother, she doesn't probe very deeply. For instance, there's one passing reference that Horne early on in her career found being a woman more constraining than being African-American. After that startling turn from the book's otherwise dominant focus on racial identities, the comment is never explained or followed up on.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Magill

    1) The author uses her family history as the framework for describing the development, lack of development, or downright regression, of the basic freedoms due to any human being (movement, jobs, voting, and life itself) for the 1st hundred years following the Civil War. And what was stolen, crushed, grudgingly permitted, or finally demanded, during that same time frame for and by African Americans (including but not limited to all other real Americans who respected and believed and acted in supp 1) The author uses her family history as the framework for describing the development, lack of development, or downright regression, of the basic freedoms due to any human being (movement, jobs, voting, and life itself) for the 1st hundred years following the Civil War. And what was stolen, crushed, grudgingly permitted, or finally demanded, during that same time frame for and by African Americans (including but not limited to all other real Americans who respected and believed and acted in support). 2) The author uses the political and social events of post-Civil War society (and the battle for full acceptance as citizens, with the rights and responsibilities and protections, due to all Americans, and deliberately withheld from African Americans) as the specific framework for telling the story of her extended family and individual members over the 100 years following the Civil War. And this is the challenge of the book: a not entirely successful integration of these two elements. It is hard to put my finger on the exact problem as it is not with the scholarship of the history of post-civil war society. The book alternates between North and South in about 10-year increments from 1860 to 1960, civil war to civil rights as described). Within these chapters the author describes the people in the branches of the family living in the south and the north and their activities and engagement in the events around them, and the often very different impacts of being black in America in the north and south. The first ~1/3 of the book did not engage me particularly (1860-1919) but the clarity and succinctness of the summary of political and social events, and people impacting the black communities and individuals during this time kept me reading. It was well-written, well-organized, and well-summarized. A good crash course. In the same 1/3, the family information seemed a little distant, wooden, although the author tried to bring them to life. The careers, social position, marital choices and offspring were described but description was all there was. That being said, if they didn't have much to add to the narration, they did not distract from the historical information. It was simply was not engaging at that level, but I was okay with that. The remainder of the book was much more personal as the author described her mother's life and, to some degree, her own. The north chapters became much more detailed, although the south chapters were weaker in that way, due to lack of significant family information beyond births, deaths and education. Much of the rest of the book, for the north chapters at least, was something of an abbreviated biography of Lena Horne, by her daughter, not in-depth but considerably more personal. This resulted in more personal perspectives of the political and social events occurring. And this is where the structure didn't come together so well. The differences between the north and south chapters became more pronounced and the north chapters were more... diluted with the personal experiences as the author grew up. That does not mean they were bad - the author's observations and experiences and her awareness of how her experiences informed her personal journey and about her mother's experiences ARE interesting even though briefly and not deeply revealed. But they did distract from the more straight line of historical events. I would note that one inexplicable decision with the book annoyed me significantly. There was a brief section of photos but in multiple places the author described other photos in detail that were not included in the book. This choice did not bring the people to life, it just pointed out that we didn't have a photo. I would also note that the author's family were of the black middle-class with a strong emphasis on education and, in the north, political activity, and there were numerous mentions of well-respected and venerated leaders and educators and poets of the times, as well as people and events in her mother's career. In spite of the weakness of structure I liked this book, although I have to say that this is a 3.5 overall for me. However, because of the historical information and context and because, too, of the warmth and pride of the author's voice in her family story, I am giving this a 4.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ari

    IQ "Later he [James Weldon Johnson] would say that 'the race problem in the United States has resolved itself into a question of saving black men's bodies and white men's souls" (111) The structure of this book is somewhat a mess and that proved to be very distracting. The author provided too much commentary for my taste, one minute she'd be delving into great historical detail and the next she'd share her opinions on her family members or attempt to describe what they must have been feeling or t IQ "Later he [James Weldon Johnson] would say that 'the race problem in the United States has resolved itself into a question of saving black men's bodies and white men's souls" (111) The structure of this book is somewhat a mess and that proved to be very distracting. The author provided too much commentary for my taste, one minute she'd be delving into great historical detail and the next she'd share her opinions on her family members or attempt to describe what they must have been feeling or try to make some connection to the 21st century. It's almost as if this would have been better served as a novel. The author makes astute observations but their placement in the book doesn't fit and it takes away from what would have otherwise been smooth historical reading. You can also tell she's very passionate about the military because she goes into extensive detail about military escapades, even ones not involving her family. Buckley also repeats the same stories quite a few times which is annoying since it's an issue that could have been easily avoided with some editing. This is an amazing family saga and I'm glad it's being told, Lena Horne was not the only extraordinary member of this family. And it's great to read about upper middle class Black families succeeding throughout every generation after slavery. Through her family's history the author manages to convey a riveting history of America and I could not put the book down. Her family manages to be connected to several major figures in American history and all the major historical events which makes the book even more interesting. I found her explanation for why Atlanta became a hub for Black people especially helpful, she essentially says Atlanta's white people cared more about business than they did racism. Perhaps that's a well known treatise, but it was new to me. I'm thrilled this is being made into a TV series, I really hope they do the book justice because it has the possibility to be epic from the casting to the costumes. This book really upholds the old adage "truth is better than fiction", I just wish the structure of the book had been better.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Elaine

    This book could have used some better editing. Lots of repeated phrases and events from page to page and chapter to chapter.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Corelle

    I had general knowledge other a accomplishments of Lena Horne. Then I re this book! Tenacity , knowledge and generosity runs well in the family , starting with the civil war! For example I learned that Lena's great grandfather (or uncle, I forgot) became the first African American licensed real estate broker for Atlanta, Georgia. The Calhourns/Horne's were a force to be reckoned with! To keep my reading challenge exciting, I made a theme. For this month, it's Women History Month and my reading fo I had general knowledge other a accomplishments of Lena Horne. Then I re this book! Tenacity , knowledge and generosity runs well in the family , starting with the civil war! For example I learned that Lena's great grandfather (or uncle, I forgot) became the first African American licensed real estate broker for Atlanta, Georgia. The Calhourns/Horne's were a force to be reckoned with! To keep my reading challenge exciting, I made a theme. For this month, it's Women History Month and my reading focus on books by female authors. This is the perfect book to read not just for this month. Lena broke a lot of barriers in show business and an activist for Civil Rights. So her life should be celebrated.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Emma B

    Interesting story on the paternal family of Lena Horne written by her daughter. A rich history of Atlanta and this family's place in it, as well as the ups and downs of Lena Horne's life. Story is flawed by including all the names of people Lena and the family encountered, good and bad. This slowed the story down.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sugarpuss O'Shea

    I went to see Ms Buckley at the NYHS for a discussion of THE BLACK CALHOUNS (moderated by Jonathan Alter), so I was anxious to get my hands on a copy to read more. Man, was this book a disappointment. I know the author meant well, but the writing was all over the place, and the story was rambling and, in places, incoherent. It's a shame too, because it's a story worth telling and had the potential to be something truly exceptional.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Barbra Watkins

    Biography by the daughter of Lena Horne of their family from after the Civil War to present day. While I found the writing to be dry and not my style, the subject matter was fascinating and very relevant to the racial unrest and inequality we still have today.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Gloria Piper

    Buckley not only traces her roots from the Civil War, but she also includes an encyclopedic history of the civil rights movement, which began decades before the Civil War. Her great great grandfather started a middle class family dynasty that connected with many famous African Americans. The author herself is the daughter of Lena Horne. One branch of the Calhouns remained in the South and somehow managed to flourish amid Jim Crow-imposed limitations. The other branch moved north and accomplished Buckley not only traces her roots from the Civil War, but she also includes an encyclopedic history of the civil rights movement, which began decades before the Civil War. Her great great grandfather started a middle class family dynasty that connected with many famous African Americans. The author herself is the daughter of Lena Horne. One branch of the Calhouns remained in the South and somehow managed to flourish amid Jim Crow-imposed limitations. The other branch moved north and accomplished what would have been impossible at that time in the South. Poets, musicians, athletes, great teachers, social workers, doctors, ministers, politicians...found their origins in the Calhouns. Their accomplishments are awesome for their display of intelligence, lawfulness, industriousness, and compassion that poked holes in the color bar and uplifted every race, thereby uplifting America. It's a wonder that the bigoted could not find it within their hearts to take pride in the Calhouns and others like them. While the listing of so many benefactors that enhanced the civil rights movement may risk tedious reading, for those who are familiar with so many of these heroic men and women, it sometimes brings forth tears. We have come a long way in uprooting the evilness that slavery caused over the following generations, but the march towards full equality for all is not finished. This is an important book that lets us peer into the lives of so many who were affected by Jim Crowism. And it's only natural that Lena Horne's daughter devotes some chapters to her mother's life.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Latoya

    I found myself highlighting passages and flagging pages because this book is filled with so much great historical information. However, the issue is that it reads exactly like a high school history text book--choppy sentences and inconsistent paragraph/fact flow. The constant shifting from one fact to another without any formal sentence/paragraph transition is distracting. Prior to reading Ms. Buckley's book, I was under the impression Ms. Horne was distantly related to John C. Calhoun, former v I found myself highlighting passages and flagging pages because this book is filled with so much great historical information. However, the issue is that it reads exactly like a high school history text book--choppy sentences and inconsistent paragraph/fact flow. The constant shifting from one fact to another without any formal sentence/paragraph transition is distracting. Prior to reading Ms. Buckley's book, I was under the impression Ms. Horne was distantly related to John C. Calhoun, former vice president of the U.S. from South Carolina. The book debunks that rumor, which is still prevalent. Additionally, I noticed no mention of Ms. Horne interacting with the Atlanta Calhouns. Did she attend the 1993 family reunion? With all the fascinating information packed into the 300+ pages, I still have a few questions.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    The Black Calhouns: From Civil War to Civil Rights with one African-American Family / Gail Lumet Buckley. I hungered for more details and analysis as I read this book by Lena Horne’s daughter. Still, it was interesting to read about “the talented tenth,” the middle and upper classes of generations of one black family. The book is largely about the successful members. Naturally, Lena Horne, by far the most prominent and prosperous, is the main character. I didn’t mind reading it, but it was less The Black Calhouns: From Civil War to Civil Rights with one African-American Family / Gail Lumet Buckley. I hungered for more details and analysis as I read this book by Lena Horne’s daughter. Still, it was interesting to read about “the talented tenth,” the middle and upper classes of generations of one black family. The book is largely about the successful members. Naturally, Lena Horne, by far the most prominent and prosperous, is the main character. I didn’t mind reading it, but it was less “deeply personal and historically significant” than the front cover blurb claimed. It verged on being an atypical celebrity family story.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sabrina

    A well done look into the history of an African American family who's two branches of linage became famous ground breakers for every generation after the civil war with the middle and ladder half of the book focusing on Lena Horne. Towards the end the back and forth of the North and South of the family got a bit tedious with going back and forth in time every few pages. The last few chapters of the book were a just a brush through the times from the 1970's to the 2010's with the highlights but s A well done look into the history of an African American family who's two branches of linage became famous ground breakers for every generation after the civil war with the middle and ladder half of the book focusing on Lena Horne. Towards the end the back and forth of the North and South of the family got a bit tedious with going back and forth in time every few pages. The last few chapters of the book were a just a brush through the times from the 1970's to the 2010's with the highlights but still good. An interesting read into an interesting family and a good look at the past and how the nation was divided long after the civil war.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mary-Terese

    This detailed and long-ranging history of an extraordinary family is, at least for me, the best way to read history -- through the perceptive eye of a uniquely-placed narrator. Buckley weaves social and family history into a journey as suspenseful as a novel, but grounded in hard truths. Seeing how individual members of the Calhoun family navigated the Jim Crow laws in the South and more subtle forms of racism in the North, and how their descendants initiated change and activism during the 1950s This detailed and long-ranging history of an extraordinary family is, at least for me, the best way to read history -- through the perceptive eye of a uniquely-placed narrator. Buckley weaves social and family history into a journey as suspenseful as a novel, but grounded in hard truths. Seeing how individual members of the Calhoun family navigated the Jim Crow laws in the South and more subtle forms of racism in the North, and how their descendants initiated change and activism during the 1950s and 60s, was sobering and awe-inspiring. I found this book because I was curious about Lena Horne, but this was a much richer read than a biography. Or maybe, it's the way I wish more biographies were written, with close attention to multiple relationships, in the context of which certain portraits of individuals stand out.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Carol Brusegar

    Through the experiences of the large Calhoun family, beginning with Moses Calhoun who was a house slave in Georgia, this book provides great insight into the period from Reconstruction through the first decade of the 2000s. One branch stayed primarily in the south and the other in the north, which provides a richness of perspectives on those years. The history comes alive through the generations' experiences in a unique way. The story of the most nationally and internationally famous member of t Through the experiences of the large Calhoun family, beginning with Moses Calhoun who was a house slave in Georgia, this book provides great insight into the period from Reconstruction through the first decade of the 2000s. One branch stayed primarily in the south and the other in the north, which provides a richness of perspectives on those years. The history comes alive through the generations' experiences in a unique way. The story of the most nationally and internationally famous member of the family, Lena Horne, is woven through the story.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    This is a very powerful book. Family history is an area I enjoy reading about. This is beautifully written with supported facts and show the racial divide that is still present in the United States of America. For me it was and is an eye opener as to how biased "we" are to all races, nationalities and religions. We need to come together to recognize we are of only one race - the human race- and treat each other with the respect and compassion we "ALL" deserve.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Leigh Himes

    Picked this up on a whim at Barnes & Noble and found it really interesting. Part history/part memoir. Picked this up on a whim at Barnes & Noble and found it really interesting. Part history/part memoir.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Imene

    The subject is fascinating but the author doesn't do it service. A lot of back and forth in the story, the timelines get all mixed up

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rafael Suleiman

    A very good expository work on accomplished Black Americans.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Naima Holloway

    Very good book...I enjoyed learning the history of the Hornes and Calhouns.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Janice

    The information was interesting however I struggled with the pacing, following the different branches of the family tree.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Laura Grace

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I realized I'd already read this. Lena Horne's daughter wrote this, if I'm remembering correctly.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Fran

    fascinating read-biography of a family and history of the times

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    Gail Lumet Buckley’s The Black Calhouns isn’t easy to pigeonhole. Part Black history, part genealogy, and part memoir, the connecting tissue in the book is the story of the author’s extraordinary family. The African-American experience through one family’s eyes Born into slavery, the Calhouns quickly moved into the middle class during Reconstruction and took on leading roles in the Black elite as business owners, teachers, physicians, and attorneys. In the early years of the twentieth century, one Gail Lumet Buckley’s The Black Calhouns isn’t easy to pigeonhole. Part Black history, part genealogy, and part memoir, the connecting tissue in the book is the story of the author’s extraordinary family. The African-American experience through one family’s eyes Born into slavery, the Calhouns quickly moved into the middle class during Reconstruction and took on leading roles in the Black elite as business owners, teachers, physicians, and attorneys. In the early years of the twentieth century, one branch of the family emigrated to the North along with hundreds of thousands of other African-Americans seeking a better life than could be had in the Jim Crow South. Buckley traces the history of this fascinating family, then focuses on its most famous member, the superstar singer Lena Horne, Buckley’s mother. In the book’s closing chapters, the perspective shifts from Horne to the author herself. The result is an impressionistic picture of the Black experience in America as lived by some of those who were most successful despite the ever-present weight of racism. Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the legacy of racism Nested into the continuing saga of one family in The Black Calhouns is a powerful account of how racism has infected American society for four centuries, spanning the years of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the civil rights era. For two centuries Buckley’s family has been an integral part of this story, rising from slavery through the middle class to America’s privileged elite. Her perspective shifts from the elegant homes of her family’s owner — a relative of slavery’s outspoken advocate, Senator John C. Calhoun — to the comfortable, middle-class homes her family built in Atlanta, Birmingham, Manhattan, and Brooklyn, to the showcase houses of Hollywood’s upper crust. This is an amazing success story — the quintessential American story. Black history in a series of snapshots If you’re unfamiliar with Black history, The Black Calhouns will be eye-opening. You’ll learn here about the origins of the predominantly Black colleges and their role in nurturing the civil rights movement . . . the horrific prevalence of lynching in the Jim Crow South from the 1870s to the 1960s . . . the outsized role of Atlanta and Harlem in African-American history . . . nineteenth-century Irish-Black hatred and the race riots it engendered . . . the merciless racism that pervaded the armed forces before the Vietnam War . . . the shift of Black allegiance from the Republican Party of the 1860s to the Democratic Party a century later . . . the role that America’s Jim Crow laws played as a model for Hitler’s Nuremberg race laws and South African apartheid . . . and a whole lot more. No student of American history can be regarded as educated without an understanding of all these factors. No American voter should be ignorant of them, either. About author Gail Lumet Buckley is the daughter of superstar singer and actress Lena Horne, Hollywood’s first African-American star, and ex-wife of the award-winning Hollywood movie and television director Sidney Lumet. Harvard educated, she had a successful career in journalism before marrying Lumet and falling into the role of “the director’s wife.” She is the author of two books based on her family’s history.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Karen Cox

    This is a popular history/ memoir by Lena Horne's daughter about her mother's remarkable family from the end of the Civil War until the 1960's. Ms. Buckley is a history professor, and the best parts of the book for me were the purely historical chapters about her great great great grandfather Moses Calhoun, who was the butler for the family that owned him, and who was one of a tiny number of slaves who could read and write. Moses taught his mother and sister literacy as well, which was a crime i This is a popular history/ memoir by Lena Horne's daughter about her mother's remarkable family from the end of the Civil War until the 1960's. Ms. Buckley is a history professor, and the best parts of the book for me were the purely historical chapters about her great great great grandfather Moses Calhoun, who was the butler for the family that owned him, and who was one of a tiny number of slaves who could read and write. Moses taught his mother and sister literacy as well, which was a crime in antebellum Georgia. The book provides some fascinating details about how fortunate freedmen like Moses used their skills and connections to prosper during and after Reconstruction. Atlanta was a relatively progressive city even for its black citizens until the First World War, when the Jim Crow laws really began to bite even pillars of the business community like Moses Calhoun's family. The part of the book that is most relevant today is the sad but accurate description of the legal and social changes that reduced the black middle class of the late 19th century into destitution in the early 20th. Resistance to black integration was NOT immediate even after the end of Reconstruction, but was the product of a number of populist white politicians who used their opposition to integration to get the votes of impoverished rural white men. These demagogues leveraged white resentment at black prosperity into office, where of course they failed utterly to improve the lives of the rednecks but did achieve their goal of eliminating the black middle class. The book is less successful when Lena Horne herself appears. Buckley obviously adored her mother, who seems to have been a perfectly lovely woman, but this part of the book is a sappy Hollywood memoir. I like descriptions of dresses and parties as much as the next person, but maybe not as several chapters in an otherwise serious history of black life between the Civil War and Civil Rights movement. Even with the fluffy parts, "The Black Calhouns" is worth reading. Given the likely unpleasant results from the recent election, it is more important than ever that we know that segregation of the races was a conscious policy requiring extraordinary conscious effort by politicians and law enforcement over many years. Ms. Buckley reminds us that we have been better and can be better again.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nat

    I had more nightmares after reading this book than I did after watching the Exorcist when I was a kid. Most of the details are horrifying and it is a shame and a sin that black people were treated so horridly well into the 1960's, what's even a bigger shame and sin is that it was allowed. I don't tend to read books like this, they make me too sad and scared. I was interested in the Calhouns because of Lena Horne, but I did not expect to be reading so many ghastly stories. There was one featuring a I had more nightmares after reading this book than I did after watching the Exorcist when I was a kid. Most of the details are horrifying and it is a shame and a sin that black people were treated so horridly well into the 1960's, what's even a bigger shame and sin is that it was allowed. I don't tend to read books like this, they make me too sad and scared. I was interested in the Calhouns because of Lena Horne, but I did not expect to be reading so many ghastly stories. There was one featuring a young pregnant woman by the name of Mary Turner. Mary Turner made the mistake of threatening to seek justice after her husband was killed for having supposedly killed a white farmer, whom he didn't even know. Mary was taken by a mob of white men, her ankles tied, and hanged upside down. One of the men split her abdomen open with a knife, and when the 8-month-old fetus tumbled out, he crushed it under his foot. It is beasts like that who think they are the good guys and are better than blacks. These are some of the same people who proclaimed to be upstanding citizens with fine families and fine neighbors, never mind the fact that they were worse than any monster you can think of, but it hardly mattered since blacks didn't deserve any better, and even in the late 1910's folks were still trying to figure out ways to bring slavery back, and if they couldn't, may as well make life as hellish as possible for as long as possible. One thing that irked me was that the Calhoun family and their cohorts only seemed interested in interacting with blacks who could "pass". The subject of them likely having color issues was not discussed. Whenever the author would mention how white-skinned many of the family members were, she did it in a way that made it sound like they were revered and fascinating. The tone was quite bothersome to me.

  27. 4 out of 5

    MH

    An adoring, unfocussed history of the author's sprawling family tree of members of the "Talented Tenth" - the well-educated, well-connected, and well-off professional class of African Americans (and a group that is sorely underrepresented in popular historical writing, making this book a welcome addition). The Hornes and Calhouns crossed the paths of a number of major figures, but the author also writes about those they didn't know personally, as well as describing in great detail a variety of i An adoring, unfocussed history of the author's sprawling family tree of members of the "Talented Tenth" - the well-educated, well-connected, and well-off professional class of African Americans (and a group that is sorely underrepresented in popular historical writing, making this book a welcome addition). The Hornes and Calhouns crossed the paths of a number of major figures, but the author also writes about those they didn't know personally, as well as describing in great detail a variety of instances of institutionalized violence and injustice that happened to less fortunate blacks (making for jarring transitions between southern lynching bees and the comfortable lives of her prosperous family, a contrast that is largely left unexplored). This makes the book a cross between a cursory, unsourced history of the African American twentieth century, and a glowing, uncentered account of the charms and successes of a wonderful family where every member is skilled, bright and beautiful. I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Malka

    I found the NY Times review so exhilarating that I read it twice and immediately downloaded it to my Kindle. I'm well into Part I and loving everything about this book. The depth and breadth of the author's research takes my breath away. The prose style is clear and flows beautifully as the author changes the tone of her writing to suit the mood of the subject matter at hand. Will report after I finish this book. I finished this book in April 2016 and I must say that it just gets better and bette I found the NY Times review so exhilarating that I read it twice and immediately downloaded it to my Kindle. I'm well into Part I and loving everything about this book. The depth and breadth of the author's research takes my breath away. The prose style is clear and flows beautifully as the author changes the tone of her writing to suit the mood of the subject matter at hand. Will report after I finish this book. I finished this book in April 2016 and I must say that it just gets better and better. A lot of it is very difficult to read, as it deals with the beginning of the Civil Rights movement in the early 20th century, and it is beyond heartbreaking to learn even more about the horrors to which African Americans were subjected. This is counter-balanced by the amazing accomplishments of Ms. Buckely's family against unbelievable odds. While this book does cover many issues we learned about in our American History classes, it goes far beyond it. This book should be required reading.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Blythe

    This is an amazing story, beautifully researched and decently written by the great-great-granddaughter of Moses Calhoun, a man born into slavery but freed in his thirties by the Emancipation Proclamation. He had two daughters, who would be among the first black women to be educated legally in Atlanta, and who lived rather epic lives. One moved north and had four sons and one grandchild - the legendary jazz singer Lena Horne. The other daughter stayed in the south. The author, daughter of Lena Ho This is an amazing story, beautifully researched and decently written by the great-great-granddaughter of Moses Calhoun, a man born into slavery but freed in his thirties by the Emancipation Proclamation. He had two daughters, who would be among the first black women to be educated legally in Atlanta, and who lived rather epic lives. One moved north and had four sons and one grandchild - the legendary jazz singer Lena Horne. The other daughter stayed in the south. The author, daughter of Lena Horne, follows both sides of the family from the days of the Civil War through Reconstruction, the Great Migration, through the civil rights era, and up to the death of her own mother in 2010. Though she focuses a little more clearly on the northern Calhouns, the rendering of the history of the southern United States is brutally honest and an important counterpart to the too-gentle, white-friendly version we learn in our schools. The glimpses of NYC and northern politics in the early twentieth century is also fascinating.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Joyce

    This is a wonderful book. The sub-title says it all, really, except that one notable member of the family is Lena Horne. The book is written by her daughter and tells, of course, of the amazing and admirable Calhoun family. That family's history is overlaid and affected by the abysmally racist acts, laws, people and policies of these United States. As such, it's a useful history, especially for those who didn't have to live it and might wonder what all the "fuss" about racism is all about. Surel This is a wonderful book. The sub-title says it all, really, except that one notable member of the family is Lena Horne. The book is written by her daughter and tells, of course, of the amazing and admirable Calhoun family. That family's history is overlaid and affected by the abysmally racist acts, laws, people and policies of these United States. As such, it's a useful history, especially for those who didn't have to live it and might wonder what all the "fuss" about racism is all about. Surely everyone's over that? Gosh, no. And reading this book, I have to think that we have so far to go. Still. On a less sobering note, you'll be happy reading of the many accomplishments of this family. They are/were quite the bunch of achievers, members of the "Talented Tenth", I believe Ms. Buckley calls them. I'd heard the term before; now I know something of how inspiring and special those people were during impossibly difficult times. Highly recommended.

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