Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: African American National Biography published after 10 years work

Historians in the News

Henry Louis Gates, Jr's rescue and recovery project -- the African American National Biography is finally being published in February 2008

Oxford University Press and the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute are pleased to announce that after ten years of work, the AFRICAN AMERICAN NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY is complete and will be published on February 4, 2008.

“The AFRICAN AMERICAN NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY is a rescue and recovery project, retrieving the life stories of African Americans that have, until now, been glossed over by the academy,” explains co-editor Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. “Famous, infamous, and little-known lives will be included in what promises to be the most important reference work in African American studies in the past quarter century.”

The AFRICAN AMERICAN NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY fills 8 volumes in print, and will continue to grow online thereafter as more life stories are researched and written. It is the largest repository of black life stories ever assembled with more than 4,000 biographies.

These 1,000–3,000 word biographies illuminate African American history through the immediacy of individual experience. From Esteban, the earliest known African to set foot in North America in 1527, right up to rising careers of Denzel Washington and Barak Obama, these stories of the renowned and the nearly forgotten give us a new view of American history. Our country's past is revealed from personal perspectives that in turn inspire, move, entertain, and challenge the reader. The lives included here are slaves and abolitionists, writers, politicians, business people, musicians and dancers, artists and athletes, victims of injustice and the lawyers, journalists, and civil rights leaders who gave them a voice. Their experiences and accomplishments combine to expose the complexity of race as an overriding issue in America's past and present.

“This is the biggest research project within the academy on African American studies since the 1970s,” says Casper Grathwohl, Reference Publisher, Oxford University Press, “and Oxford is committed to working with the editors and contributors to keep it fresh and up-to-date. The editors are determined to uncover lost life stories, and hundreds of scholars are helping to write biographies of thousands of interesting and celebrated men and women who have impacted the African American experience. The coverage is broad—from the first slave ships to the 21st century.”

Unlike other biographical encyclopedias such as The American National Biography and The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, the AFRICAN AMERICAN NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY recognizes living as well as deceased people who have made a significant contribution to African American history, including:
• Harriet Tubman, Thurgood Marshall, and Rosa Parks—famous leaders in the struggle for freedom and equality
• Richard Wright and James Baldwin—great American writers
• Jackie Robinson and Tiger Woods—sports heroes
• Bill Cosby and John Coltrane—renowned entertainers

But the AFRICAN AMERICAN NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY also includes thousands of people whose names may not come readily to mind, though their stories are both fascinating and important for understanding American history. Among the life stories revealed in this project are:
• Henry Box Brown—the slave who mailed himself to freedom in a wooden box
• Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable—the first resident of Chicago, of whom one memoirist noted, “The first white man who settled here was a Negro”
• Oliver Lewis—the winning jockey in the first Kentucky derby
• Toni Stone—the first woman to play professional baseball in the Negro leagues
• Stagolee—the true story of the “bad man” immortalized in song
• Marie Laveaux—New Orleans's voodoo queen and one of the city's most powerful political figures of the nineteenth century; hers is the second most visited grave in the United States behind Elvis Presley

Making it a powerful resource for righting the imbalance that history has created, the AFRICAN AMERICAN NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY offers a deeper and subtler exploration into lives that have been previously overlooked until now.

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