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A Wealth of Wisdom: Legendary African American Elders Speak.

by Dr. Camille Cosby and Renee Poussaint Atria Books, November 2003 $27.98, ISBN 0-743-47892-4

Of the 50 men and women whose testimony A Wealth of Wisdom: Legendary African American Elders Speak comprises, flew traveled a smooth road of life. Yet this is not a syrupy collection of "thank you, Jesus" tales by know-it-all old black folks. As the author Maya Angelou noted, age ,alone doesn't confer wisdom. "Most people don't grow up," she said. "Most people age."

The collection compiled by Camille Cosby, educator, mad Renee Poussaint, a television journalist, is based largely on interviews. The "legends" speak for themselves. Their observations are inspiring, enlightening and informative. There will be attempts to treat this book as "inspirational." But, more significantly, Cosby and Poussaint have put together a literary work that provides slices of some 20th-century African Americans lives, positioning this volume as a companion to the slave narratives by our 19th-century forebearers.

Shirley Chisholm, a trained nursery-school teacher from Brooklyn, born in 1924, became the first African American woman elected to Congress, ran for president in 1972 and retired from Congress in 1982. She says she wants to he remembered "as a black woman who lived in the twentieth century and dared to be herself. I want to be remembered as a catalyst for change."

Many voices in the book spoke of a triumph of will. The singer Ray Charles said his mother believed that her son had to learn: "Just because he's blind, he's not stupid. He can find ways." Another musician, Jimmy Heath, the saxophonist and teacher; said he could not give young people experience. "You have to get out there and experience things and work," he said. "Jazz is hard work."

Two women of religion, the first Episcopalian female bishop, Barbara Harris, and Mary Alice Chineworth, a Roman Catholic ram, spoke of inconsistencies they found in their faiths.

The 70-plus generation of elders coped with legal segregation, overt civilian racism and racial discrimination. In 1950, Robert Churchwell be came the first African American journalist on a Southern daily newspaper--The Nashville Banner (Tenn.). His assignment: Write on "how Negroes were doing well in the Negro community." For Churchwell's first five years as a Banner reporter, the editor barred him from sitting in the newsroom. Churchwell wrote his news stories at borne and carried them to the Banner's office every day. Once given a desk and chair in the newsroom, he found few friendly colleagues. Churchwell said, "I didn't care about that. It was a test ... and I had 31 years of success."

Edward Brooke, the former United States senator from Massachusetts cites his political accomplishments and says he achieved because he was in the "power structure." To do something about "human issues," he said, "You've got to be where the power is."

C. Gerald Fraser is a writer in New York City.
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Author:Fraser, C. Gerald
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2004
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