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BellaOnline's African American Lit Editor

Black History in Words and Pictures

Black History Month is celebrated in many ways from books, to tv shows to musical tributes. Recently two books have come out celebrating Black History through illustrations. “Change Has Come: An Artist Celebrates Our American Spirit” by Kadir Nelson and “Still I Rise: A Graphic History of African Americans” both offer unique pictures that celebrate our unique culture and heritage.

“Change Has Come: An Artist Celebrates Our American Spirit” is a wonderful children’s book that is a celebration of the triumph of Barack Obama. The book contains black and white pencil drawings and is the personal reflections of the illustrator Kadir Nelson. His drawings commemorate the journey of the 44th President, from his out of nowhere arrival on the political scene, to his nearly perfect campaign, to his striking victory against not only his republican counterpart but his victory against old politics and old ways of thinking. The book is set to the words of Barack Obama and the illustrations provide accompaniment. One example of this is the two and a half page illustration of a long line of voters. The text reads “It’s the answer told by lines/stretched around schools…/in numbers this nation has never seen.” The book is filled with pure emotion and is a great book for all generations.

“Still I Rise: A Graphic History of African Americans” is critically acclaimed and details the complete history of Black America in the form of a graphic novel. The original version of this book concluded with the Million Man March. This updated version now details the early days of slavery up to Barack Obama’s groundbreaking campaign.

This dense volume is a very compelling piece. Beginning in 1619, the book details indentured servitude of African Americans, which turned into chattel slavery. This then eventually lead to emancipation, which lead to the civil right movement, and the details continue on from there.

Though the text makes for worthwhile reading, some may be put off by the rather amateurish artwork especially considering the importance of the subject matter. The visual storytelling is lacking and the layouts are not as refined as they should be. Something else that may be off putting is the graffiti artistic style that some may feel is not appropriate for the material.

This book has significant historical value and could easily have had a lot of crossover appeal but this appeal is lost by the lacking visuals.

“Change Has Come: An Artist Celebrates Our American Spirit” is the better offering however, you can still find value in “Still I Rise: A Graphic History of African Americans” because of the text and scope of the book.

It is always worthwhile to take a trip to your local bookstore of library and find the many different ways different artist and writers convey our history.

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