“His catalogue revolves around love, around African-American pride, and around uplifting all people… He was trying to tell people we can do better as a human family.” – Eric Byrd, music lecturer at McDaniel College. [1]

Full of pocket biographies of 30 prominent African Americans, this slim little book by J. R. Anna is a handy beginner’s guide for someone not born into the culture that gave birth to these respected individuals.  From the perspective of this Australian reader, there is much to learn, albeit superficially, about these men and women who have had a huge impact on American culture, whether or not they are household names.  In politics, sport, the arts, sciences, and in philanthropy, individuals ranging from Martin Luther King Jr. to Kamala Harris, from Barack Obama to Michael Jackson, remind us that genius is not bound by any particular ethnicity.

It is difficult to know just how accurate these brief bios are unless one is well versed in the personal and public stories of the individuals concerned.  But in the case of Michael Jackson, this reader found an error in the name of his first adult success for the Epic record label.  “Off the Wall” is the title, rather than “Epic, Off the Wall”.  Perhaps that was an error in typing or transcribing.  The matter of Jackson’s vitiligo is simply and succinctly handled, with the finding of his autopsy being given – correctly – as the final confirmation (which somehow seems to be missed by many tabloid writers).

The quote from producer and Jackson collaborator Teddy Riley is well placed in that Riley confirms that Michael never intended to remove himself from his race.  He was proud of his heritage, yet throughout his career from the mid-80s onwards, he was the subject of the most blatant examples of discrimination by the Western media, whether because of his ethnicity, appearance, artistic output, or his overall “otherness”.  However, that is a topic far too complex and far-reaching for this kind of book. [2]

In the case of the story of Jackson’s life and cultural impact, there is one glaring omission, and no, I am not talking about the many and various extortion attempts that were wrought by a number of individuals throughout – and after – his life.  Rather, it is his huge contribution as a humanitarian that is missing in this instance, apart from noting he co-wrote “We are the World” with Lionel Richie.  Jackson’s generosity is one of the things about which his family, colleagues, and fans, are most passionate and proud.  A mention of his Guinness Book of World Records award for his largess (and all the others he earned) should have been included.  The closing quote from Jackson is, however, a good finale to his story:

“In a world filled with hate, we must still dare to hope. In a world filled with anger, we must still dare to comfort. In a world filled with despair, we must still dare to dream. And in a world filled with distrust, we must still dare to believe.” – Michael Jackson. [3]

What has been stated above about the brief Jackson bio may be equally true for some of the other individuals highlighted in this book.  It is beyond this reviewer to fairly assess their accuracy.  But what is important with respect to this type of volume is that it is an introduction – an appetiser – to entice readers to dive deeper into some truly fascinating and inspirational lives.

Review by Kerry Hennigan
7 July 2021.

NB: I received an advance review copy for free, and I am providing this review voluntarily.

Sources:

[1]  Anna, J.R. 2021: p.75.

[2] Hennigan, Kerry. “Book Review: ‘Otherness and Power. Michael Jackson and his media critics’ by Susan Woodward.” Published electronically 18 August 2017. https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2017/08/18/book-review-otherness-and-power-michael-jackson-and-his-media-critics-by-susan-woodward/

[3]  Anna, p.76.


Inspirational Black Heroes in Contemporary African American History” by J. R. Anna

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B095GLRZV1
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Independently published (May 19, 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 138 pages
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8506264477

Available from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Inspirational-African-American-Contemporary-History/dp/B095GLRZV1/