Powerful Words by Wade Hudson; Scholastic
Inc.: New York, 2004; $19.95
This is a collection of poetry, rap, historical speeches, stories and biographies on the struggles and triumphs of African Americans. This book intrigued me because it was the ideas and thoughts from the eighteenth century to the edge of the twenty-first century. I could read the book part by part. I like rap music so I read the section about hip-hop star Lauryn Hill first. She expresses her feelings with music. I read the lyrics of a song about a person wondering where his life is going, “And I made up my mind to define my own destiny.” But she is not the first to express her feelings.
Benjamin Banneker, an inventor, surveyor and astronomer, wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson. It said, “We are a race of beings who have long laboured under the abuse and censure of the world, that we have long been considered rather as brutish than human and scarcely capable of mental endowments. The color of the skin is in no way connected with strength of the mind or intellectual powers.” Mr. Banneker died in 1806. Then I read about the first black newspaper, Freedom’s Journal. Publisher John Russwurm wrote, “We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us.” It lasted two years. By the Civil War, there were twenty-four African-American newspapers.
One of my favorites was a story by Toni Morrison. The story is about an old, wise, blind woman who teaches a lesson about mockery and power. Mrs. Morrison’s biography informs the reader that she was presented a National Humanities Medal by President Bill Clinton and is the first African-American woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her story was very different from Mary McLeod Bethune’s story. I never heard of this brilliant woman who started a public school for African Americans. Five little girls started in 1904. By 1923, it became Bethune-Cookman College and she was president. Many African-American children received educations because of her. I wish this had been the experience for Native Americans who instead were sent to government boarding schools where they could not speak their native language and were given Christian names.
I would recommend this book to everybody who has a different culture and can compare their experiences. As a Native American, I learned about how we had some of the same experiences and different ones too. We share a history of discrimination, but we have succeeded in keeping our culture alive—our foods, music and traditions. That’s what makes all of our cultures different but very interesting. I sit with my mother and sister when they sing and play the pow-wow drum and I connect with my heritage. In the same way, African Americans connect with their culture with the gospel music composed by Thomas A. Dorsey, the son of a minister. He wrote, “Precious Lord, take my hand, Lead me on, let me stand, I am tired, I am weak, I am worn; Thru the storm, thru the night, lead me on to the light.” Read this book! The powerful words will teach you how many African Americans struggled and achieved great things, making America better for all of us.