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Spring Books Issue: Being Black In America

The 50th anniversary of Black Like Me; Emmett Till's cousin, Simeon Wright, tells his story; and more

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The stories in this issue look at different aspects of African-American life over the last half century, mainly through the work of local black writers. The time line starts with Emmett Till, the black Chicago teen whose 1955 murder galvanized the modern civil rights movement. Till was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he was dragged from their home by white men avenging what they saw as a slight against one off their wives. His cousin, Simeon Wright, saw Till taken. After decades of reticence about the crime, Wright has written a memoir, Simeon's Story, and Adrienne Samuels Gibbs profiles him here.

In 1960, John Howard Griffith published Black Like Me as a serial in Sepia magazine (it came out later in book form). The idea of a white reporter masquerading as a black to get Americans to pay attention to segregation may sound absurd now, but Griffin's undercover report was a milestone in the evolution of the issue. Michael Miner evaluates the man and his book 50 years later.

Civil rights legislation helped open higher education to African-American young people, and Angela Jackson joined the freshman class at Northwestern University in 1968. Where I Must Go, her novel based on the experience, is the subject of Deanna Isaacs's story.

Jerald Walker's parents thought they were giving their kids a better life when they moved from the projects to South Shore in 1970, but the neighborhood deteriorated, and by the time Walker was 20, in 1984, he was a high school dropout with a cocaine habit. Now a college English professor in Massachusetts, he talks to Bayo Ojikutu about his memoir, Street Shadows.

Finally, Salim Muwakkil draws a portrait of Ytasha L. Womack, whose Post Black takes African-American identity into the Obamaian future. —Tony Adler

Plus: reviews of local lit and books for cooks and foodies

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