Power in Sharing Stories: the Lynda Lowery Lecture

By Nellie Wilcox

On Monday, November 20, Lynda Blackmon Lowery presented at Hope College, and she started her lecture with a story. In a dark crowded cell, meant for a total of two, packed with over fifty girls’ bodies, among the crying, hugging, and fear, an alto voice sings, “We will overcome.” Her tale is one of persistence and resilience, much like all of the Selma, Alabama children and teenagers who marched time after time, got thrown in jail, taken away from their home, and yet still continued in their courageous fight for equality and justice.

Witnessing and experiencing the racism at the young age of 7 made Lowery determined to fight for change. Her story starts with her mother dying due to complications with childbirth, where Lowery’s mother was unable to receive a blood transfusion because the white hospital in Selma would not give her blood because of the color of her skin. 

Lowery’s role as a changemaker started earlier than she had imagined. At the young age of 13, she was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to march for voting rights and change for her community. Lowery shared how “change comes with being consistent” and she embodied that whole-heartedly. On March 7, 1965 Lowery marched for justice in the murder of Jimmy Lee, a black teenager shot and killed by police. At this march, grown men— a trooper and a sheriff deputy—beat Lynda Blackmon, only 14 years old, senselessly over and over again with a small baseball bat while the other hit and kicked her over and over again. This brutal beating resulted in 38 stitches, producing not only physical scars, but also emotional trauma. Despite this experience, Lowery still decided to attend more marches, and ended up being the youngest registered marcher in the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Her resilience and commitment to change is still an inspiration, and her story deserves to be told. 

At the end of her lecture, Lowery was asked what advice she would give to young people today, and she said these wise words: “put the word human back into humanity.” She expressed that everyone brings value to the table, regardless of color of their skin: “God made a rainbow; I’m a part of it, and so are you.” 

Lynda Blackmon Lowery’s story was well deserving of the enthusiastic standing ovation on November 20, 2023. To learn more about her story, please consider reading her book Turning 15 On The Road To Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March

Nellie Wilcox is a freshman at Hope College majoring in Elementary Special Education.

Reflections on Jerry Craft’s Middle School Event

Andrew Silagi

Andrew Silagi: On Tuesday, November 14, author and illustrator Jerry Craft spoke at Hope College in front of hundreds of students. It was a joy to hear the students cry out at Craft’s mention of a time before there was internet and watch with wide eyes how he turned a bunch of seemingly random shapes into cartoons of Snoopy and Sonic.

There is no denying that Jerry has a way with kids, and it is so important that he is bringing unique stories like New Kid to West Michigan’s middle readers. I had the pleasure of picking up Jerry from the airport, and I’m excited to say that he is soon to release the first book in a new series, which he says is nothing like his first one. Stay tuned!

Lucas Wiersma

Lucas Wiersma: Hi! My name is Lucas Wiersma, and I am a Junior at Hope studying Special Education and Spanish! I had the privilege of joining one of my education field placements at the Big Read Lakeshore event with Jerry Craft. Not only was I impressed by his amazing accomplishments, but the resounding enthusiasm from the students from the surrounding schools made this experience so much fun. Jerry Craft engaged with the kids, spoke about his amazing books, and told his story of how he went from reluctant reader to a famously celebrated author. This Big Read event was such a treat for the students and teachers who attended, and I am so grateful to have been able to join them.

Thoughts on Home and Yaa Gyasi’s Book Talk

By Kelsey Sivertson

What’s the origin of your last name? 

I like this question. It’s a good icebreaker when getting to know new friends over a cinnamon roll for the table on a warm fall Saturday afternoon. I learned about one friend’s annual pesto parties where her extended family gathers to make fresh pesto and pasta together from recipes passed down from Italian ancestors. The other friend’s grandparents still live in Sweden, and besides frequently going to visit, she speaks fluent Swedish when she’s at home. Then they asked me. 

Well, Sivertson means Son of Sivert. It’s Norwegian. My great-grandfather was a whaler who lived in Norway. Mom’s side is Dutch and English, and a bunch of other things…I trailed off. 

Compared to their family traditions and connections, the things I knew about my family felt slim. It’s not for lack of wanting to know. I only have one living grandparent left. My dad comes from a hard background and my mom passed when I was young. Conversations about our lineage have been few and far between. 

It’s funny how I cling to the things I do know. My great-grandfather the whaler. Waiting for big eyes and smiles when I present my one fun fact. Oh! My mom’s grandpa struck out Babe Ruth (she writes with no evidence to prove it other than her grandma’s repetitive stories). But the latter says nothing about the home the generations before me had. 

The good news is that I can trace it, with some work. I can google. I can 23andme. I can ancestry.com my way back. 

Monday evening, November 13, Yaa Gyasi, author of Homegoing, sat in conversation about her novel with Dr. Ernest Cole, chair of the English Department. One of the first things Gyasi spoke on was this concept of rootlessness. The idea of having no ties with a particular place or community. Homegoing follows the story of Maame, an Asante woman and her two daughters, Effia and Esi, separated by circumstance. Both Effia and Esi’s lines find themselves away from home, disconnected from the lives of those who preceded them. 

While Gyasi explores rootlessness in the context of America’s heinous history of chattel slavery and the Atlantic slave trade, the concept of where one belongs and where one comes from holds universality. 

The difference is though that for some, tracing lineage isn’t possible. Some have been robbed of the opportunity to know their families’ origin. 

Knowing who we are tends to boil down in part to who we come from. And that boils down to who they come from. Begetting. And when there are gaps, they are felt. The spaces in our knowing crop up in weekend coffee hangs and in the larger sense of one considering their own identity. 

Identity is one of those life-long pursuits. College is a chasm of young adults desperate to figure out who they are. On top of that is the weight of the West’s individualism, pushing people to intentionally separate and be their own singular self. 

But can we ever separate identity from family? Gyasi’s Homegoing seems a fresh reminder that even in the midst ofAmerican individualism and desperate attempts to fill in the gaps on our own, we simply cannot escape that we are indeed our parent’s child. We come from people, who came from people, who had a home that is still affecting us today. Still shaping who we are, and who we are trying to be.

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Kelsey Sivertson is a senior at Hope College, studying creative writing and theatre.

Byron Borger’s Bookshelf

As part of Byron Borger’s lecture on Thursday, November 9, he mentioned, quoted, or read from a variety of literature, all of which he recommended to the audience as “good books.” Here are his book recommendations in no particular order: 

  1. 1984 by George Orwell
  2. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  3. The Shallows by Nicholas Carr
  4. The Liberating Arts: Why We Need Liberal Arts Education
  5. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  6. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  7. Being Home by Padraig O’Touma [forthcoming]
  8. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  9. Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish by C. Christopher Smith
  10. Experiments in Criticism by C. S. Lewis
  11. Dopesick by Joanna Macey
  12. Evicted by Matthew Desmond
  13. A Day in the Life of Abed Salmara by Nathan Thrall
  14. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  15. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
  16. Nourishing Narratives by Jennifer Holberg
  17. Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
  18. Gutenberg Elegies by Sven Berkerts
  19. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolf
  20. Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World by Maryanne Wolf
  21. Alone Together by Nicholas Carr
  22. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
  23. How Dante Can Save Your Life by Rod Dreher
  24. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
  25. Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman
  26. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
  27. The Word by Marita Golden
  28. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
  29. The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton
  30. Reconciliation in a Michigan Watershed by Gail Gunst Heffner & David Warner [forthcoming]
  31. Altars in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor
  32. Steeped in Stories by Mitali Perkins
  33. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Kimmerer
  34. Secrets in the Dark by Frederick Buechner (foreword by Brian McLaren.)
  35. Tales of Faith by Holly Ordway
  36. Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Neyeri
  37. Subversive Spirituality by Eugene Peterson
  38. Where the Waves Turn Back: A Forty-Day Pilgrimage Along the California Coast  by Tyson Motsenbocker

Enjoy your reading!

Books, Big Read, and Byron Borger!

By Katie Mouganis

Big Read had the pleasure of welcoming the self-proclaimed “Book Person” Byron Borger to Hope College this past Thursday, November 9th. Byron owns an independent bookstore in York Pennslyvania called Hearts and Minds. For 41 years, Byron has been providing literature for his community and beyond! Byron spoke on “Why Reading Widely Matters…and why it especially matters now.” Byron told us why reading matters through stories of novels and of people who have been changed by reading. 

Byron spoke to each person in the audience and asked: 

When was the last time you read for yourself, just for you? 

What book made a difference in your life?

What books have you gotten lost in? 

As we reflect on these questions, it becomes evident that books affect our hearts and minds. Byron believes that reading can change the world; that reading has changed the world. Reading in community can change the world. 

Byron discussed some of the ways that reading in community can change society and individuals. Books offer opportunities for growth in communion to create a stronger community. Reading together is essential to the listening and civility that upholds our democracy. The inherent listening of reading supports intellectual hospitality, and openness to new thoughts. Many of us feel the stress of a polarized society. Literature can help heal this by motivating progress, change, and even peace. Reading in community can enhance empathy. Byron references Homegoing and its power to create empathy by allowing the reader to experience the stories of the generations of an African-American family. While reading Homegoing, my heart broke for Esi in the dungeon, for Ness and Sam in the horrors of slavery, for the loneliness of Abena, and for the addiction Sonny experienced. These stories and the history of oppression create the kind of empathy that Byron believes can change the world. 

This and much more is why we read, why we read widely, why we read diverse literature, and why the Big Read reads in the community! Byron asked another provoking question about our reading: “How can I behold a book?” He asks us to read literature in awe and in wonder of the words. He asks us to allow books like Homegoing to change our affections, perspectives, dreams, ethics, and more. In Homegoing, Majorie’s English teacher asked what she thought of a book; she asked “But do you love it? Do you feel it inside of you?” We find out later that Majorie dedicated her life to African literature because “those are the books that she could feel inside of her.” We must read those stories that we feel inside of ourselves and that we behold to cultivate our voices and understand the voices of others. Byron, a bookseller, inspires us to read for the heart and mind of ourselves and our communities.

Katie Mouganis is a senior at Hope College majoring in Secondary English Education, and is a member of the Big Read team.

Parallels: A Big Read Exhibition

By Andrew Silagi

This past Tuesday, November 7, The Big Read Lakeshore hosted an enriching and engaging event at the Kruizenga Art Museum on Hope College’s campus. The event had a total of eleven participants.  This event began with a welcome by student intern Addie Wilcox and a short talk by museum curator Charles Mason on the new exhibit curated specifically for this year’s Big Read selection, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Mason discussed the exhibit, entitled “Parallels: A Big Read Exhibition”, which includes six pairs of artworks from African and African-American artists, respectively. 

Mason explained his vision for the exhibit was to mirror the two sides of the narrative Gyasi tells in Homegoing. Some of the works showcased in these pairs were grouped together based on medium such as an African-American quilt and cloth blankets or ceramic pieces from both groups. Other pieces were paired for more thematic reasons. One notable example of these pairings is the central pairing, which connected the African and African-American sides of slavery through a photograph of someone from the U.S. entering the Cape Coast Castle back in Ghana, and a picture portraying the complicitness West Africans had in the slave trade. This pairing is fascinating because of its emphasis on both Europeans and Africans’ guilt in creating a lucrative slave trade. 

After Mason introduced the exhibit, a fellow Hope student, Charles Keegan, and I led a discussion on the connections between the book and art exhibit. Many of the discussion questions addressed the symbols of the book as well as symbols from the participants’ own family histories and how particular objects can have significant family meaning. Participants brought stories about their unique families and where they find home and true connection. Some of the most thought-provoking topics discussed were the ideas of lost or compromised cultural or ethnic identities as well as heirlooms without any identification to show its history or attachment to the past. Charles Keegan gave a story of his black sister’s adoption and how she has felt isolated and singled out for much of her life, though she has been able to come more into her own as she has started college. 

Overall, the event was successful. It reminded me of the beautiful relationship art and words have and how they can enhance stories together in a particular way that they lack on their own. While one is immediate, the other is gradual, and a combination of both of these methods of taking in a piece of work can be equally enriching. The Kruizenga Art Museum will hold this exclusive Big Read exhibit until December 16, and it is a great companion piece to Homegoing—be sure to check it out!

Dr. Cole and Dr. Johnson on the Importance of Stories

By Natalie Glover

On Monday, Oct 30, the NEA Big Read Lakeshore had its kickoff event! Hope Professors Dr. Ernest Cole (English) and Dr. Fred Johnson (History) shared their ideas surrounding the importance of stories and how this topic relates to the Big Read Book, “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi. Dr. Johnson’s lecture focused on the history of slavery and power in the United States and Dr. Cole’s lecture emphasized both his connection to Africa and the importance of personal histories. 

Yaa Gyasi’s novel “Homegoing” explores the complex topics of familial ties that span across countries and experiences. The professors at the Big Read Kickoff Event provided their perspectives on these ideas. Dr. Johnson talked about the history of America and the impact of the tyrannical presence of slavery. Dr. Johnson emphasized that this racism continues to persist throughout the years, pointing to groups such as the KKK. Johnson stated, “just because it’s homegrown, doesn’t mean it’s any less tyrannical.” Dr. Johnson ended his talk by sharing a profound story about his experience in Liberia, where he saw African people crying and saying that “one of the stolen ones has been returned to us.” He claimed that in that moment, three hundred years of separation closed, and he was able to fully understand the themes of “Homegoing.” 

Dr. Cole provided a different perspective on these topics and emphasized the importance of personal stories. Dr. Cole stated that he is the sum of two historical and cultural identities: African and African American. He said, “I am my story. My story matters,” and went on to explain that to challenge his story is to “interrogate the legitimacy” of his existence. Dr. Cole explored the concept of power and how our histories are inevitably missing certain stories because of those who were oppressed in the past. Dr. Cole ended his talk by emphasizing the interconnectedness of the Black community, saying that Africans and African Americans are two members of one family who are separated by time and history. 

If you were at this event, it was impossible to ignore the weight of the speaker’s stories. The moments after their sentences were often filled with the “mmms” and “ahhs” of understanding, and other times they were completely silent as people let the words seep into their hearts and souls. This was a perfect event to kick off the Big Read program. We were able to hear two different perspectives: African American and African, historical and personal. Yet both lenses led us to the same conclusion: stories are vital to our existence. They allow us to look back, look forward, and fully absorb the present. I look forward to continuing to experience the Big Read Program and hope that many others can understand and appreciate the importance of stories.

Natalie Glover is a junior at Hope College, majoring in Secondary English Education with minor in ESL, and is a member of the Big Read Team.

Get Ready for This Year’s Events!

This year’s NEA Big Read Lakeshore is already underway with multiple events around the region, but it is only a few days before its formal beginning! 

The kickoff event will be on October 30, where Dr. Ernest Cole, Chair of the Hope College English Department, and Dr. Fred Johnson from the History department, will speak on the reasons to read this year’s Big Read selection, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, a novel surrounding the legacy of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade on both Ghana and the United States from the 18th-century to modern day. Though Homegoing is the central read of this year’s program, there are a handful of other selections that fit well for younger readers as well, including The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander and New Kid by Jerry Craft for middle grade readers and Change Sings and The More We Get Together for early readers. These books all touch on themes of home, belonging, and racial equality and justice in the United States. Events for the Big Read will take place until November 21, and these include a plethora of different events in Muskegon, Ottawa, and Allegan counties. 

These events range from author visits, to theatrical and musical performances, to looking at literature critically. 

Yaa Gyasi is visiting Hope College on Monday, November 13 at 7:00 PM in the Jack H. Miller Concert Hall. Jerry Craft will also be at the Jack H. Miller Concert Hall on Tuesday, November 14 at 9:00 AM, as well as at the Frauenthal Center in Muskegon on Tuesday at 7:00 PM and Herrick North Branch Library in Holland on Wednesday, November 15 at 6:00 PM. Linda Lowry will be giving a lecture on Monday, November 20 at 7:00 PM in Graves Hall. 

Other than these author visits, Hope College’s Strike Time Dance Company will be performing a theatrical dance rendition of Change Sings at Hope College in the Dow Center (studio 207) on Saturday, November 4 at 10:00 AM, as well as another performance at White Lake Community Library at 12:00 PM. 

These are just some of the amazing events part of this year’s Big Read, and we would encourage you to check them all out on the website! We look forward to seeing you at these events!

Why Read Graphic Novels?

By Hannah Lever

The tenth annual NEA Big Read is about to begin! But something is different this year. For the first time ever, one of the chosen books is a graphic novel!

The Middle Read book this year is New Kid by Jerry Craft. Published in 2019, it is the first graphic novel to win a John Newbery Medal. It is a wonderful novel for young readers to hold their hand as they enter into the terrifying world of middle school and as they experience feeling new and different, and hopefully, after reading the novel, see that maybe middle school isn’t as terrifying as they once thought. New Kid not only shows the tumultuous experiences of middle school, but also thoughtfully unpacks how race and class can influence these experiences for kids and those who perceive them. Ultimately, it is a story of growing up, fitting in, and learning how to find what we believe.  

When I ask teachers what they think of graphic novels, they will often hesitate for a moment before saying that their students love them, and graphic novels are an excellent way to get struggling readers to finish a book. When I ask my fellow future teachers, they also hesitate to formulate a response that uses all the dense vocabulary we use, but in fewer words; they tell me that graphic novels can be a good tool in the classroom, just not in their classroom, and certainly not in their lesson plans. When I ask my mom, who has had to wrestle three daughters with ADHD into tolerating reading, she does not hesitate and says what most of us are thinking: “Graphic novels aren’t real reading.”  Perhaps you are thinking the same. 

When many people think of graphic novels, they envision superheroes or action adventures with entire pages dedicated to sound effects. Those are indeed graphic novels, but they are also other kinds of graphic novels. Graphic novels can be entertaining adventures, but they are also award winning memoirs. Like any type of art, graphic novels have a variety of intentions and audiences, because they are not a genre, but a medium. The graphic novel that many point to as proof of the medium’s worth is Maus by Art Spiegelman which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. New Kid won both a Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Award, two of the most prestigious awards in children’s literature. According to the experts, we should read graphic novels. But, we can not rely solely on experts to decide what counts as real reading, and not everything that is worth reading needs a stamp of approval. 

A common critique of graphic novels is that readers get through them incredibly quickly, maybe even in under an hour. To be completely honest, I finished reading New Kid in an afternoon and my seventh-grade sister finished it in two days (during that afternoon, I did not touch my phone once). My little sister can not sit still under any circumstances and she did not sit still while reading New Kid (graphic novels are good, but they’re not miracles), but she did not put the book down, despite her fidgeting and pacing. Two skills are required to read graphic novels. Despite popular belief, the pictures do not make the words easier to read and the words do not make the pictures unnecessary. Both elements come together to build something greater than the sum of its parts. A graphic novel asks the reader to use both reading and visual comprehension skills, and doing both tasks at once is challenging enough to keep readers engaged, but neither skill is overworked so readers do not tire easily. Still, there is a persistent belief that pictures are proof of a simple story. The reality is that graphic novels and comics use pictures intentionally—there is a specific language in the illustrations, and when a reader is mindful of what they are seeing, it is incredibly rewarding to learn this language. As movies, TV shows, and online video take up more space in the media landscape, we need mediums that demand us to develop visual literacy skills. We need to think just as deeply about what we see and hear as what we read, and graphic novels can be the first step in developing that practice. 

Finishing a book quickly is not a con; rather, this builds confidence in new readers, and every reader loves the satisfaction of finishing a book and craving more of it. Because graphic novels can be finished quickly, they are often reread which allows for a greater depth of understanding. Small details, subtext, and finer style details jump out on a second read or viewing of any text. Many traditional novels are worth rereading, but few people feel they have the time, even if it is a worthwhile practice. Ideally, young readers of graphic novels will build the habit of rereading, and as they diversify their reading they will apply this habit to other texts. Graphic novels have the potential for making the next generation of readers ones who allow books to live in their minds, not just on their shelves.

I have asked teachers and parents about what they think of graphic novels, but I also asked students what they think. When I ask kids about the graphic novel in their hands, their faces light up, even as the older teens try to hide their excitement. One student told me he had read the graphic novel at least five times, the evidence of his statement in the broken spine and torn pages. Another student opened her book to show me an illustration that looked just like her—everything about the character’s posture, expression, and something indescribable in the art spoke to what she was feeling. Older students told me that nonfiction graphic novels helped them “really get” history better than any textbook. 

So why should we read graphic novels? We should read graphic novels because they are highly regarded in the literary community; have meaningful storylines, themes, and character development; and offer a different way to tell a story. But don’t stop there—we should read graphic novels because students today love them and are excited to read them.

Hannah Lever is an senior at Hope College studying English secondary education and has been an avid reader of all things, especially comics and graphic novels for as long as she could read.

Behind the Book: Akua and Willie

The War of the Golden Stool

As we look into Akua’s and Willie’s stories in Homegoing, we enter the 20th century. In Africa, the political scene was once again changing. After the Anglo-Ashanti wars at the end of the 19th century the British tried to remain in control by appointing colonial administrators who would work with their colonies in West Africa.

However, the peace did not stay for long. During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Frederick Hodgson, a British colonial administrator who was the governor of the British Gold Coast stirred up more trouble with the Asante people. He began to put into place policies and demands that disrespected the Asante people and caused more issues between the groups. In March of 1900, he gave a speech in Kumasi in which he told Asante leaders that their king Prempeh I would not be released from his exile. He then proceeded to further insult the leaders by demanding that they bring him the Golden Stool as he believed that with his power, he should be allowed to sit on it.

What is the Golden Stool?

The Golden Stool was the most important artifact in Asante culture. According to the legend, a priest had taken it down from heaven given it to the first Asante ruler as a sign of the spirit and unity of the nation. It was seen as the soul of the nation and even the kings were not allowed to sit on it. It also was not allowed to touch the ground and had its own throne. When the new kings were appointed, they were carried over the stool without actually touching it. It was seen as a live deity and was even consulted during times of war. The continued success and heritage of the Asante people was connected to the stool, and without it, they feared the loss of the very heart of their people.

Hodgson saw it solely for its symbol of governing power, but it was much more than just that. For the white foreigner to keep their king from them and demand such an atrocious act was seen as a great insult and threat to their people.

The Beginnings of the War

After leaving Kumasi, the Asante leaders immediately began to prepare for war. The Asante Queen mother Yaa Asantewaa railed her people, and they launched a surprise attack on the British fort at Kumasi.

The Asante warriors trapped the British inside the fort and cut off their food, water, and communication. After weeks of the siege, it became clear that the Asante people would not let up, and the British began to look for other options. Food and water were quickly running out and there were numerous sick and injured soldiers that needed supplies they were not able to get. Hodgens and a few healthy men were able to escape to the coast to rally up a relief army of around 1,000 soldiers from various British units and police forces across West Africa. They began a march back but met resistance at several forts allied with the Asante people. Even with another big defeat at the Battle of Kokofu, the British still had an upper hand when it came to equipment and training and eventually gained control on the war.

The Asante empire was annexed into the British Empire but continued to mostly ignore colonial authority and rule over themselves. More importantly, they were able to keep the Golden Stool out of the hands of the British. These battles became known as the War of the Golden Stool or the Yaa Asantewaa War. The victory of keeping the Golden Stool also came with a high cost as their main leaders and chiefs, including Yaa Asantewaa, were arrested and exiled for 25 years. Casualties on the Asante side ended up at around 2,000, and the British side also suffered 1,000 casualties. Both sides ended up with more fatalities in this six-month time span than all the Anglo-Ashanti wars combined.

This war is much longer and complicated than I could quickly summarize, but if you are interested in finding out more, check out this two-part episode from History of Africa that goes into more detail on this war.

While this war led to losses on both sides, it brought together the Asante people, and this unity allowed them to keep forms of freedom and independence, even while technically under British control.

Early Harlem History

Over in America, we get to see Willie’s story and her experience in early 1900s Harlem. Harlem is a part of Manhattan in New York City, New York that has held an important place in history over many different time periods. At this point we are in the early 1900s in America, and this is when Harlem really begins to become a crucial part of history, especially for its black community. There had been black residents in Harlem since the 1600s, but in the early 1900s there were tens of thousands. There had been a mass migration to this part of the city after an economic crash. Most of the growth in Harlem can be credited to the Great Migration. Crash Course has a great video that you can watch that talks a bit more about what the Great Migration is and how it affected American demographics going forward.

Harlem grew a lot from the migration from the south, but also because of the oppertunities the area gave even fellow New Yorkers. Black New Yorkers faced a hard time to find new places to live after a large economic crash, but black real estate entrepreneurs like Phillip Payton Jr. and his company the Afro-American Realty Company soon took this as an opportunity to bring more people to Harlem.

In areas like Harlem, people could find a wider variety of jobs, better education for their kids, and find a black community. As the community there began to grow, it encouraged more black people to move there as it got a reputation for being a safe place where you could get involved in many different areas of life and work. In 1910, a census showed that around 10% of central Harlem was black, but after all these factors combined, it jumped up to 70% by 1930.

This photo from the New York Public Library shows life at a Harlem Tenement in 1935.

This growth was not met without resistance. As the black community grew in Harlem, many white families began to move out to get away. Between 1920 and 1930 almost 120,000 white people left the neighborhood. While this led to a lack of diversity and other socio-economic issues, it also opened the way for the growth of black communities in Harlem. Other resistance came from white residents who made packs not to sell to or rent to black people, but this soon faded as they failed to find anyone to rent or buy the properties.

As the black population in Harlem grew, so did the organizations made to support the black community. Many movements and a variety of artist began to rise up in Halem and this gave birth to many of the famous people and works of art that we think of when it comes to the Harlem Renaissance.

Both of these stories are setting up the scene for important social and political movements that shaped the lives for the upcoming generation of Homegoing. Yaw and Sonny will be up next, and we will get to dive into some of these issues a bit more.