Tag Archives: African American History

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 96: Black Titan by Carol Jenkins & Elizabeth Gardner Hines


“Athletes and musicians who have made millions in their industries deserve our respect, but it is critical that blacks understand that our history, and our (often neglected) successes, run deeper than that. All children need to be made familiar with images and stories of blacks who have found success in the boardroom and the classroom, along with those who have found it on the court and in the clubs. Every child should have the privilege of believing, as I did growing up, that skin color does not determine success—dedication does.”

I thought I would begin my latest review with a paragraph from the epilogue of Black Titan by Carol Jenkins and Elizabeth Gardner Hines.  The niece and grandniece of Alabama Businessman A.G. Gaston told the story from his post Civil War impoverished childhood to becoming a multimillionaire and Birmingham’s most prominent African American entrepreneur.

Sadly, I had never heard of A.G. Gaston until a few months ago on a podcast where Professor Greg Carr of Howard University mentioned his name briefly and the overlooked contribution the entrepreneur made during the civil rights movement during the 1960s, mostly in Birmingham. Gaston became an entrepreneur upon accident and a deep need to get out of poverty.  His empire began with a funeral company (since white-owned funeral homes would not bury black folks) and expanded into an insurance company, bank, motel (which was prominent during the civil rights movement), business college, and boys & girls’ club. They estimated that Mr. Gaston’s net worth reached 130 million at the time of his death in January 1996.  He lived to 103 years old.

Gaston was a complicated figure that believed loyalty and dedication were keys to success.  His business credo, “Find a need and fill it,” served him well in nearly every business venture he undertook. Of course, no one was perfect ,and the book chronicled his failed venture with Brown Belle Soda Pop Company and his tense but respectful relationship with Martin Luther King.

That relationship (along with his business principles) were the highlights for me in the book.  They labeled Gaston as a black conservative and called him an Uncle Tom for continuing to accommodate Birmingham’s white power structure by those who followed King and his nonviolent approach in attempting to desegregate the city.  The entrepreneur wanted the same outcome as King, but understood that economic power was just as important a factor for black progress as well as social justice. Gaston stung by being labeled an Uncle Tom but stood firm in his beliefs.  As time has passed, Gaston’s viewpoint helped shape a post civil-rights Birmingham as much as King did.

I appreciated the book, highlighting the fact that two black men on the opposite side of the political and social spectrum could work together despite their differences.  Gaston bailed King out of jail during his time in Birmingham. King deposited $1,000 (worth about 8,100 dollars today) into Gaston’s bank as a sign of support.  The entrepreneur and the activist seemed to understand they needed each other and proved that when a bigger cause is at work, they could set aside differences to reach the goal.

February is Black History Month, and I have made it my mission to learn something about African American life I had not known about before.  Black American life throughout our history in this country in multilayered and complex. Our contributions run deep and a rags-to-riches story like A.G. Gaston should be celebrated as an American success story by everyone.

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 85: Where Do We Go From Here-Chaos or Community? by Martin Luther King Jr.

“We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. This may well be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos and community.” Martin Luther King’s last sentence from his last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community sums up his powerful and convincing argument for nonviolent coexistence for humanity. I… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 84: The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley

“Grace meets you exactly where you are and it doesn’t leave you.” I heard the author Anne Lamott say this quote on the Tim Ferriss podcast a couple of days ago and knew this would be the opening sentence to my latest book review.  Grace would be the proper view about Malcolm X’s life after… Continue Reading

Marion’s Favorites: High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America

Food is foundational to culture.  Every human culture on the planet has food as an essential part of their culture. African Americans did not differ from anyone else along the human spectrum in that regard. High On The Hog is a four-part miniseries on Netflix that celebrates how African American Cuisine transformed America.  The concept… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 79: Respect-The Life of Aretha Franklin by David Ritz

Sometimes after reading one book will make you want another book with a similar topic. My previous review was a fictional music documentary in a novel titled The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton. Opal Jewel was one half of a groundbreaking punk rock duo from the early 1970s that nearly made… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 75: Invisible Men by Ken Quattro

Black History Month is in full swing and I have seen many social media posts recognizing the achievements of African Americans throughout the nation’s history.  However, I have always wanted to find out something that does not get much recognition or overlooked during this annual celebration in February. Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 74: Playing in the Dark by Toni Morrison

I still consider realistic fiction the standard for American Literature.  However, imaginative fiction has made significant strides in the past two decades to create its own place in American Literature. As one who prefers imaginative fiction over realistic fiction, this is a much-needed development for the survival of literature as an art form. As a… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 73: The Dark Fantastic by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

“The principles of the dark fantastic are so ingrained in our collective consciousness that when the expected pattern is subverted, most audiences cannot suspend disbelief. Readers and viewers complain that dark heroic protagonists are not likable. Critics observe that the characters, settings, circumstances, and resolutions are unbelievable. Agents regret that they just cannot connect with… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 39: Black Fortunes by Shomari Wills

  Black History Month has passed, and I had a plan to read three non-fiction books about black history during the month of February.  I finished Maurice White’s wonderful biography, My Life with Earth, Wind & Fire quickly and then I read Before The Mayflower by Lerone Bennett, Jr.  Bennett’s groundbreaking book chewed up the… Continue Reading