Illustrated by Brian Pinkney
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In this New York Times Notable Children’s Book and winner of the Coretta Scott King Author Award, follow the life stories of ten Black men in American history and the legacies they left that forever changed the country.
Hand in Hand presents the stories of ten men from different eras in American history, organized chronologically to provide a scope from slavery to the modern day. The stories are accessible, fully-drawn narratives offering the subjects’ childhood influences, the time and place in which they lived, their accomplishments and motivations, and the legacies they left for future generations as links in the “freedom chain.” This book will be the definitive family volume on the subject, punctuated with dynamic full color portraits and spot illustrations by two-time Caldecott Honor winner and multiple Coretta Scott King Book Award recipient Brian Pinkney. Backmatter includes a civil rights timeline, sources, and further reading.
- Benjamin Banneker
- Frederick Douglass
- Booker T. Washington
- W.E.B. DuBois
- A. Philip Randolph
- Thurgood Marshall
- Jackie Robinson
- Malcolm X
- Martin Luther King, Jr
- Barack H. Obama II
Text copyright © 2012 by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Illustrations copyright © 2012 by Brian Pinkney
All rights reserved. Published by Disney • Jump at the Sun Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disney • Jump at the Sun Books, 114 5th Ave, New York, New York 10011-5690.
These are the stories of ten bold men
who built a chain called hand in hand.
Each a link in this mighty strand:
Working toward freedom
Hand in hand.
Brave souls, together strong.
Never stopped fighting.
Kept speaking and dreaming.
All for justice
Hand in hand.
Gripped iron courage
Solid as one
Hand in hand.
Here are their stories,
courageous and true.
their unbreakable plan,
make this freedom chain
called Hand in hand.
THIS BOOK WAS IGNITED by the beautiful hands of a black man. Or, as it were, the hands of several men whose complexions ranged from buff to midnight.
One summer, years ago, I was invited to attend a literacy institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). The program had been developed by Dr. Alfred W. Tatum, literacy professor at the UIC, and director of the UIC Reading Clinic. Its purpose was to foster literacy and creative expression through writing in African American boys ages thirteen to eighteen. The program participants, who referred to themselves as “Brother Authors,” began each day’s three-hour session by standing and reciting their Preamble.
When I came to visit them, they were eager to share this introduction to their mission:
We, the Brother Authors, will seek to use language to define who we are.
We will become, and nurture, resilient beings. We will write for the benefit of others and ourselves.
We will use language prudently and unapologetically to mark our times and our lives.
This we agree to, with a steadfast commitment to the ideals of justice, compassion, and a better humanity for all.
To this end, we write!
I was immediately struck by the fortitude and passion of these boys-to-men. Also inspiring was the posture with which they delivered their Preamble. The boys stood erect, proud, side by side, holding fast to their bright futures. They were of every beautiful hue that God must have conceived of when He stirred his palette to create the black race—amber, oak, mocha, red bark, vanilla bean.
These young men sought life direction in the books they read. They wanted to hear the stories of black men who had accomplished great things. They cared deeply about social justice, civil rights, laws affecting them and the African American community, the history of black people, and the tradition of achievement built by black men. They were hungry for role models. They wanted shoulders to stand on. They had high hopes as they approached adulthood. They affirmed themselves and one another.
There was never a question of if they could succeed—these kids had very straight-ahead ideas about what they would accomplish when they reached their goals. But as children who found strength through reading and writing, they wanted more books to reflect their ideals and to serve as stepping-stones to their manhood.
After spending time with these “Brother Authors,” I knew I had to write Hand in Hand. Their determination—and the image of them standing united, side by side—left an indelible impression on me.
I’d grown weary of so much bad press and ignorant stereotyping of black males. I have become acutely aware of the negative impact this has, especially on boys who are developing their self-image. Even in its subtlest forms, this “bad press” can stitch a corrosive thread into a kid’s psyche and cause him to believe he is inferior or flawed. Once this belief is established, it can be hard to turn around. Yet here was a group who refused to give way to such negativity. These boys restored my faith, and inspired me to get cracking on a book that celebrates black male achievement.
I wanted to create a testament to African American males, a comprehensive book that would also serve as a thank-you gift to all the positive black men who have touched my life and the lives of people I will never meet.
While this volume is comprised of ten different stories, when woven together like a chain, the individual accomplishments of these men link up to tell one story—a story of triumph.
Folks will no doubt ask why I’ve chosen the ten men featured in these pages. Selecting the candidates whose lives I would illuminate was one of the hardest aspects of Hand in Hand’s creation. This collection could contain hundreds of stories! There are so many black men who have made a tremendous impact on racial progress in America. My initial list was a long one, from which I created my own “black legacy time line.”
It was important to span America’s history, from the Colonial period to the Civil War to the turn of the century, World War I, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights movement, to our modern day. I found it essential to include men from varied sectors. And, rather than simply presenting a snapshot of each, I wanted the freedom to delve into the early lives, influences, and motivations that led to the accomplishments of the men in the collection. I was eager to explore the humanity that makes each man unique. Keeping the list to ten allowed me to do this. Also, each of these men had a hand in shaping America's progress, hence the book's title, Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America.
As I conducted my research and began to write, I continued to grapple with which men would “make the cut.” The “Brother Authors” helped in this. The individuals I chose are among those whose names kept coming up on their “racial-pride radar.”
Once I’d come to a final decision about which men would be included, it was time to determine the ordering of the stories. Who should come first, second, and so on? This was resolved by presenting the men chronologically by birth date.
The research on each notable figure took me on an incredible journey. While there exist countless books about African Americans and the ongoing quest for equality, few provide the breadth of personal detail that I wished to include in each man’s story. In thinking about Hand in Hand as a cohesive chain—ten men, joined together, marching into the lives of this book’s readers—I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing a vital “link” in any of the narratives.
I consulted many sources to assist in the creation of the biographies herein. It seems that each fact I uncovered sparked new questions, which led me to further research, more intriguing details, unforgettable facts, and patches of color that brought texture to the stories. I soon became consumed with the life particulars of these men and with so many discoveries about them.
Though the lives and accomplishments of these individuals span centuries and fields of endeavor, their remarkable stories underscore several common themes, important truths that affirm the power of black manhood:
Black men are builders.
Black men unify—and are unified.
Black men love to read.
Black men are powerful public speakers.
Black men are charismatic.
Black men are smart.
Black men are skilled writers and effective communicators.
Black men are astute listeners.
Black men respect themselves and others.
Black men place family values in high regard.
Black men have good manners.
Black men are spiritual.
These virtues make for a hand-in-hand chain that is not only strong but significant. It is my hope that the qualities embodied in the stories of each Hand in Hand man will encourage young readers to build connections that will link them to their birthright of excellence.
—Andrea Davis Pinkney
His hands reached for the stars.
With the Big Dipper’s cup
he scooped up
the sky’s mysterious ways.
Charted the moon, phase by phase.
Spent his days
marking the sun’s steady climb.
Astronomer ahead of his time.
Put his all into an almanac.
Helped abolitionists prove
that being black
would not hold him back
from the Triple S genius he was:
Surveyor of freedom
Snatched open the clouds of injustice
to let loose sweet rains of equality
that tumbled down in a torrent of words penned
to Thomas Jefferson.
Socked it straight
to the secretary of state:
You declare one thing, but do another.
Owner of slaves, yet call me brother.
The pursuit of happiness encouraged his letter.
He wrote with a fury
until the sun set
on that threat
known as hypocrisy.
BENJAMIN BANNEKER WAS BORN under a lucky star. Came into this world a freeborn child, a blessing bestowed on few of his hue. In Colonial America, most black people were enslaved. But Benjamin’s grandmother, Molly, was an indentured dairymaid from England who had obtained her freedom. Molly and Benjamin’s mother, Mary, had both lived as free women in the colony of Maryland.
In 1730 Mary wed a former slave named Robert, a black man from West Africa. Robert had been granted his freedom by a master who let his slaves go if they agreed to become Christians. As soon as this offer was presented to Robert, he put his hand on the Holy Bible, said amen, thanked the good Lord, waved good-bye to his master, and gave freedom a hello hug.
Mary and Robert welcomed Benjamin a year after they married, in 1731. Then came Benjamin’s three younger sisters: Minta, Molly, and a third little girl whose name is no longer known. The Banneker children had official papers that spelled out their freedom.
Mary and Robert saved enough money to buy a plot of land for growing tobacco. Their hundred-acre farm stood at the mouth of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. The Bannekers named their place Stout, on account of their prosperous crops, and as a reflection of the hefty dose of love they had for each other and their children.
As soon as he could talk, Benjamin’s grandma Molly started to teach him to read the only book she owned, the Bible. She also showed her grandson how to write. From the Bible, Benjamin learned everything from the begats to the Beatitudes. And by reciting all one hundred and fifty psalms, Benjamin discovered he could count.
Soon the boy knew numbers as well as he knew his name. For fun, he taught his sisters to count all ten fingers, every toe, and each of their new teeth.
Benjamin didn’t have many friends his own age. His sisters were his only playmates. Because there weren’t many other free blacks in America—and because Robert feared he could be thrown back into slavery—Benjamin, his sisters, and their parents tended to their land without much socializing.
They enjoyed their time together as a family. Working tobacco was no easy feat, but the Bannekers made the days go faster by singing as they worked.
In the spring it was Benjamin’s job to pick slugs and bugs from the tobacco shoots. When August brought on days hotter than the hinges on the sun’s front door, it was time for the tobacco harvest. Benjamin helped collect tobacco leaves, hang them to dry, then roll them into hogshead bundles.
These were big chores for a little kid. Benjamin turned his work into a game by telling his ma how many there were of anything worth counting—clouds, twigs, pigs, haystacks, horseshoes, beetles, blue jays. Soon Benjamin could add and subtract, and find the rhythms of arithmetic. Math was no chore for Benjamin. Numbers were fun. As Benjamin grew, so did his curiosity.
When the sun set each day, and stars pressed their diamond eyes through the curtain of the sky, Benjamin counted them, too. The beauty of those stars inspired Benjamin to wish, and to wonder:
When stars change their places in the sky each night, are they dancing while shining?
What makes the moon go from a ball of butter to an archer’s bow, then leave the sky a blackened cape?
How does the sun know to rise each day, sit high at noon, and set at dusk?
These questions stayed with Benjamin. They were mysteries that he wanted to solve.
When Benjamin was grown, Mary and Robert let him run the family farm. He kept Stout going, building it into one of the heartiest tobacco enterprises along the Chesapeake Bay. By this time Benjamin enjoyed reading newspapers. Benjamin had taught himself geometry, algebra, and statistics. He was what nowadays we’d call a math-happy man. He even devised a plan for making tobacco farming more efficient by breaking the process into thirty-six steps.
Benjamin was a tinkerer, too. When a fence post or a hoe broke, he was quick to figure out how to fix it. If an oxcart wheel was missing a spoke, Benjamin did more than replace the wheel—he took all four wheels off the cart, constructed new ones with better traction, came up with a special design for the oxen’s yoke, and trained the ox to step up his stride so the cart moved faster.
For most farmers, days were run by the rising and setting of the sun. Every waking moment was devoted to hauling, rinsing, rolling, and stacking tobacco leaves. When dawn broke, folks woke. When morning lit the day, farm chores were well under way. When the sun was highest in the sky, it was time for poached poultry, turnips, and collard greens—enough lunch to get through an afternoon of more hard work. As soon as dusk came, so did the stove’s fire for baking an ash cake that would be served with molasses and milk before bed.
It occurred to Benjamin that his farm could function even more efficiently by putting the day’s waking, hauling, rinsing, rolling, and baking on a clock’s schedule. Clocks weren’t common in the 1700s, especially for regular folks such as farmers. But Benjamin’s way of approaching the world was far from regular. Though he had never seen a timepiece and didn’t know how a clock worked, he set out to build one using wood pieces from Stout’s timber shed. He borrowed a pocket watch, studied its innards, and got to work. This math-happy man drew clock plans, carved cogs, fashioned the clock’s face and hands, and added a bell.
With just a few adjustments, Benjamin’s clock worked perfectly. Its bell chimed at each hour. He could now wake before the dew even knew what to do. Or, though it wasn’t likely, he could choose to sleep till noon. Benjamin’s clock was one of the few to be constructed in Colonial days. There were other clocks in big cities, but his was among the first to put farmers on a schedule that kept the rolling and wrapping of hogshead bundles running smoothly.
People from nearby farms heard about Benjamin’s clock and came to see what to them looked like a magic box with a bell on top. No one knew it then, but that clock would keep accurate time for more than fifty years. And Benjamin’s clock brought him and his parents new neighbors.
In 1771, the Ellicotts, a wealthy family, purchased seven hundred acres of land in a valley on the Patapsco River, not far from the Bannekers’ farm. They spent many months building a gristmill on their property. One of the first things that caught Benjamin’s attention was that the Ellicott family did not use slaves in any aspect of the mill’s construction.
Benjamin also took great interest in the mill’s complex structure and machinery that lifted and sifted grain. Over several years, he watched and waited as each phase of the mill’s creation was completed. For the same reason he and his family had kept to themselves for so long, Benjamin didn’t introduce himself to the Ellicotts—he didn’t know if he could trust these white landowners. As Benjamin watched the mill’s construction happen with the hands of white workers only, he and his father still had to be careful. Someone who didn’t believe in freedom for black people could seek to destroy their papers, or bring harm to them.
It was the Ellicotts who made the first overture. John and Andrew III, the Ellicott brothers, wanted to develop the land surrounding their mill. They’d heard about the Bannekers’ thriving tobacco crops and one day came to Benjamin’s farm, asking to buy supplies that could help tame their acres. Benjamin’s mother greeted them cautiously. John and Andrew III introduced themselves with warm smiles and open hearts. Mary Banneker learned they were Quakers, who, as part of their religious beliefs, shunned slavery. To the Ellicotts, the Bannekers were simply their neighbors. They didn’t regard them as the “black Bannekers” or “the biracial Banneker family.”
This was a big relief to the Bannekers, who gladly delivered farm supplies to the Ellicotts. As a neighborly gesture, Mary also brought them just-laid eggs, rhubarb pies, pails of milk still warm from her cows, and bread. These kept the workmen happy and well fed while they put the finishing touches on the mill.
George Ellicott, the son of Andrew III, was a math-happy man, just like Benjamin. His father put him in charge of surveying the Ellicott land for the purpose of building a road from the newly named Ellicott Mills to Baltimore.
Surveying was not easy. It involved making maps, plotting routes, and figuring out how a road could cut through wild brush. From his cabin window, Benjamin observed as George’s road took shape. The project was going well. But Benjamin knew he could offer some good ideas for making the job proceed even more smoothly. Finally, Benjamin introduced himself to George. He shared his surveying ideas. The two men became instant friends. It was 1778.
Benjamin and George had a lot in common. They both liked measuring sticks, mechanical stuff, widgets, digits, and science. Benjamin showed George his clock and told him about the thirty-six steps he’d devised for tobacco farming.
George had a special interest in astronomy, the study of stars and planets. He didn’t know anybody as passionate about this aspect of science until he met Benjamin. Soon, thanks to George, who eagerly kept giving astronomy tools to his new friend, every day seemed like Christmas to Benjamin!
First George arrived at Benjamin’s cabin with a pedestal telescope. Then he brought a set of drafting instruments. Days later, George came to Benjamin’s place holding a bundle of astronomy books, including An Easy Introduction to Astronomy and Astronomy Explained upon Sir Isaac Newton’s Principles, both by James Ferguson, A Compleat System of Astronomy by Charles Leadbetter, and a set of lunar tables by Tobias Mayer. Benjamin and George started to study astronomy together. Using the tools he’d brought, George showed Benjamin how to pinpoint the position of the stars with careful numerical calculations.
They didn’t get very far in fully mastering astronomy, though. George’s father needed his son to devote more time to expanding the Ellicott enterprise. George was forced to get his head out of the stars and back on the road. That’s when he brought his science buddy a gift that was big enough to wish him a Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday, combined.
George couldn’t hoist this present on his shoulder. He needed workmen from his mill to help him make the delivery. Anybody who knew a thing or two about Mayer’s lunar tables knew that a true astronomer needed a table to do his best work. George and his crew showed up with an oak worktable that looked as big as a bridge, once they got it inside Benjamin’s modest cabin. The table fit perfectly at the windowsill, though. Its drop leaves kept the table contained when Benjamin wasn’t using it, and expanded the table when Benjamin wanted to spread out his books, drafting instruments, and telescope. The table even had a drawer for holding his goose feather writing quills and a compass.
George promised Benjamin he’d be back soon and that the two of them would spend more time together figuring out James Ferguson’s astronomy theories, interpreting Isaac Newton’s know-how, unlocking Charles Leadbetter’s lessons, and making sense out of Mayer’s lunar tables. But Ellicott Mills was growing, and its development took up most of George’s time. He had to travel frequently on business, so he was often away from home.
That telescope and those books were like horehound candy begging to be savored. After weeks of waiting for George, Benjamin was ready to burst. Though the tobacco farm kept him busy, Benjamin wanted to enjoy his gifts with his friend who shared the same love of science. He understood the importance of the Ellicott economy, but he was eager to learn. Finally he couldn’t hold off for another minute. He cracked open one of the fattest books first—An Easy Introduction to Astronomy.
Benjamin pored over the pages of James Ferguson’s book, taking in every detail he could. But there was nothing easy about this introduction. Mr. Ferguson was introducing how hard astronomy is. To understand even half the facts in all the books George had brought, a reader needed a brain stoked with double the kindling.
Benjamin read very carefully, taking one paragraph at a time, stopping to rub the strain from his eyes before continuing. The system of astronomy slowly started to come alive for Benjamin.
Tobias Mayer’s book of lunar tables was the most complex of all the books. It showed readers how to locate star formations for every single day of the year. Mayer’s lunar tables might as well have been the Bible, the very first book Benjamin learned to read. For Benjamin, those tables were gospel. They were the answer to Benjamin’s prayers, and to the questions that had sparked up in him as a child. With Mr. Mayer’s lunar tables and Mr. Leadbetter’s Compleat System of Astronomy, Benjamin began to master the sky’s mysteries. He learned the shapes and patterns of the constellations, when they formed, and how.
"A unique historical approach, superbly handled."—Walter Dean Myers
"[The] stories in this beautifully written book are equally fascinating, and entire volume is movingly enhanced by poetry and by the inviting, creative illustrations of Brian Pinkney."—New York Times
"The inviting narrative and eloquent portrayal of these iconic men and the times in which they lived make for memorable reading."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
- On Sale
- Oct 23, 2012
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers