In “The Black Calhouns,” Gail Lumet Buckley paints a sweeping view of black American society from Reconstruction onwards. Buckley is the daughter of the legendary Lena Horne and a descendant of our secessionist seventh vice president, John C. Calhoun. His nephew, Andrew Bonaparte Calhoun, was a wealthy doctor and slave owner whose descendants include Buckley’s and Horne’s maternal line, notes Patricia J. Williams.
Written in the style of an historical novel, Williams writes:
“The Black Calhouns” deals with broad themes of property and politics, duty and determination; it follows the family’s profound engagements with the founding of ‘missionary’ schools that educated a few but not nearly enough of the new black citizens recently freed from slavery; the establishment of the Freedmen’s Bureau; the rise of lynching and Jim Crow; battles to vote, work, buy homes and serve in the military; the daily confinements of ‘blood,’ color and phenotype.
And Buckley, Williams notes, does not fail to draw attention to striking similarities between “21st-century Republicans,” and “19th-century Democrats,” who fought so strenuously to constrain voting rights, citizenship and undo the protections of the 14th Amendment.