The other great Renaissance of black culture, influence, and glamour burst forth in what may seem an unlikely place – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – from the 1920s through the 1950s. Today black Pittsburgh is known as the setting for August Wilson’s famed plays, but this community once had an impact that rivaled the far larger black worlds of Harlem and Chicago. It published the most widely read black newspaper in the country, fielded two of the greatest baseball teams of the Negro Leagues, and introduced Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Pittsburgh was the childhood home of jazz pioneers Billy Strayhorn, Billy Eckstine, Earl Hines, Mary Lou Williams, and Erroll Garner.
Mark Whitaker's Smoketown is a captivating portrait of this unsung commuity and a vital addition to the story of black America. It depicts how ambitious Southern migrants were drawn to a steel-making city on a strategic river junction; how they were shaped by its schools and a spirit of commerce with roots in the Gilded Age; and how their world was eventually destroyed by industrial decline and urban renewal.
The former managing editor of CNN Worldwide, Mark Whitaker was previously the Washington bureau chief for NBC News and a reporter and editor at Newsweek, where he rose to become the first African-American leader of a national newsweekly. He is the author of the memoir, My Long Trip Home.
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