Evanston residents discuss book on historical black figures

Amulya Yalamanchili, Reporter

Evanston residents gathered at the Evanston Public Library on Tuesday to discuss the book “A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race From the Colonial Era to Obama’s America” by historian and UT Austin professor Jacqueline Jones.

Lesley Williams, the EPL adult services coordinator, facilitated the discussion as part of the African American Literature book discussion group and EPL’s 11 Months of African American History. Williams organized the series to accompany the YWCA Evanston/Northshore “RACE” exhibit, which examines race in the United States from biological, cultural, and historical perspectives.

“Dreadful Deceit” examines race by following the stories of six African-Americans through America’s history and arguing that the concept of race is a social construct rather than a biological division.

“She seems to be saying we need to look at economic disparity without blaming it on racial prejudice,” Williams said.

Participants in the book discussion said they were struck by the achievements of the figures profiled in the book despite the oppression they faced.

“The whole chapter about the revolutionary era resonated with me. The whole era was so chaotic,” Evanston resident Priscilla Long said. “When we think about the Revolutionary War, we think about the British and the white Americans, not necessarily the African-Americans.”

Participants noted that although the book was both informational and inspirational, the stories were difficult to read because of the tremendous inequalities portrayed.

“Even though these people were examples of the best of their generations, there was something that ultimately held them back,” Williams said. “I found that to be extremely poignant.”

The handful of participants agreed that the unique perspective was a worthwhile read, with extensive research and fascinating stories, though one felt the author lacked passion.

The discussion is the first of five African-American-themed book discussions held in January at EPL.

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Correction: A previous version of this story misstated a participant’s name. Her name is Priscilla Long. The Daily regrets the error.