Smoketown: The Untold Story of the Other Great Black Renaissance

S. & S. Feb. 2018. 432p. illus. maps. notes. index. ISBN 9781501122392. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781501122439. HIST
For several decades in the 20th century, the Pittsburgh Courier was the most influential black newspaper in America. At the height of its success, the paper had 14 regional editions and a circulation of almost half a million subscribers. The newspaper helped to promote the Double V campaign during World War II and to shift the black vote from republican to democrat, all while covering rising sports stars such as Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson. In his latest book, Whitaker (Cosby: His Life and Times) looks at Pittsburgh's forgotten impact on black culture and sports between the 1920s Harlem Renaissance and the later civil rights era. The narrative is structured around the activity of the Courier and the power it held over black America during World War II. Whitaker's attempt to broaden the story by including chapters on jazz greats born in Pittsburgh and August Wilson's Pittsburgh Cycle is ultimately unnecessary as the history of the paper and its influence on the larger culture is enough of a story on its own.
VERDICT Whitaker provides important research on a pivotal moment in African American history, but at times the narrative strays a little too far from Pittsburgh.
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