When I took the book editing sequence during the Stanford Professional Publishing Course in 1989, there was no hint that I would shortly put the knowledge to use.
Trusting in a greater consciousness than my own, I followed a trail that began with looking into the history of police brutality in Los Angeles.
While researching that topic for a San Jose Mercury News op-ed article, I learned that the original founders of Los Angeles were majority black and that the last two Mexican governors of Alta California were black.
Thinking that alone was remarkable, I was floored when KGO host Ray Taliaferro informed me that the entire state of California was derived from the allegorical saga of a beautiful, wealthy, powerful black queen.
That’s when the book publishing course kicked in. I saw and gained reproduction rights for the Room of the Dons murals in the Mark Hopkins Hotel, found hundreds of documents and scholarly journals on the state’s black history — most completely unknown and commissioned a book cover by Oakland artist James Gayles, which has been our signature image for what was to become a four-volume, 1,400 page reference work, an hour-long public television documentary and more than 30 exhibitions around the state.
Massive as it has been, it just scratches the surface. My research compadre, Park Ranger Guy Washington, just sent me today a photo of Third Baptist Church’s choir in the 1880s to help identify who’s pictured.
And I’ve completed two new books in the past year, Cakewalk, an historical novel on the unsung heroes who created jazz music and Come to the Water: Sharing the Rich Black Experience in San Francisco, that just focus on San Francisco alone with almost entirely new content.
As I told Greg Lewis of the San Francisco Sunday Examiner on Feb. 1, 1992, the whole purpose is to get the information in front of school children because this opens so many doors of inquiry in their own backyards, and often, within their own families.
We encourage all educators to use the vast repertoire of role models from William Alexander Leidesdorff to Paul Revere Williams to address the two in five dropout rate among African-American students.
This is indefensible to the memories of honor students like Jackie Robinson and Dr. Ralph Bunche.
Within volume four, The Black Queen: How African-Americans Put California on the Map, we list the 150 Most Important Black Californians to make that information accessible, along with bibliographies and lesson plans.
The wide eyes of young people and their elders alike confirm that I was moving along the right path, when I followed the trail that led to Our Roots Run Deep.
Join me on that trail by bringing the four-volume set into your library.
20 years of Our Roots Run Deep: the Black Experience in California