cover of book

Being Somebody and Black Besides: An Untold Memoir of Midcentury Black Life
by George B. Nesbitt
edited by Prexy Nesbitt and Zeb Larson
foreword by Imani Perry and St. Clair Drake
University of Chicago Press, 2021
eISBN: 978-0-226-71683-1 | Cloth: 978-0-226-78312-3
Library of Congress Classification E185.97.N47A3 2021
Dewey Decimal Classification 323.092

An immersive multigenerational memoir that recounts the hopes, injustices, and triumphs of a Black family fighting for access to the American dream in the twentieth century.

The late Chicagoan George Nesbitt could perhaps best be described as an ordinary man with an extraordinary gift for storytelling. In his newly uncovered memoir—written fifty years ago, yet never published—he chronicles in vivid and captivating detail the story of how his upwardly mobile Midwestern Black family lived through the tumultuous twentieth century.
Spanning three generations, Nesbitt’s tale starts in 1906 with the Great Migration and ends with the Freedom Struggle in the 1960s. He describes his parents’ journey out of the South, his struggle against racist military authorities in World War II, the promise and peril of Cold War America, the educational and professional accomplishments he strove for and achieved, the lost faith in integration, and, despite every hardship, the unwavering commitment by three generations of Black Americans to fight for a better world. Through all of it—with his sharp insights, nuance, and often humor—we see a family striving to lift themselves up in a country that is working to hold them down.
Nesbitt’s memoir includes two insightful forewords: one by John Gibbs St. Clair Drake (1911–90), a pioneer in the study of African American life, the other a contemporary rumination by noted Black studies scholar Imani Perry. A rare first-person, long-form narrative about Black life in the twentieth century, Being Somebody and Black Besides is a remarkable literary-historical time capsule that will delight modern readers.
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