Members of America's ``colored aristocracy'' or ``Black Four Hundred'' viewed themselves as superior to other blacks in culture, sophistication, wealth and achievement. Flourishing in such cities as New Orleans, Washington, Chicago, New York and Philadelphia particularly during the 40 years following the end of Reconstruction, these mostly light-skinned black Americans were sometimes accused of being snobbish, color-conscious and self-serving. Yet, as University of Arkansas historian Gatewood points out, this group had figured prominently in the abolitionist movement and supported reform crusades. Their ultimate failure, according to Gatewood, lay in their misperception that they could win for the black masses an acceptance and toleration which they believed that they themselves were coming to enjoy. This fascinating, engaging study breaks new ground in analyzing class divisions and the precarious position of an elite perched between black and white worlds. Photos. (Dec.)
Class has been a powerful force within Afro-American society, at times dividing blacks almost as sharply as race separated them from whites, Gatewood shows. Focusing on ``old families'' who saw themselves as superior in culture, sophistication, and achievement, his four-part study explores social gradations among blacks in each of the nation's regions and particularly in Washington, D.C. His pert prose and eye for pretensions and peccadilloes make for lively reading of who was who, where they came from and went, and how they thought and acted. He casts much debated issues of class, color, and race in a clear historical framework that challenges stereotypes of a black racial monolith and tests taboos of color consciousness and miscegenation. Every collection on American and Afro-American social history or thought should have this important book. Highly recommended.-- Thomas J. Davis, Univ. at Buffalo, N.Y.
In the years following reconstruction, up until 1920, there developed in the United States a small yet self-aware and active aristocracy. detailed account of the most influential segment of the Afro-American community, illuminating distinctions in background, prestige, attitudes, behavior, power, and culture. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)