"It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness," W. E. B. Du Bois wrote in his celebrated reflection on the meaning of African-American identity. "One ever feels his twoness-an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder." In "Jefferson's Pillow: The Founding Fathers and the Dilemma of Black Patriotism," Roger Wilkins-a professor of history at George Mason University, a distinguished journalist and a scion of an eminent African-American family-considers Du Bois's classic statement, asking
pointedly, "Can I embrace founders who may have 'owned' some of my ancestors?"
Wilkins's ringing affirmation of his dual loyalties offers an extraordinarily thoughtful and illuminating meditation on American history, in which he weaves family traditions and personal experience to form a deeply moving testament that is part history and part autobiography. While rarely profound in his judgment about the past, Wilkins is refreshing in his unpretentious honesty, refusing to objuscate the harsh reality of American slavery or conceal his respect for the founders of the American republic.
As a black American a few months older than George Washington was when he died, Wilkins (history, George Mason U.) looks at the achievements of George Mason, Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, all of whom both contributed to founding the country and owned slaves. His goal is not biography or a colonial or revolutionary history, but to understand and evaluate the four, the revolution they helped make, and the legacy of their entire generation. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)