Faculty Books: Being Somebody and Black Besides
December 9, 2021
“I promised him that I would somehow get his ‘SOMEBODY,’ published.” So stated Wilkinson College Presidential Fellow in Peace Studies Prexy Nesbitt, who turned co-editing his uncle’s memoir into a labor of love.
“Being Somebody and Black Besides: An Untold Memoir of Midcentury Black Life,” by Chicagoan George B. Nesbitt, and co-edited by P. Nesbitt and Zeb Larson, is the story of a Midwestern Black family living through the tumultuous twentieth century, starting in 1906 with the Great Migration and ending with the Freedom Struggle in the 1960s.
Nesbitt, who died in 2002, was an “ordinary man with an extraordinary gift for storytelling.”
“Most of the book, he drafted in the 1970s,” said P. Nesbitt. “My uncle tried to get it published through the 1980s and 1990s, along with his many other writings. My uncle asked me specifically before his death to see if I could find a way to get his manuscript taken up by a publisher, as he was so determined to leave his words to all his nieces and nephews.”
The book describes his own personal struggles with racism in the military during World War II and his educational and professional accomplishments he worked so hard for, while focusing on the unwavering commitment by three generations of Black Americans to fight for a better world.
When asked what part of his uncle’s memoir really stands out to him, P. Nesbitt responded, “Throughout his fifty-year legal career, he battled for the civil rights of poor and working people, black and white. This includes his taking the cases of US soldiers victimized by racial violence in Texas and elsewhere until the US Army in retaliation stationed him in Australia for two years in a tent by himself,” he said. “So many of my generation (self-included) had horrible struggles with the US military during the period of the US’s aggression against Vietnam.”
“The story of his life offers a powerful glimpse into the issues of race, politics, and public policy over the course of the twentieth century. A compelling and thought-provoking life story and a wonderful addition to the growing genre of Black biography,” said Barbara Ransby, author and special guest speaker at Wilkinson’s Engaging the World: Leading the Conversation on the Significance of Race Series last spring.
“I hope readers gain an enhanced understanding of how long and how hard people have struggled to make the USA and other places (like Africa) better situations in which to live,” said P. Nesbitt.
“Being Somebody and Black Besides: An Untold Memoir of Midcentury Black Life” is published by University of Chicago Press.