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The Black Calhouns: From Civil War to Civil Rights with One African American Family

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  195 ratings  ·  40 reviews
In The Black Calhouns, Gail Lumet Buckley—daughter of actress Lena Horne—delves deep into her family history, detailing the experiences of an extraordinary African-American family from Civil War to Civil Rights.

Beginning with her great-great grandfather Moses Calhoun, a house slave who used the rare advantage of his education to become a successful businessman in post-war
Kindle Edition, 336 pages
Published February 2nd 2016 by Atlantic Monthly Press
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Average rating 3.59  · 
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Richard Derus
Feb 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rating: 3.5* of five, rounded up

There is a television miniseries on its way via ABC Studios. Here's to hoping they do it justice.

My goddesses. There is so much I personally don't know about the African American history of my own country. The saga of the Calhouns is epic, and an instructive look at the roots of white nationalism in the demagoguery of politicos hoping to be elected to office. Vile, disappointing, unsurprising given today's terrors.

The author understandably focuses on her famous mo
Feb 27, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
1) The author uses her family history as the framework for describing the development, lack of development, or downright regression, of the basic freedoms due to any human being (movement, jobs, voting, and life itself) for the 1st hundred years following the Civil War. And what was stolen, crushed, grudgingly permitted, or finally demanded, during that same time frame for and by African Americans (including but not limited to all other real Americans who respected and believed and acted in supp ...more
Jun 19, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2016
IQ "Later he [James Weldon Johnson] would say that 'the race problem in the United States has resolved itself into a question of saving black men's bodies and white men's souls" (111)

The structure of this book is somewhat a mess and that proved to be very distracting. The author provided too much commentary for my taste, one minute she'd be delving into great historical detail and the next she'd share her opinions on her family members or attempt to describe what they must have been feeling or t
This book could have used some better editing. Lots of repeated phrases and events from page to page and chapter to chapter.
I had general knowledge other a accomplishments of Lena Horne. Then I re this book! Tenacity , knowledge and generosity runs well in the family , starting with the civil war! For example I learned that Lena's great grandfather (or uncle, I forgot) became the first African American licensed real estate broker for Atlanta, Georgia. The Calhourns/Horne's were a force to be reckoned with!

To keep my reading challenge exciting, I made a theme. For this month, it's Women History Month and my reading fo
Emma B
May 01, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting story on the paternal family of Lena Horne written by her daughter. A rich history of Atlanta and this family's place in it, as well as the ups and downs of Lena Horne's life. Story is flawed by including all the names of people Lena and the family encountered, good and bad. This slowed the story down. ...more
Sugarpuss O'Shea
I went to see Ms Buckley at the NYHS for a discussion of THE BLACK CALHOUNS (moderated by Jonathan Alter), so I was anxious to get my hands on a copy to read more. Man, was this book a disappointment. I know the author meant well, but the writing was all over the place, and the story was rambling and, in places, incoherent. It's a shame too, because it's a story worth telling and had the potential to be something truly exceptional. ...more
Barbra Watkins
Biography by the daughter of Lena Horne of their family from after the Civil War to present day. While I found the writing to be dry and not my style, the subject matter was fascinating and very relevant to the racial unrest and inequality we still have today.
Gloria Piper
Buckley not only traces her roots from the Civil War, but she also includes an encyclopedic history of the civil rights movement, which began decades before the Civil War. Her great great grandfather started a middle class family dynasty that connected with many famous African Americans. The author herself is the daughter of Lena Horne.

One branch of the Calhouns remained in the South and somehow managed to flourish amid Jim Crow-imposed limitations. The other branch moved north and accomplished
Nov 24, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
I found myself highlighting passages and flagging pages because this book is filled with so much great historical information. However, the issue is that it reads exactly like a high school history text book--choppy sentences and inconsistent paragraph/fact flow. The constant shifting from one fact to another without any formal sentence/paragraph transition is distracting. Prior to reading Ms. Buckley's book, I was under the impression Ms. Horne was distantly related to John C. Calhoun, former v ...more
Jan 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
A good book for understanding the life of privileged blacks

Even privileged blacks suffered from fear of the white man. The white man found reason to segregate, diminish, hate, and kill blacks even to this day, and this book shows how this behavior progresses through the years since the constitutional amendments than gave blacks the vote and equality with whites, and yet never had these rights enforced after reconstruction ended in the 1870s. Time and again the author writes about whites doing ac
Virginia Lockwood
Jan 16, 2021 rated it really liked it
Black American history masterfully put into context

If I were an American history teacher (I am not), The Black Calhouns would be required reading in my class. The book masterfully covers the broad and complicated history of African Americans in the US through the story of one family. The Calhouns (and their descendants) are the ideal family to contextualize this history as they represent northern and southern, rich and poor, celebrity and common.
If you are simply seeking a biography of Lena Hor
May 11, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

The Black Calhouns: From Civil War to Civil Rights with one African-American Family / Gail Lumet Buckley. I hungered for more details and analysis as I read this book by Lena Horne’s daughter. Still, it was interesting to read about “the talented tenth,” the middle and upper classes of generations of one black family. The book is largely about the successful members. Naturally, Lena Horne, by far the most prominent and prosperous, is the main character. I didn’t mind reading it, but it was less
A well done look into the history of an African American family who's two branches of linage became famous ground breakers for every generation after the civil war with the middle and ladder half of the book focusing on Lena Horne. Towards the end the back and forth of the North and South of the family got a bit tedious with going back and forth in time every few pages. The last few chapters of the book were a just a brush through the times from the 1970's to the 2010's with the highlights but s ...more
Jun 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
This detailed and long-ranging history of an extraordinary family is, at least for me, the best way to read history -- through the perceptive eye of a uniquely-placed narrator. Buckley weaves social and family history into a journey as suspenseful as a novel, but grounded in hard truths. Seeing how individual members of the Calhoun family navigated the Jim Crow laws in the South and more subtle forms of racism in the North, and how their descendants initiated change and activism during the 1950s ...more
Carol Brusegar
May 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Through the experiences of the large Calhoun family, beginning with Moses Calhoun who was a house slave in Georgia, this book provides great insight into the period from Reconstruction through the first decade of the 2000s. One branch stayed primarily in the south and the other in the north, which provides a richness of perspectives on those years.

The history comes alive through the generations' experiences in a unique way. The story of the most nationally and internationally famous member of t
Jun 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very powerful book. Family history is an area I enjoy reading about. This is beautifully written with supported facts and show the racial divide that is still present in the United States of America. For me it was and is an eye opener as to how biased "we" are to all races, nationalities and religions. We need to come together to recognize we are of only one race - the human race- and treat each other with the respect and compassion we "ALL" deserve. ...more
Leigh Himes
Mar 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Picked this up on a whim at Barnes & Noble and found it really interesting. Part history/part memoir.
Jun 17, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The subject is fascinating but the author doesn't do it service. A lot of back and forth in the story, the timelines get all mixed up
Rafael Suleiman
Nov 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very good expository work on accomplished Black Americans.
Naima Holloway
Mar 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very good book...I enjoyed learning the history of the Hornes and Calhouns.
May 19, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The information was interesting however I struggled with the pacing, following the different branches of the family tree.
Laura Grace
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
fascinating read-biography of a family and history of the times
I picked this up because it was about Lena Horne's family, but it is oh so much more! ...more
Jul 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating story; well researched. Not the most polished writing.
Mal Warwick
May 31, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Gail Lumet Buckley’s The Black Calhouns isn’t easy to pigeonhole. Part Black history, part genealogy, and part memoir, the connecting tissue in the book is the story of the author’s extraordinary family.

The African-American experience through one family’s eyes

Born into slavery, the Calhouns quickly moved into the middle class during Reconstruction and took on leading roles in the Black elite as business owners, teachers, physicians, and attorneys. In the early years of the twentieth century, one
Ann Fisher
Dec 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Marked down from five stars only because it needed an editor to cut down on some of the repetition. But I learned a lot, particularly about the way in which Blacks, and especially southern Blacks, got left behind during the New Deal. And Lena Horne's own story is fascinating. Recommended. ...more
Karen Cox
Nov 26, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a popular history/ memoir by Lena Horne's daughter about her mother's remarkable family from the end of the Civil War until the 1960's. Ms. Buckley is a history professor, and the best parts of the book for me were the purely historical chapters about her great great great grandfather Moses Calhoun, who was the butler for the family that owned him, and who was one of a tiny number of slaves who could read and write. Moses taught his mother and sister literacy as well, which was a crime i ...more
Apr 18, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: incomplete
I had more nightmares after reading this book than I did after watching the Exorcist when I was a kid. Most of the details are horrifying and it is a shame and a sin that black people were treated so horridly well into the 1960's, what's even a bigger shame and sin is that it was allowed.

I don't tend to read books like this, they make me too sad and scared. I was interested in the Calhouns because of Lena Horne, but I did not expect to be reading so many ghastly stories.

There was one featuring a
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Gail Lumet Buckley is a journalist and the daughter of Lena Horne. Her family history — The Hornes — became an American Masters documentary, and she narrated a documentary on black American families for PBS. She has written for the Los Angeles Times, Vogue, the New York Daily News, and The New York Times. She lives in New York.

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