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Smoketown: The Untold Story of the Other Great Black Renaissance

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  289 ratings  ·  71 reviews
Smoketown brilliantly offers us a chance to see this other black renaissance and spend time with the many luminaries who sparked it…It’s thanks to such a gifted storyteller as Whitaker that this forgotten chapter of American history can finally be told in all its vibrancy and glory.”—The New York Times Book Review

The other great Renaissance of black culture, influence, a
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published January 30th 2018 by Simon Schuster
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Jill Hutchinson
Jun 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
We are all familiar with the Harlem Renaissance but how many of us know about the Pittsburgh Renaissance? This book reveals a history of black culture during the 1920-40s which occurred in a rather unexpected place.

The Steel City did not have a large African-American population but what a population it was! Many of the greats of entertainment, especially music and sports, started their careers there in the Hill District and Homestead. The major impetus to their success was the African- American
victor harris
May 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music
The vitality of the black culture in Pittsburgh is adeptly covered in this fascinating trip through the ups and downs of the black community there. Boasting of homegrown talent, the city also attracted other quality performers including the likes of Charlie Parker. With a first-rate media outlet (The Courier) and a growing population as it was a magnet for many blacks fleeing the Jim Crow South, Pittsburgh also became a force in politics. The trend toward blacks becoming part of the FDR Democrat ...more
Nov 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Smoketown is an excellent and fascinating look at what’s been called Pittsburgh’/Steel City’s Black Gilded age and Pittsburgh’s Black Renaissance. The period spotlighted here begins in the 1920’s and takes you through the 1950’s.

Pittsburgh is a city that I visited once in the early 80’s and knew very little about. I know that it’s always depicted as a blue collar, steel town and a place where Warhol was born. That’s about it.

This book highlights the greats in sports, music, politics, journalism
Brian TramueL
Feb 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Reading to learn, reading to smile... I learned & smiled a lot ;) Almost embarrassed to write that I had no knowledge of this rich (double entendre don't even ask me how) Philadelphia history. Looking for more information on Cumberland “Cap” Posey and the Pittsburgh Courier. That be' the learning part.

Shout out to Lisa for the recommendation.
Feb 10, 2018 marked it as to-read
the reader for this on audio is amazing - should probably try it that way.
Kathryn Bashaar
May 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book about the Black Renaissance in Pittsburgh in the early 20th century. It’s a great story, one that was long overdue to be told. I’ve lived in Pittsburgh all my life and knew only vaguely what an outsized influence Pittsburgh’s black community had in the early decades of the last century. Many jazz greats came from Pittsburgh or had roots here. The Pittsburgh Courier was for decades the most influential black-run newspaper in the country, and was instrumental in both int ...more
Apr 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jessica by: Book Pages
Shelves: non-fiction
This is such a great example of why I love reading - sometimes you just can't tell what you're going to get out of a book. I picked this one up because of its Pittsburgh theme but the stories turn out to be absolutely global.

Centered around the Pittsburgh Courier, an early 20th century African-American weekly newspaper, the reader goes where the reporters go and that turns out to be not only the local clubs of the Hill where Billy Strayhorn, Lena Horne, and Billy Eckstine played and the ballgame
Harriett Milnes
Smoketown is a history of the Pittsburgh Courier, "the most widely read black newspaper in the country" which ws published from 1907 till 1966. Smoketown focuses on the 1920s till the early 1960s. The Courier, and its writers, were very involved in the promotion of sports figures, such as Joe Louis, and Jackie Robinson; it was also very involved in the promotion of the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays, teams in the Negro League. It campaigned for many black causes, including pushing ...more
Aug 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A comprehensive account of one of the most important yet underappreciated legacies of Pittsburgh's African Amercians from the Hill District. Readable, beautiful.
Oct 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Smoketown exposed me to cultural and regional history that I'd never explored previously -- it was eye-opening and very interesting. I listened to the audiobook, which was beautifully narrated by Prentice Onayemi. Highly recommended.
Mar 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Well-researched and incredibly detailed book about a part of American history that hasn't had much notice-the mid-twentieth century African American Renaissance in Pittsburgh, in sports, music, journalism, and other areas. I was glued to the stories of writers, baseball players, and artists who created a cultural enclave in Pittsburgh. Well worth reading, for history buffs and anyone who enjoys a memorable book.
Elizabeth  Higginbotham
Dec 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Untold Story of Smoketown: The Other Great Black Renaissance by Mark Whitaker was given to me by a friend. My mother grew up in Pittsburgh and I did spend some time there, so this book is telling the story of the many Black people who shaped the city and influence the larger American culture. The major themes are sports, music, the business men and women who create empires (and jobs for others). Capturing a moment in the early 20th century when the city was expanding and even though discrimi ...more
Porter Broyles
You have to like it when two of your historical niches intersect in one book. For me this is such a book. I enjoy reading about Black History and histories about newspapers.

While the Pittsburgh Courrier is not the theme of the book, there are chapters dedicated to the paper and it plays a pervasive part in many of the other chapters.

The first few chapters of this book talk about this prominent black newspaper and its coverage of various sports. The rise of Joe Lewis as a boxing superstar and t
Bill Lucey
Jun 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Just as compelling as the Black Renaissance in Harlem, was the Black Renaissance in Pittsburgh, in the city’s Hill District (located on the slopes above downtown Pittsburgh), which, beginning just prior to World War I, became the cultural center of black life in Pittsburgh and a vital center of jazz.

In his splendid book, “The Untold Story of Smoketown: The Other Great Renaissance,” author Mark Whitaker, with clear, crisp, writing, takes readers through a highly entertaining kaleidoscope of blac
Sep 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Pittsburgh in the early twentieth century featured a black renaissance to Rival that of Harlem. Author Mark Whitaker shares the history of Pittsburgh, centered in the Hill District, by telling the story of The Pittsburgh Courier, at one time the largest and most influential black paper in the United States; the story of famed musicians Errol Garner, Billy Strayhorn, Ahmad Jamal, Mary Lou Williams, and Billy Eckstine; the history of the Homestead Gray's and Pittsburgh Crawford featuring Hall of F ...more
Nov 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, 2018
The subject is super interesting and the writing is good, but I hate the way it's laid out. It's done chronologically, which was detrimental to my enjoyment of it because it jumped from person N to person P and then asked me to remember things from three chapters before about persons F and H that I just didn't because of how much time had passed between the time I read that chapter and the one I was currently reading. I think I'd have enjoyed the book much more if it had addressed all of the bas ...more
Scott Schneider
May 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
I learned a lot from this book about the history of my hometown. It is a great compliment to the coffee table book I remember "Pittsburgh: The Story of an American City" by Stefan Lorant which essentially ignores the history of blacks in the city. This book shows the rich history of jazz musicians, journalists and sports figures from Pittsburgh and the central role they played in integrating Baseball, the Civil Rights movement, and the history of Jazz. Greats like Billy Eckstine, Billy Strayhorn ...more
Sarah Harper
May 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating history of the African American community in Pittsburgh. It goes into all facets of life—- bootleggers, Negro baseball leagues, high society and many musical artists who were shaped by their time in Pittsburgh. Definitely worth reading.
Jun 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Smoketown recounts the history of the African- American community of Pittsburgh, PA in the early to late 20th century. During that time Pittsburgh was the home of a vibrant Black middle class out of which came many musicians ( Lena Horne, Billy Eckstine, Earl Hines,Erroll Garner), writers ( August Wilson), athletes (Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson) and many more who spent time in Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Courier was the pre-eminent Black newspaper in the country and played a significant role in pro ...more
Oct 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I wish I could give this book 10 stars, that is how much I loved it.

As a teen I was always interested in the Harlem Renaissance era of the black timeline in our country because it gave us Richard Wright and Zora Neale Hurston. I never thought about how creativity and black wealth were rising in other places and I definitely would not have pegged Pittsburgh to be that area. I am sure as we broach 2020 we will see more articles about how blacks were making moves in Chicago and St Louis.

But this b
John Marricco
Apr 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was amazing! Although I am slightly biased as I grew up above Sharpsburg off Kittaning Pike from 1969-1989, then graduated from Pitt in 1993 with a degree in psychology. I also enjoyed many classes with Rob Penny as my professor. Due to the racism of my mother and the ignorance of my Italian immigrant father, this book taught me many things I never knew about my home town. But you do not have to be from the 'Burgh to enjoy this book. With hopes of becoming a civil rights leader myself, ...more
Maxwell Schneider
May 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So happy I could get this from my local library. It taught me about a monumental section of Pittsburgh history that I knew very little about. Each chapter could be its own book, but Whitaker does a wonderful job of tight storytelling filled with compelling stories and colorful characters. Smoketown gave me an appreciation for the history of the Hill District and the genius it produced, while also causing me to mourn its inevitable negligent destruction by the powers that be. Should be required r ...more
Roger Charles
May 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
I found this book most interesting. I'm from Pittsburgh and I did not know much of what was in the book. Perhaps because of my age or not much about Pennsylvania History let alone Black History of the area.

Anyway a very good book on those who were makers and shakers in the black community of Pittsburgh and beyond. Those of you into the arts, music in particular, will find a wealth of background and interest on those musicians from Pittsburgh.

One can't go wrong in reading this book for many reaso
Mar 14, 2018 rated it it was ok
I'm just gonna say it, this was boring. Very dry historical non-fiction. I had plans to finish after switching out for a book club read but I can't do it, guess I'll just never know what happened to Pittsburgh.
Bruce Hopkins
Aug 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Superlative review of early 20th century Pittsburg and its jazz greats, baseball heroes, and influential writers. August Wilson's development and eventual series of black Pittsburg neighborhoods is compelling.
Sue Roselle
Sep 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who just wants a good read.
Recommended to Sue by: Book Group
Brilliant history of the black Renaissance of Pittsburgh, PA. from 1930's through beginning of 1950's. Detailed research and beautifully written. The black newspaper, "The Courier," is the thread which weaves all segments of the community together. Includes the development of black baseball teams, entertainment, jazz musicians and performers, and playwrights. Leadership to integration of armed forces and national baseball. And then it was all destroyed in the name of urban redevelopment.
Joe Hall
Mar 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding writing about a city whose artistic greatness should never be covered up by steel and coal smoke. It revolves around the magnificence of the Courier.
John Machata
May 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really liked this book, which paints a fascinating picture of Pittsburgh's black community. Billy Eckstein, August Wilson and other greats share the pages with common folk. A good read.
Jann Johnston
Jun 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book. Fascinating information on American history.
Jan 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Meticulously researched. Being from Pittsburgh, I was astonished at how much was new to me.
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Mark Whitaker is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir, My Long Trip Home. The former managing editor of CNN Worldwide, he was previously the Washington bureau chief for NBC News and a reporter and editor at Newsweek, where he rose to become the first African-American leader of a national newsweekly.

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