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Page Turner reader interview: Nonfiction books give him insight on the nation

Saturday, July 30, 2011 - 12:01 am

Editor's note: This week's Page Turner reader interview is with Curt Witcher, Genealogy Center manager of the Allen County Public Library.

“I am currently in the final throes of ‘Black Gotham,' by Carla Peterson. I usually read nonfiction — things that provide me with information, that shed light on my country, and this book does that.

“The author has traced her family into the early 18th century in New York, which at that time was quite small. She was working on her quest to learn the history of African-Americans in New York from the 1700s, then 1800s, into the early 1900s. She wanted to know the intellectual side of history; there have been so many generalizations, and some facts of history seemed almost obscure.

“She wanted to know about newspapers, churches, the African-Americans' own schools — all this pre-emancipation. The Tribune, The Liberator, the Weekly Anglo-African were among the newspapers, but they were usually short-lived. The writing she quotes is quite extraordinary. Her writing is extensive. She writes about the burial grounds that were taken away but finally restored.

“It's a fascinating book, and Carla Peterson will be in Fort Wayne in the fall when the National Black Genealogy Summit is held here Oct. 21. It was held here in 2009, also, with people coming from all over — the Caribbean, Canada, for example.

“I usually read several books at the same time but not always the same genres. One I can recommend is ‘This I Believe.' It is a collection of personal philosophies — love, death, grieving, triumphs — from an amazing collection of people. It includes well-known people like George Bush but also the ‘nobodies' who, in their ordinary lives, meet challenges. I like to know what other people are thinking; this tells me.

“There's Pius Kamau, a native of Kenya who went to medical school in Spain, who organized medical volunteers in Africa. He saw the results of the gross, obscene ethnic cleansing and felt a duty to help heal. But he admonishes not to hold on to things from the past. ‘My duty is to heal everyone.' That includes spiritual healing.

“The book is edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman, and I am reading Volume I. It includes things you might never have read before. There will be two volumes. I certainly will read Volume II.”