The Negro in the United States (book review)

The Negro in the United States: A Research Guide. By ERWIN K. WELSCH (Bloomington and London, Indiana University Press, 1965). 142 pp. 13s. 6d. 

The narrative bibliography lends itself quite easily to the dangers of over- descriptiveness and imbalance. The author is apt to get lost in the story where he is only required to chart a course, making the landmarks intelligible. He may as easily fall into the opposite error of stringing together a number of works in uneven and disjointed narrative. 

Mr. Welsch, however, uses the method with so much skill and detachment that the literature on the subject emerges clearly and unobtrusively from its history. He then emphasises his focus by typographical variation: heavy black type for books, upper case for articles, italics for periodicals and so on-giving the work the added quality of a ready reckoner. 

Each chapter begins with an introductory paragraph and is then broken down into period, subject or form divisions, depending on the needs of the literature under review. Thus the section on ’the Historical and sociological background’ is broken down into period sub-divided by subject sub-divided by period, whereas ’Major issues today’ is classified by subject only. Similarly the chapter on ’the Negro and the arts’ is categorised by form: fiction, poetry, drama, etc. Nevertheless, such empirical variations of approach cannot produce maximum results unless complemented by a subject index and an author list. These Mr. Welsch provides in detail. The ’bibliography of works cited’ is particularly useful in that it provides information about the availability of paperback editions, book prices and publishers in addition to stating whether or not the works are in print-thereby enhancing the book’s usefulness as a buying guide. 

Description of individual items is pithy and brief, drawing attention in most cases to the particular value of the work and indicating bibliographic excellences. Pettigrew’s Profile of the Negro American, for instance, is recommended also for the ’obscure references not easily found elsewhere’, Ginzberg’s Negro Potential for its statistical tables and Dick Gregory’s Nigger for its sociological bearing on ’childhood in a lower-class Negro broken home in the North’. Nathaniel Weyl’s The Negro in American Civilisation ’probably satisfies no one’. In a guide that is inclusive of all shades of opinion, such direction is invaluable. The supplementary matter contained in the appendix is extremely useful. They include a bibliography of bibliographies, a list of better-known journals and a list of organisations (with addresses) ’interested in the Negro’, including both ’pro-segregation and pro-integration groups’. I must cavil, though, at some of Mr. Welsch’s omissions. What about the literature on the Black Jews? The chapter on slavery could surely have done with a mention of Tannenbaum’s pioneering work ? And should not the section on Science, Philosophy and Race have included Bettelheim and Janowitz, Robert Ezra Park, Adorno and others ? But a guide to literature, a ready reckoner and a buying guide for the price of 13s. 6d. is something to be thankful for.