‘Firsts' good to own


Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 2:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 2:33 p.m.

Long and slow. That's how you would describe every line you have ever stepped into.

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“Black Firsts: 4,000 Ground-Breaking and Pioneering Historical Events (Third Edition)” by Jessie Carney Smith, c. 2013, Visible Ink Press, $24.95, 833 pages, includes index.

Don't you hate that? You're waiting in line and you see a chance to go to a shorter queue, so you change lanes. Suddenly, the line you just left looks like the Indianapolis Speedway. And you know what happens if you switch again.

There are definite advantages to being first. In the new book, "Black Firsts" by Jessie Carney Smith, you will find information on tens of thousands of folks who have gone before you — in a good way.

In your lifetime, you have seen a lot of big milestones: the first Olympic gold-winning African American gymnast; the first black head of National Security and, of course, Barack Obama as the first black U.S. president.

Read this book and you will see that pianist Thomas Greene Bethune was the first black artist to perform there in 1858. A baby named Thomas was the first black child born in the White House in 1806. Booker T. Washington was the first black American to be entertained at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and Sammy Davis Jr. was the first known black entertainer to sleep there.

It's hard to imagine anything missing from "Black Firsts." It's so hard, in fact, that author Jessie Carney Smith challenges readers to find and notify her of other milestones in black history — but not just in North American black history. You will find entries here of things that happened to African Americans, as well as black firsts in other countries around the world, too.

But don't think for a minute that "Black Firsts" is dry and boring. There are lots of entries that will surprise you and others that will stop an argument in a hot minute. Everything's well-indexed, informative, thorough enough, and as addictive as buttered popcorn.

This is the kind of book you can happily browse. It's also one you'd want on your shelf, one you'd reach for during those know-it-all emergencies that happen — and when they do, "Black Firsts" should be the first book in line.

Terri Schlichenmeyer never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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