A life’s work is in Charlayne Hunter-Gault’s new book


Charlayne Hunter-Gault’s newest book, “My People: Five Decades of Writing About Black Lives,” is a rich compilation of her reporting and journalistic writing from 1963 to today. While reading her essays, reports, interviews, and even letters to the editor, there are several thoughts that come to mind. The first is that this is a living history. And I mean that on two levels. First there is the living history of her own personal life. As a woman who is one of the icons of the civil rights era, born in the segregated South and involved in the successful legal challenge to integrate the University of Georgia early in her life, she embodies the history of this country’s race relations in a very personal way.

Then there is the living history that emanates from her journalistic prowess. Her body of work reads like a history lesson, a library that comes to life as we are reminded of major events that happened in this country — and around the world — through the work she has produced over the years. Few individuals have seen what she has seen, and captured it through reporting and writing in such a succinct and beautiful way, as Hunter-Gault has managed to accomplish. She can tell a story.

Reading her book from beginning to end, by each section, paints a canvas of so many things that have happened in this country involving Black people over decades. The book is a stunning nexus of a personal life lived beyond oneself that is recorded in history books and a professional life of writing as a journalist and reporter that draws others into the sphere of race relations in the U.S. and beyond its borders. Her life, her work, is history in the making.

I was particularly intrigued by the documentation of her experience in post-apartheid South Africa. I had the privilege of spending time in South Africa working with the African National Congress government through a partnership with the University of Connecticut’s Dodd Center to archive the historical documents of apartheid. Her reporting brought back those memories in a vivid way, particularly the time I had the honor of meeting with Nelson Mandela. Hunter-Gault’s chronicles of her time spent with Mandela, and the images she paints of two important architects of efforts to achieve racial equality from very different parts of the globe, are powerful.

This longitudinal collection of Hunter-Gault’s work is an important read for all Americans. The messages will help everyone understand how our country has been shaped through the lens of race relations. This is a powerful account of one person who has dedicated her life to serving the cause of racial justice and equality through her writing. She states in the opening to the first section:

“In time, I felt the need to get out of the basement and into the streets myself — not as a participant but as an observing servant of the people. And in a few years I traveled from the streets of Atlanta to streets up and down the East Coast, where there may not have been Jim Crow laws, but the pattern and practice of racial discrimination had the same effect on my people. So, along with my clothes, I packed my racial consciousness. And while some of my clothes wore out from time, my people and their stories kept my consciousness fresh and responsive to their ongoing challenges. For while their consciousness kept them focused on how far they had come in many instances, it also helped them (and me) keep their eyes on what continued and continues to be an elusive prize: equality and justice for all.”

In 2023 the quest for that prize continues, and Hunter-Gault persists in being a champion for the cause.

Part historical documentary, part personal memoir, “My People” is an inspiring collection
of Charlayne Hunter-Gault’s body of work.

“My People: Five Decades of Writing About Black Lives” by Charlayne Hunter-Gault (HarperCollins) is available at Bunch of Grapes bookstore and at Edgartown Books.