Cover image for The Black Calhouns : from Civil War to civil rights with one African American family
The Black Calhouns : from Civil War to civil rights with one African American family
First edition.
Physical Description:
viii, 353 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, portraits ; 24 cm
General Note:
Genealogical tables on lining papers.
South/Reconstruction, 1865-1876 : morning, 1860s -- South/Reconstruction : noon, 1870s -- South/Reconstruction : night, 1880s -- North/1900-1919 : the new Negro -- South/1900-1919 : the new South -- North/1920s : Harlem Renaissance -- South/1920s : terror -- North and South/1930s : Lena and Frank -- North/1940s : movie star year -- South/1940s : war brides -- North/1950s : Blacks and blacklisting -- South/1950s : postwar -- North/1960s : overcoming -- Coda/1980s honors/North : Lena -- Coda/1980s honors/South : Dr. Homer E. Nash.
Gail Lumet Buckley, daughter of actress Lena Horne, delves deeply into her family history, detailing the experiences of an extraordinary African American family from Civil War to civil rights.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 929.20973 BUC 1 1
Book 929.20973 BUC 1 1
Book 929.20973 BUC 1 1
Book 929.20973 BUC 1 1
Book 929.20973 BUC 1 1

On Order



In The Black Calhouns , Gail Lumet Buckley--daughter of actress Lena Horne--delves deep into her family history, detailing the experiences of an extraordinary African-American family from Civil War to Civil Rights.

Beginning with her great-great grandfather Moses Calhoun, a house slave who used the rare advantage of his education to become a successful businessman in post-war Atlanta, Buckley follows her family's two branches: one that stayed in the South, and the other that settled in Brooklyn. Through the lens of her relatives' momentous lives, Buckley examines major events throughout American history. From Atlanta during Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow, to New York City during the Harlem Renaissance, and then from World War II to the Civil Rights Movement, this ambitious, brilliant family witnessed and participated in the most crucial events of the 19th and 20th centuries. Combining personal and national history, The Black Calhouns is a unique and vibrant portrait of six generations during dynamic times of struggle and triumph.

Author Notes

Gail Buckley is a journalist & the daughter of Lena Horne. Her family history - The Hornes - became an "American Masters" documentary, & she narrated a documentary on black American families for PBS. She has written for the "Los Angeles Times", "Vogue", the "New York Daily News", & "The New York Times". She lives in New York.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this thoroughly engaging family chronicle, Buckley (The Hornes) reveals an expansive tapestry of African-American history since the Civil War. The story begins with her great-great-grandfather Moses Calhoun, a freed slave turned businessman. Buckley never loses sight of the broad canvas, even when her mother, singer and actress Lena Horne, "unavoidably becomes the star of the story." Giants of African-American culture, often personally connected to the Calhouns, move fluidly through the pages, among them W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, and Walter White. The family itself produced poets, physicians, politicians, military men, educators, and journalists, as well as a gambler and "rake" connected to the 1919 Black Sox scandal. But as Buckley shows, for all of the comfort of their middle-class status, the Calhouns also lived under the shadow of lynchings, riots, and racist legislation. With branches in both New York City and Atlanta, the family was involved with Reconstruction politics in the South and Depression-era Communist organizing in the North, as well as the civil rights movement. Ever-present details of domestic life (courtship, marriage, children, family squabbles, divorces) hold the sprawling tale together. Buckley's awesomely informative shout-out to the Calhouns is a treat to read. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow and Nesbit. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Although it was illegal to teach a slave to read and write, Dr. Andrew Bonaparte Calhoun wanted a sophisticated butler, and so Moses Calhoun, Buckley's great-great-grandfather, became literate and, upon emancipation, a highly successful Atlanta businessman. Lacing her assiduously researched and gracefully written family history into the very fabric of the Republic, Buckley captures the brief sense of possibility for African Americans after the Civil War and the vicious backlash that spawned the Ku Klux Klan (officially designated as a terrorist group in 1870) and Jim Crow (the model for Hitler's race laws). While some of the black Calhouns stayed in Georgia, others migrated to Brooklyn. As Buckley's entrancingly well-told saga of her mixed-race family rolls forward, it is illuminated by the rise of her mother, that bright and dazzling star, singer, and civil rights activist Lena Horne. Abandoned by her stylish gangster father and neglected and endangered by her mother, a frustrated actress, Lena thrived nonetheless, thanks to her indomitable grandmother Cora Calhoun Horne, a teacher, social worker, and activist. As wholly compelling as Lena's story is, Buckley astutely sets her mother's trials and triumphs within a larger mosaic depicting the tragic persistence of racism now manifest manifested? in yet another poisonously reactionary surge, as our first African American president navigates his final year in office. Buckley's superbly realized American family portrait is enthralling and resounding. For more such tales, see Core Collection: Multicultural American Family Histories, p. xx.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2016 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

IN "THE BLACK CALHOUNS," Gail Lumet Buckley displays a particularly panoramic view of American society. Daughter of the legendary entertainer Lena Horne, she was raised among show-business royalty. But as the descendant of a privileged and lucky line of well-educated African-American professionals, she also grew up related to or knowing nearly every major figure in the movements for racial, gender and economic equality, from Reconstruction onward. The name "Calhoun" is mostly remembered today in association with our ardently secessionist seventh vice president, John C. Calhoun, a fiery orator who fashioned his conviction that slavery was a "positive good" into the ideology of states' rights. His nephew was Andrew Bonaparte Calhoun, a wealthy doctor who owned the slaves whose descendants include Buckley's and Horne's maternal line. This link between history's white founding fathers and the slave families who carried their names into freedom is a story with which most African-Americans are all too familiar, but one that has remained remarkably suppressed as a matter of general public knowledge. Only in recent years have some stories come to light, such as Annette Gordon-Reed's excavation of Sally Hemings's genealogy and Essie Mae Washington-Williams's revelation that Strom Thurmond fathered her by a black family maid. To some extent, "The Black Calhouns" is a revisiting of Buckley's 1986 biography of her mother's lineage, "The Hornes: An American Family." That earlier work focused on the personal lives of specific family members. This book is more occupied with the historical events and political movements that shaped those lives. Written in the style of a sweeping historical novel, "The Black Calhouns" deals with broad themes of property and politics, duty and determination; it follows the family's profound engagements with the founding of "missionary" schools that educated a few but not nearly enough of the new black citizens recently freed from slavery; the establishment of the Freedmen's Bureau; the rise of lynching and Jim Crow; battles to vote, work, buy homes and serve in the military; the daily confinements of "blood," color and phenotype. In the last chapter, Buckley turns a worried eye to the cyclical nature of such struggles and includes a caution about "21st-century Republicans," whom she casts as "secretly 19th-century Democrats," citing recent efforts to constrain voting rights, citizenship and the 14th Amendment. That might sound polemical to some ears, but Buckley meticulously documents how many present-day racial and economic struggles are still framed by habits of thought that have changed little since the Civil War. This is not to say that there hasn't been progress, but that the battle is so very slow precisely because the terms of debate have deep and often forgotten roots. Remembering lessons that ought to have been learned long ago is hard and deceiving terrain. One of the enduring costs of racial segregation - either de jure or de facto - is how knowledge itself has been segmented, pieces of the puzzle sealed away within subpopulations, so that privilege and pain might never meet. If there are those who don't understand the complexities of current student debates about the significance of buildings named for Woodrow Wilson at Princeton and John Calhoun at Yale, the intimate history in this book is unequivocal: President Wilson actively despised black people and counted Thomas Dixon, author of "The Clansman," upon which the film "Birth of a Nation" was based, among his close friends. The federal government had been integrated since Reconstruction, but Wilson, determined to put blacks "in their place," resegregated all jobs, freezing thousands out of the public job market. This massive and traumatic expulsion into unemployment not only dashed the aspirations of the author's ancestors but also signaled a virulent uptick in the spread of Jim Crow laws throughout the land. It is one of those historical turning points that are remembered to this day among many African-Americans but remain nearly invisible to most white people. Indeed, "The Black Calhouns" makes for particularly interesting reading against the backdrop of today's culture wars, from Donald Trump's disingenuous claim not to know anything about white supremacy to efforts in Texas to cut all mention of Jim Crow and the Klan from social studies textbooks. In the 1930s, as Buckley reminds us, Senator Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi wanted to send all blacks - not full citizens in the eyes of most white Southerners - back to Africa. The rhetoric was remarkably similar to some present-day calls to expel all Mexican or Muslim migrants. And in the 1940s, Lena Horne's scenes were routinely cut from the movies in which she appeared when shown in the South. (There were only two roles for blacks that Southern states would accept for distribution: servant or jungle "primitive." Horne refused to be cast as either.) This is history from the inside. Her family was cosmopolitan, well educated and well placed. They interacted with a cross-section of American trendsetters, policy makers and cultural icons: W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Hattie McDaniel, the Tuskegee Airmen, Frank Sinatra, James Baldwin, Robert Kennedy, Gene Kelly, Humphrey Bogart - to name but a few. Headlines often unfolded in their living room. Buckley charts the generational branches of black Calhouns painstakingly, as though making up for the lost stories of so many other African-Americans left on the cutting room floor. There is an insistence in her meticulously detailed recollections: We were here! We were there! Do not forget! But we have forgotten, over and over. "The Black Calhouns" is a comprehensive reminder of how, even when not immediately visible, the burden of racial trauma is carried deep within the body politic. With so much of our collective national experience consigned to oblivion, we tread unknowingly on the graves of those whose lack of accorded dignity echoes with us yet.

Kirkus Review

A detailed pursuit of the author's ancestors, from the South to the North. Through the prism of her distant family's story, Buckley (American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in the Military from the Revolution to Desert Storm, 2002, etc.), the daughter of Lena Horne, fleshes out a middle-class black family's journey of hard work, education, and aspiration in a deeply racist United States. Her narrative begins at the time of emancipation for patriarch Moses Calhoun, an educated former butler on a plantation in Atlanta, Georgia, who began to climb the ladder of success in 1865 by marrying, opening a grocery store, buying property, and becoming "a pillar of Atlanta's black community." His daughters, Cora and Lena, were educated in the missionary-run schools at the apex of Reconstruction, just as the Jim Crow laws instituting segregation were taking effect in Tennessee and elsewhere. Cora married the handsome, twice-widowed teacher and Republican activist journalist Edwin Horn in 1888 and moved to New York City in 1896, part of the great Northern migration of the Talented Tenth (W.E.B. Du Bois' name for the country's highly educated blacks). Edwin would switch party affiliations and become a "political New Negro," a Democrat, and leader of the so-called Black Tammany; the couple joined the Brooklyn bourgeoisie and the NAACP. With the birth of their granddaughter, Lena Calhoun Horne, in 1917, the story inevitably follows the rising star of the author's mother, largely abandoned by her parents and raised by her grandmother, Cora, through the heady Harlem Prohibition years (also the height of lynchings in the South). While Lena's dark skin was both a hindrance and help to her career (too dark for the white stage, too white for the black), she found her movie-star spot during World War II. The author later weaves her own story of 1960s political awakening into this thoroughly jam-packed narrative of history and nostalgia. Contains several memoirs in one: ambitious, relentless, and occasionally messy. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

Buckley (The Hornes: An American Family), the daughter of actress and civil rights activist Lena Horne, writes here about her family history. Starting with Moses Calhoun, a freed slave in Georgia, the author traces Moses's descendents through two branches, one that stayed in Atlanta and the other that migrated to New York. The Calhouns were a largely successful "Talented Tenth" family that valued education. Buckley focuses primarily on her great-grandmother Cora Calhoun Horne, a well-known clubwoman with the NAACP and the YWCA in Brooklyn. Widely admired, Cora was estranged from her husband, Edwin, who was involved in the Tammany Hall machine. While praising her activist and professional family members, Buckley is also candid about those who gambled, drank, and were abusive. Although the author sometimes loses focus by including each major event in post-Civil War black history, whether relating to her family or not, the book comes alive when she discusses the life of her famous mother and her own childhood. VERDICT This personal and historical account covers much of the same ground as Buckley's previous book, The Hornes; fans of Lena Horne will enjoy. [See Prepub Alert, 8/24/15.]-Kate Stewart, U.S. Senate Lib., -Washington, D.C. © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
Chapter 1 South/Reconstruction, 1865-1876: Morning/1860sp. 8
Chapter 2 South/Reconstruction: Noon/1870sp. 25
Chapter 3 South/Reconstruction: Night/1880sp. 41
Chapter 4 North/1900-1919: The New Negrop. 63
Chapter 5 South/1900-1919: The New Southp. 89
Chapter 6 North/1920s: Harlem Renaissancep. 118
Chapter 7 South/1920s: Terrorp. 138
Chapter 8 North and South/1930s: Lena and Frankp. 150
Chapter 9 North/1940s: Movie Star Yearp. 170
Chapter 10 South/1940s: War Bridesp. 202
Chapter 11 Norrh/1950s: Blacks and Blacklistingp. 220
Chapter 12 South/1950s: Postwarp. 253
Chapter 13 North/1960s: "Now"p. 270
Chapter 14 South/1960s: Overcomingp. 292
Coda/1980s Honors/North: Lenap. 303
Coda/1980s Honors/South: Dr. Homer E. Nashp. 317
Acknowledgmentsp. 323
Sources Citedp. 327
Indexp. 331