Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class

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9780060183523: Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class

Debutante cotillions. Arranged marriages. Summer trips to Martha's Vineyard. All-black boarding schools. Memberships in the Links, Deltas, BoulÚ, or Jack and Jill. Million-dollar homes. An obsession with good hair, light complexions, top credentials, and colleges like Howard, Spelman, and Harvard...

This is the world of the black upper classan exclusive, mostly hidden group that lives awkwardly between white America and mainstream black America.

Our Kind of People is the first book written about the insular world of the black upper class by a member of this hard-to-penetrate group. A conservative network of families dating back to the first black millionaires of the 1880s, the black elite has developed its own rules for membership and for maintaining a place in a world that is unaware of its vast contributions.

Through six years of interviews with more than three hundred prominent families and individuals, journalist and commentator Lawrence Otis Graham weaves together the revealing stories and fascinating experiences of upper-class blacks who grew up with privilege and power. Best known for his provocative New York magazine exposÚ of elite golf clubs, when he left his law firm and went undercover as a busboy at an all-white Connecticut country club, Graham now turns his attention to the black elite.

Sometimes gossipy and always poignant, Graham visits and profiles upper-class families and institutions in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Detroit, Nashville, Memphis, Los Angeles, and New Orleansalways revealing who passes the "brown paper bag and ruler test" and who doesn't. With photographs and stories, the author takes us to the mansions they built in the 1880s, as well as to black-tie debutante cotillions and dinners hosted by the "best" families and social groups.

He visits families that trace their lineage to prominent whites, profiles major politicians, and interviews guests who attended a famous $60,000 wedding held in 1923 by New York's wealthiest black family. He takes us on a limousine ride with the richest black man in America and introduces us to socialites who are adept at screening celebrities, Baptists, and "new money" blacks out of their circles. Graham reveals the history of the black summer camps and boarding schools that opened in the 1920s, and the black insurance firms and banks that were founded in the 1930s. Our Kind of People even takes us into the Wall Street offices and Fifth Avenue apartments of today's millionaire black bankers and entrepreneur, who make up the new wave of elite African Americans.

Weaving together these stories with his own first-person narrativeone that tells of his childhood experiences in black elite social clubs and of wealthy family friends who "passed" for white in order to gain access to better jobsGraham reveals a group that has been simultaneously heroic, snobbish, generous, and ambitious.

Both poignant and inspirational, Our Kind of People gives readers a firsthand look into a very private community that has played a major role in American history.

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About the Author:

Lawrence Otis Graham is a nationally known attorney and commentator on race, politics, and class in America. A contributing editor at U.S. News & World Report, he is the author of twelve other books, including Member of the Club and Proversity: Getting Past Face Value, as well as articles in the New York Times, Essence, and Glamour.

A graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, Graham is best known for appearing on the cover of New York magazine after leaving his Manhattan law firm and going undercover as a busboy at a discriminating country club in Greenwich, Connecticut. He also appeared on the cover for his story "Harlem on My Mind."

In addition to teaching African American studies at Fordham College and American government at Dutchess Community College, Graham has worked at the White House and Ford Foundation. He is active with the Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Economic Priorities, Westchester Holocaust Commission, Urban League, Boy Scouts, Red Cross, NAACP, and Rotary International. An alumnus of Jack and Jill, the son of a Link, and a member of the Boul, Graham is uniquely qualified to write about the black upper class. His wife, Pamela Thomas-Graham, is a management consultant and the author of the Ivy League Mystery series. She is a graduate of Harvard, Harvard Business School, and Harvard Law School. They have a son and live in Westchester County, New York.

From Publishers Weekly:

Graham, an African-American attorney, went undercover as a busboy at an all-white Connecticut country club and wrote about the experience first in New York magazine and then in Member of the Club, his 1996 book of essays. Now, he switches his attention from the white to the black elite. Graham spent six years researching the history of the African-American upper crust and this book is both a thorough work of social history and a thoughtful appraisal of his own place in the black social hierarchy. Graham makes clear that the black elite has always been strongly shaped by the peculiarly intertwined American preoccupations with color and class, noting that, in the past, most members of the black elite felt they were "superior to other blacks?and to most whites." Stressing the importance of surrounding themselves with "like-minded people," the black elite enrolled their children in certain social clubs, which were training grounds for the social graces and created the foundation of a black old-boy network. Graham stops short of offering an apology for behavior that is hard to characterize as anything other than snobbish (he himself had a nose job when he was 26 so that he would have a less "Negroid" look). But he does bemoan a dwindling interest in tradition, and he suggests that it wasn't such a bad thing to grow up in the 1960s and '70s without the "sense of anger and dissatisfaction the rest of black America" expressed in those years. Graham has produced a book that casts an unblinking eye on America's black elite, cataloguing its achievements while critically analyzing its shortcomings. It is a must read for anyone interested in African-American history and the impact of ideas about social class on our society. 16 pages of photos. BOMC main selection; first serial to U.S. News and World Report; author tour. (Feb.) FYI: The ABC News program 20/20 is producing a television segment based on the book.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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