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Smoketown  By  cover art

Smoketown

By: Mark Whitaker
Narrated by: Prentice Onayemi
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Publisher's Summary

The other great Renaissance of black culture, influence, and glamour burst forth joyfully in what may seem an unlikely place - Pittsburgh, PA - from the 1920s through the 1950s.

Today black Pittsburgh is known as the setting for August Wilson's famed plays about noble but doomed working-class strivers. But this community once had an impact on American history that rivaled the far larger black worlds of Harlem and Chicago. It published the most widely read black newspaper in the country, urging black voters to switch from the Republican to the Democratic Party and then rallying black support for World War II. It fielded two of the greatest baseball teams of the Negro Leagues and introduced Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Pittsburgh was the childhood home of jazz pioneers Billy Strayhorn, Billy Eckstine, Earl Hines, Mary Lou Williams, and Erroll Garner; Hall of Fame slugger Josh Gibson - and August Wilson himself. Some of the most glittering figures of the era were changed forever by the time they spent in the city, from Joe Louis and Satchel Paige to Duke Ellington and Lena Horne.

Mark Whitaker's Smoketown is a captivating portrait of this unsung community and a vital addition to the story of black America. It depicts how ambitious Southern migrants were drawn to a steel-making city on a strategic river junction; how they were shaped by its schools and a spirit of commerce with roots in the Gilded Age; and how their world was eventually destroyed by industrial decline and urban renewal. Whitaker takes listeners on a rousing, revelatory journey - and offers a timely reminder that Black History is not all bleak.

©2018 Mark Whitaker (P)2018 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

"Prentice Onayemi offers an engaging, easy-on-the-ears narration...the stories are interesting, and Onayemi tells them well." (AudioFile)  

What listeners say about Smoketown

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Hopes for Pittsburgh aka "Up South"

This book provides an outstanding history of Pittsburgh as a city, but more so Black life in Pittsburgh. It lays out the struggles and challenges Blacks faced at the hands of racism, hate and ignorance. A sometimes tragic story of segregation and opportunities denied, told with as much eloquence as a gruesome story can be told. There were many stories of success celebrated in this book, mostly in sports and entertainment, but each an up hill battle. Hopefully Pittsburgh and America will one day see beyond skin color... but until then, books like this are vitally important to prevent history from repeating itself.

7 people found this helpful

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I learned so much!

You shall perish from a lack of knowledge!! There are so many beautiful stories about our “Black” American history. I’m grateful that someone made this available to us. This book is a gem.

2 people found this helpful

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Interesting historical perspective

It was fascinating to learn about Pittsburgh's place in African American history and that of the nation at large.

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Intertwining Threads of History

Diverging stories with overlapping time periods, interestingly coming together with the commonality of a city in Pennsylvania.
An excellent read.

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History Telling At Its Best!

How did I miss this book? An iconic cultural Renaissance in Pennsylvania! I was amazed at all of the talented people who came up from the South to this place called Smoketown. This well written and narrated piece of fiction is a treasure that history lovers will cherish. My Book Club will love it!

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Absolutely stellar scholarly effort

One of the better historical pieces I listened to in quite some time. Bravo!