02 February 2015
Our Kind of People: Thematic Review and Analysis
Lawrence Otis Graham, author of Our Kind of People, reveals the origin, education, occupation, and lifestyle of more than three hundred families and individuals comprising part of the exclusive black elite. Graham’s credibility for producing Our Kind of People derives from the fact Graham himself is considered a member of the black elite. Lawrence Otis Graham is a nationally recognized attorney and journalist reporting on pressing issues in American society. Author of twelve books and a contributing editor for U.S. News & World Report, Graham captured mainstream popularity with his New York magazine disclosure of elite golf clubs. Instead of golf clubs, Graham now focuses on the black elite and their various societal influences and associations. Lawrence Otis Graham spent six years questioning the nations black elite revealing their history, education, employment and organizational connection. Graham fuses the numerous accounts into an enlightening narrative offering details of an exclusive American demographic. In this paper, I will analyze Graham’s significant underlying themes of the black elite in accordance with their motivations across individual cities, their organizational connections to exclusive membership clubs, and their segregation from other blacks influenced by class and color.
In the years following Reconstruction, the division of the South created a lasting impact on class dynamics. In the upper South, 40-50% of blacks that were freed had white bloodline and free blacks would have to pay for freedom. On the other hand, in the lower South, blacks benefitted from patronage and despite having fewer rights, were wealthier. This dichotomy of freedom and wealth impacted class dynamics as a result of a lack of institutional development. Therefore, free blacks became leaders and according to Our Kind of People, during the 1870’s a few blacks attended universities and penetrated the middle-class. According to Graham, the black elites today can trace their ancestry back to these original men. Today, black elite families have grown since Reconstruction, despite remaining a minority. Black elite families managed to increase since Reconstruction by establishing churches, services, schools, and organizations to aid in the fostering and cultivating of a black elite demographic. These ideas reflects W.E.B Du Bois’ objective of the “talented tenth” of black society uplifting the rest, except black elites internalized this notion and further uplifted themselves. For black elites, striving to work together and actively participating in organizations is of considerable importance. These generalizations of the black elites and their influences underlie black elites as a whole, however Graham visited numerous cities offering a more in depth insight into the values of black elites. For example, according to Graham, black elites in New York City had a strong connection to their organizations. Furthermore, black elite parents in Atlanta instilled a sense of confidence and honor in their children, despite acknowledging no matter how successful they become, white men will perceive them as inferior. This apparent confliction and contradiction spurred black elites to form their own organizations. Additionally, in Chicago, black elites only lived in the South Side, separated from other blacks that the elites criticized as being “too black” and “too old-world.” (Graham 200) Ultimately, black elites incessantly valued their clubs and organizations to set themselves apart from the rest of society and to cultivate future elite generations. For black elites, the clubs and organizations one belonged to established and determined his or her identity in society. At its core, the formation of exclusive black elite clubs traces back to the denial of access to other organizations in the larger population. To further the analysis