Still I Rise, the title of which is taken from a Maya Angelou poem, is a “graphic book”, which is a fancy way of saying that it is a comic book bound in soft covers, purported to be about the African American experience.
Still I Rise is not so much a dispassionate history as it is a listing of grievances and resentments ranging from the institution of slavery in North America to more recent slights, including the beating of Rodney King and what the authors see as an over representation of African Americans in the US prison system. Still I Rise has definite heroes (African Americans) and definite villains (white slave holders, racists, and bigots.)
That is not to say that Still I Rise does not have value or that the grievances and resentments are not real and painful. Still I Rise provides a window into how some African Americans view their history. If one wants to understand people like Jesse Jackson (who is mentioned in Still I Rise) or Jeremiah Wright (who is not) then a reading of the book would prove illuminating.
Still I Rise has a pair of unnamed characters who appears throughout the events depicted to provide commentary, some of it safe to say dubious at best. Here is an example from the first page:
“The richest nation on the face of the Earth, home of the free, land of the brave…How did it get that way? ‘Cause America was the land of the slave. Slaves cleared the land, planted the food, built the houses, paved the roads, and…”
Thomas Sowell, an African American economist who is not mentioned in Still I Rise, has studied the economics of slavery in North America and has found business enterprises based on slave labor to be far less productive than those based on free labor. Leaving aside the carnage and destruction brought on by the Civil War, Sowell discovered that slavery was actually a drag on the economic development of the United States.
Still I Rise also suffers from a broad brush, white washing of some aspects of African American history. Here is the passage about the Black Panther Party
“Vibrant new organizations such as the Black Panther Party for Self Defense attempted to empower impoverished black communities through rhetoric and community organizing,”
While Still I Rise does mention the Panthers’ “gun totting ways”, it doesn’t mentioned that they also engaged in criminal enterprises, murder, and terrorism.
Still I Rise is replete with this sort of thing. Jesse Jackson is mentioned, but not his anti Semitism or his dubious business practices, for example.
Still I Rise does end on a hopeful note, with the election of Barack Obama. The election of America’s first African American President is of huge, symbolic historical significance. Of course it also has real world consequences that have yet to play out.
Source: Still I Rise: A Graphic History of African Americans, Roland Laid, Taneshia Nash Laird, Elihu “Adofo” Bey (illustrator), Sterling, 2009