Books: Fiction

Black Was the Ink

Book - Fiction. By Michelle Coles. 2021. 368 pages.
A powerful coming-of-age story and an eye-opening exploration of the Reconstruction era.
Time Periods: Civil War Era: 1850 - 1864
Themes: African American, Reconstruction, Racism & Racial Identity

Through the help of a ghostly ancestor, sixteen-year-old Malcolm is sent on a journey through Reconstruction-era America to find his place in modern-day Black progress.

Forgotten heroes still leave their mark.

Malcolm Williams hasn’t been okay for a while. He’s angry and despondent and feels like nothing good ever happens for teens like him in D.C. All he wants is to be left alone in his room for the summer to draw or play video games — but no such luck. With growing violence in his neighborhood, his mother ships him off to his father’s family farm in Mississippi, and Malcolm is anything but pleased.

A few days after his arrival, his great-aunt tells him that the State is acquiring the farm to widen a highway. It’s not news Malcolm is concerned about, but someone plans to make it his concern. One minute Malcolm is drawing in the farmhouse attic, and the next he’s looking through the eyes of his ancestor Cedric Johnson in 1866.

As Cedric, Malcolm meets the real-life Black statesmen who fought for change during the Reconstruction era: Hiram Revels, Robert Smalls, and other leaders who made U.S. history. But even after witnessing their bravery, Malcolm’s faith in his own future remains shaky, particularly since he knows that the gains these statesmen made were almost immediately stripped away. If those great men couldn’t completely succeed, why should he try?

Malcolm must decide which path to take. Can Cedric’s experiences help him construct a better future? Or will he resign himself to resentments and defeat?

Featuring illustrations by upcoming artist, Justin Johnson, Black Was the Ink is a powerful coming-of-age story and an eye-opening exploration of the Reconstruction era. [Publisher’s description.]