Zeb Larson BA ’10

Posted 12/02/2021

Being Somebody and Black Besides: An Untold Memoir of Midcentury Black Life – Zeb Larson BA 10 coedits an immersive multigenerational memoir that recounts the hopes, injustices, and triumphs of a Black family fighting for access to the American dream in the 20th century. In the newly uncovered memoir of the late Chicagoan George Nesbitt—written 50 years ago, yet never published—Nesbitt chronicles in vivid and captivating detail the story of how his upwardly mobile Midwestern Black family lived through the tumultuous 20th century. Spanning three generations, Nesbitt’s tale starts in 1906 with the Great Migration and ends with the Freedom Struggle in the 1960s. He describes his parents’ journey out of the South, his struggle against racist military authorities in World War II, the promise and peril of Cold War America, the educational and professional accomplishments he strove for and achieved, the lost faith in integration, and, despite every hardship, the unwavering commitment by three generations of Black Americans to fight for a better world. Through it all—with his sharp insights, nuance, and often humor—we see a family striving to lift themselves up in a country that is working to hold them down. Nesbitt’s memoir includes two insightful forewords: one by John Gibbs St. Clair Drake (1911–90), a pioneer in the study of African American life, the other a contemporary rumination by noted Black studies scholar Imani Perry. A rare first-person, long-form narrative about Black life in the 20th century, Being Somebody and Black Besides is a remarkable literary-historical time capsule that will delight modern readers. University of Chicago Press, 2021. 360 pages.