By Paula Young Shelton

This historical fiction young adult novel takes the reader on an adventure through time and America’s political history. Centered on a young African American teen from Washington, DC, Black Was The Ink leads Malcolm on an exploration of himself, his family, and the forgotten history of the Reconstruction Era. On a visit to his late father’s childhood home, Malcolm discovers the journal of his ancestor, an aide to the first Black elected official in Congress. Magically, he is transported back to the 1870’s to relive his great-grandfather’s experiences and witness the tragedies and triumphs of this critical time in American history.

Author Michelle Coles addresses a multitude of important issues in her debut novel, armed with a wealth of knowledge that she brings as a civil rights attorney. There are concerns about land ownership and farming, criminal justice issues, urban violence, racism, civil rights, Black economic independence, and Black political power, just to name a few. Coles guides the reader through the political landscape of modern-day Mississippi and Washington, DC during the Reconstruction era with an eloquent storytelling style.

Sadly, not many know the true history of Reconstruction, a time that is all but obliterated from American history books. Coles paints a vivid picture of this forgotten period with revealing details about the events and people involved. As Malcolm meets historical figures he is thrust into the role of helping them to put forth legislation and fight for the rights of the newly emancipated. It is fascinating to read about the accomplishments African Americans were able to achieve in the short period of time following slavery. It is heartbreaking to read how their efforts were dismantled and destroyed by racism. 

Black Was The Ink is written with engaging language and features authentic characters with real issues to address and valuable lessons to learn. The reader will gain incredible insight into the era of Reconstruction as the main character struggles with problems in the present and the past. Despite the many challenges that Malcolm faces, there is a message of hope for the future with an emphasis on learning from the past. I enjoyed this book tremendously; It will take you on an adventure, educate your mind, and rejuvenate your spirit.

Paula Young Shelton is an author and educator who has been a resident of Southwest DC for more than 30 years. She previously lived in Southwest when her father, Andrew Young, served in Congress in the 1970’s.

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