Smoketown by Mark Whitaker review: an alliance that advanced Pittsburgh’s black culture

Relationships between reporters and sportspeople were at the heart of African-American cultural achievement in mid-20th century Pittsburgh

Mark Whitaker has written an enticing history of the black culture of mid-20th century Pittsburgh, filled with engaging musicians, athletes, and journalists. Smoketown makes a plausible argument that the cultural achievements of African-Americans in this western Pennsylvania steel town often rivaled those of the much better known Harlem Renaissance in New York City – and that the relationships between reporters and sportspeople were at the heart of that.

Whitaker was the first black editor-in-chief of Newsweek and a top executive at NBC News and CNN before becoming a full-time book writer. His resume is undoubtedly one reason that so much of this book focuses on the men and women of the Pittsburgh Courier, which was America’s largest black weekly at the end of the 1930s, with a circulation of nearly 250,000.

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