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Book on White Plains African Americans Sells Big

Immortalizing the undocumented history of African Americans living in White Plains appealed to Leola Bryant for as long as she could remember. Seven years ago she and the Roots of White Plains Ltd., an African American community organization, began discussing plans for a history book. When the 108-page pictorial book called “On the Streets Where We Lived” debuted this May, Bryant and about 120 others marked a milestone.

“There’s never been any documentation of the History of African Americans in the city of White Plains period,” said Bryant, the president of the Roots of White Plains. “We wrote it because our children and our children’s children should know their history.”

The Roots nearly sold out of the 200 books they brought to their release party at the library on May 15. Author Harold Esannason said he sells five or six books a day and that the 300 soft cover editions will likely be gone within the next two weeks. The Roots printed a total of 1,000 hardcover ($50) and softcover ($35) editions.

“We’re selling books like you wouldn’t believe,” said Esannason, 72. “The book is even beginning to travel down south to North Carolina and Georgia where a lot of people from White Plains have moved.”

Twelve Roots members came to Esannason two years ago with a slew of photographs and captions, which Esannason then organized into a published product. Sepia images of smiling babies, prim businessmen, and religious ceremonies sprawl across the book’s eight chapters.

“This is a historical documentation of people who spent a lot of their lives in this city, and this city was not always kind,” said Esannason, who co-wrote a historical book about the black community in Yonkers. “They burnt crosses on lawns. Black people weren’t allowed to eat in restaurants. This shows that someone is cognizant of what happened.”

The Roots received so much memorabilia from the community that they’re hoping to write a second edition that expands “On the Streets Where We Lived,” to years beyond the era of 1900 to 1960.

“Some people were upset that their stuff didn’t get in,” said Bryant. “We couldn’t afford to include everything. We’ll have to do a second addition.”

The Roots have more book showings lined up at local churches. They’re also looking for grants to help cover the $55,000 investment they and Esannason put into the project.

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