Edited by William L. Andrews
In 1911, William Pickens published the first edition of his autobiography, The Heir of Slaves, in which he recounts the experiences that led him into public life and the importance of his education. The narrative discusses his family, the various teachers and mentors who helped guide him, and the incidents and methods by which he accomplished so much. Pickens’s later works increasingly demanded the rights of full citizenship for African Americans. Bursting Bonds (1923), the second edition of his autobiography, clearly demonstrates this development by the inclusion of five new chapters on racial tensions. This important work, now back in print, marks a turning point in the evolution of African American autobiography from deference to confrontation.
William Pickens (1881–1954) was born in Anderson County, South Carolina to parents who were liberated slaves and tenant farmers. He went to Yale in 1902 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He graduated with a degree in classics in 1904 and became a professor at Talladega College in Alabama. Pickens was involved with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from its inception in 1910, and his leadership helped ensure its growth over the next thirty years, particularly in Southern states. He served as assistant field secretary, associate field secretary, and director of branches for the NAACP under James Weldon Johnson. Pickens was also a contributing editor for the Associated Negro Press.
“This is a reprint of the second, extended edition from 1923 of the autobiography of Professor William Pickens, a leading member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Pickens, whose parents were liberated slaves, studied classics at Yale, became a professor at Talladega College in Alabama, and was involved in the NAACP from its inception in 1910.” — International Review of Social History