George McCalman, artist, illustrator and graphic designer, wrote a new book “Illustrated Black History.” It features illustrations, stories and accomplishments of 145 integral figures in Black American history from James Baldwin to Colin Kaepernick.
McCalman spoke with Entertainment Weekly (EW) about the urgency behind the book, as well as the passion that went into this project.
It all started when McCalman’s friends suggested he compile his paintings of Black history pioneers into a book. When McCalman investigated the collection of books around the topic of Black history, he was appalled.
“I discovered that there was no book outside of children’s books and academic tomes, which is evidence of the value placed on the subject matter,” he said in the interview with EW. “I felt a deep sense of agency and urgency. I had to do it.”
McCalman credits his Caribbean background for his unique abilities. He was raised in Brooklyn, New York, and studied fine arts at St. John’s University. He said he left with a desire to be an artist and a focus on making a living.
When he began painting portraits of Black History pioneers, he said he felt both free and comfortable within his field.
“What I learned all those years later is that I don’t have one singular style. I apply the context of what I’m doing to the art that I’m making,” he told EW. “It’s the opposite of how I was trained, and I’m glad I divorced myself from feeling pressure to conform to one way of being an artist.”
When creating “Illustrated Black History,” McCalman said he relied on both his instincts and curiosity to choose which Black pioneers to include.
He decided on those pioneers who were less seen rather than choosing iconic names. He said it is important to focus on educating people about historical figures they may know nothing about.
McCalman has a clear message he wants readers to take away from the book.
“That this is American history. Period and full stop,” he told EW. “There is a narrative that is as divided as everything else in our current culture, where Black history is a separate thing.”
He says this book is for every single person. It is an accessible “Bible” to celebrate Black pioneers and educate all age groups on important American history.
The book is in stores now and can be bought directly from Harper Collins Publishers.