Breaching Jericho's Walls: A Twentieth-Century African American Life

By Allen B. Ballard
Excelsior Editions, 2011

A rich narrative recounting the life story of award-winning African American historian and novelist Allen B. Ballard, Breaching Jericho's Walls takes its readers on an exciting journey from a segregated Philadelphia community in the 1930s to midcentury Paris, Moscow, Cambridge, and Manhattan. The author reflects on his own pioneering role as he expands his horizons as one of the first African American students attending Kenyon College in Ohio, studying abroad in France and sharing a café table with Richard Wright and James Baldwin, serving in the military in the American South, and attending graduate school at Harvard University.

As one of the nation's first black Russian specialists, Ballard studied in post-Stalinist Russia for a year, where, among other adventures, he spent a month with Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa, on a Soviet farm. Though he tells his own personal story within Breaching Jericho's Walls, Ballard also portrays the experiences of those northern African Americans whose generations bridged the gap from the legacy of slavery to the breakdown of the segregated system in the 1950s and 1960s. Along the way, he reveals the crucial role that individuals like civil rights leader Paul Robeson, Olympic athletes Jesse Owens and "Long John" Woodruff, and scholar Alain Locke played in inspiring the hopes of an oppressed and downtrodden race. A memoir filled with entertaining anecdotes and insightful reflection, Breaching Jericho's Walls offers Ballard's compelling personal story and reveals how, brick by brick, African Americans built the road that led to the election of President Obama in 2008.