February 16, 1987 12:00 PM

by Leanita McClain

Leanita McClain was the first black to write a column on the editorial page for the Chicago Tribune. In 1984, at age 32, beset by and depressed over personal problems, she committed suicide by overdosing on barbiturates. This posthumous collection of her essays and articles, edited and introduced by her ex-husband, Clarence Page (himself now a columnist for the Tribune), shows the assured voice and provocative style McClain brought to writing about the political and personal problems of being black in America. “It took hundreds of years to build it,” she wrote of racism in 1981, “another hundred even to dent it, and I fear I will not live to see it demolished.” Her best pieces concern race and education; the weakest of them deal with Chicago government and are of limited interest outside the city’s fractious political circles. The most moving are those in which McClain writes of her childhood in a Chicago housing project and her continuing sense of the city’s many housing projects as home, even as she distances herself economically and physically by climbing the ladder to middle-class success. It’s too bad for all of us that she lost her footing. (Northwestern University Press, $18.95; paper, $8.95)

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