Journalist, novelist and playwright Thulani Davis traces her roots in My Confederate Kinfolk: a Twenty-First Century Freedwoman Discovers Her Roots. Among the revelations Davis uncovered was that her ancestors include a Scots-Irish clan of cotton planters as well as Africans from Sierra Leone.
Ta-Nehisi Coates grew up in the post-civil rights era, son of a publisher and former Black Panther; he's a contributing editor and blogger for The Atlantic magazine and author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, 2 Sons, and An Unlikely Road to Manhood.
Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) became part of the civil-rights movement while he was a teenager. From 1963 to 1966, he chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. And he became a close associate of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Lewis has been a congressman since 1987.
As the first African-American attorney in Selma, Ala., J.L. Chestnut Jr. campaigned to free jailed Civil Rights activists in the 1960s — an effort he detailed in his autobiography, Black In Selma. Chestnut died of kidney failure on Sept. 30; he was 77.
Political scientist and author runs the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Politics at UCLA; he talks to Terry Gross about how Barack Obama's campaign is addressing issues touching on race and ethnicity.
Author Junot Diaz won a Pulitzer Prize this year for his first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Set in both the United States and the Dominican Republic, the novel explores the complexities of living in two cultures at once, with prose that frequently mixes Spanish and English in the same sentence.