On the Shoulders of Giants

My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance

On the Shoulders of Giants

From 1920 to 1940, the Harlem Renaissance produced a bright beacon of light that paved the way for African-Americans all over the country. The unapologetic writings of W. E. B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey, the fervent fiction and poetry of Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes, the groundbreaking art of Aaron Douglas and William H. Johnson, and the triumphant music of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong gave voice and expression to the thoughts and emotions that Jim Crow segregation laws had long sought to stifle.

In On the Shoulders of Giants, indomitable basketball star and bestselling author and historian Kareem Abdul-Jabbar invites the reader on an extraordinarily personal journey back to his birthplace, through one of the greatest political, cultural, literary, and artistic movements in our history, revealing the tremendous impact the Harlem Renaissance had on both American culture and his own life. Beginning with the rise of the Harlem Rens as pioneers of professional basketball, Kareem traces the many streams of historical influence that converged to create the man he is today -- the NBA's all-time leading scorer and a veritable African-American icon.

Travel deep into the soul of the Renaissance -- to the night clubs, restaurants, basketball games, and fabulous parties that have made footprints in Harlem's history. Meet the athletes, jazz musicians, comedians, actors, politicians, entrepreneurs, and writers who not only inspired Kareem's rise to greatness but an entire nation's.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was born in the midst of a cultural reawakening, carried on the shoulders of athletes trying to prove there was a lot more at stake than a ball game, men and women who made music that could break your heart, and writers and intellectuals who gave voice to not just the ideals of a movement but the raw emotions. Kareem tells what it took to get these revolutionaries to Harlem and how they changed the world. A world that is still riding on the shoulders of giants.
  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 288 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416534891 | 
  • December 2010


To download a file to your computer right-click on the link and choose 'save file as'

High Resolution Images

Any use of an author photo must include its respective photo credit

Reading Group Guide

LESSON PLANS: On The Shoulders of Giants
My Personal Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance
By Kareem Abdul-Jabbar


This book is about the Harlem Renaissance and the development, accomplishments, and history of a people. But it is also about a man and his development, accomplishments, and history. Using a classic "call and response" format, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar explores the history and the significance of his culture's "rebirth." He examines what it meant not just for his own life but for the lives of everyone, black and white, who inherited its rich legacy and benefited from the writing, art, and music that the men and women of the Harlem Renaissance created.


1. A world map is an excellent way to help students understand the migration of people as well as of art, music, and literature throughout the text. A map of New York City dated between 1920 and 1940, with a detail of Harlem and a current map of the same would also be useful to students. For an extra level of detail, use Google's free satellite imagery at earth.google.com.

2. Photographs from the Harlem Renaissance would also be helpful in order for students to visualize those whom they are studying. Such images might include photographs of the writers, musicians, historians, and athletes Abdul-Jabbar refers to in the text. You might also include images of art from the period like Aaron Douglas's see more

About the Author

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Photo Credit:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is recognized by Sports Illustrated and Time magazine as history's greatest basketball player (he is the NBA's all-time leading scorer). The author of several New York Times bestsellers, Kareem's previous books include Giant Steps, Kareem, Black Profiles in Courage, A Season on the Reservation, and Brothers in Arms. Since his retirement as a player in the NBA, Kareem has worked as a special assistant coach for the Los Angeles Lakers and acted as a volunteer coach for children on the White Mountain Apache reservation in Whiteriver, Arizona. On the Shoulders of Giants is currently in production as a documentary film.