So, February is almost over, but before the month is over we wanted to recognize black history month. Last year, I remember devoting a week to it here, and somehow the month has almost gotten away from us. This past year has been frought with racial tension, a tension and struggle for justice that will probably not end in my lifetime. There are so many great books that represent years of black history and culture, some of which I’ve required my students to read. Others I read while I was still in school. Don’t be daunted by heavy subject matter, or indifferent to the history. These books represent so much in black history and culture – each for different reasons.
I love Toni Morrison, her writing is just beautiful. I first read The Bluest Eye years ago, and was transformed by the experience. The main character, Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl longs for love in her life. The title is symbolic of her idealized version of love, and self-worth. Beloved is another favorite of mine. I’ve read it many times, and have assigned it to my students. I have to say though, they haven’t loved it. It was hard for them to see symbolism in the story. It was based partially on a true story, which makes the story even more important. I’ve since assigned Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which is equally important in black history, it’s just not my favorite. Morrison, who has become a unique voice in African-American literature, won a Pulitzer Prize for this book in 1993, and has also been the recipient of the Nobel Prize.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings never fails to humble me and touch my heart. Maya Angelou passed away last year, and the world lost an incredible woman, a voice in the black community that so perfectly captured the struggles of many. Through her painful memories, she reveals her pain, and her soul, and emerges as an incredibly strong woman. The story itself is timeless, though the book was first published this book in 1969. Long known as a talented poet and writer, this book is autobiographical, following her departure from the south. She eventually makes her way to San Francisco, though it is difficult for her to shed this painful past.
Native Son – written by Mississippi-born writer Richard Wright, an incredible writer giving voice to blacks in the South. This is his best work, exposing the hopelessness and poverty experienced by so many blacks of his generation. He also bravely tackles the issues of race and class and his work. The story focuses on the young white woman who was murdered in Chicago by a black man. It’s such a sad story, that seems to show that the main character Bigger Thomas had been destined for nothing in his life.
I first read Invisible Man in college, and didn’t quite get it. I’ve read it again since then, and have been moved. The title is a symbolic of a feeling that many blacks had in the early part of the 20th century. A nameless young black man growing up in the south, makes his way to NYC, and it is a daunting experience. He is not empowered – he is confused, embittered, and brow beaten. The book was first published in 1952, a critical time in black history, Ralph Ellison, the author of the book, was a graduate of the famous Tuskegee Institute.
They are worth the read, worth the time, and deserve recognition. Black history and culture should be celebrated every day, all year round. The month of February is a special time of reflection and remembrance. Through these voices, the tale of African American history is told – through slavery, segregation, discrimination, and violence. A struggle that is still real and relevant today.