February marks the celebration of Black History Month. I feel it’s so important to recognize diverse voices, perhaps now more than ever. Last year, we shared our list of notable books that we love – some of which I use in the classroom every semester. We still love those books, and believe that they are worth reading – and not just in February, but all year round.
Celebrating black history and black culture extends beyond the books that we’ve shared before, black history isn’t just the study or celebration of the past – it’s still happening, still evolving, and always relevant. 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.
Between the World and Me – After I read this book, I was completely changed by the experience. It challenged every idea I had about race, and what being an American means – not just to me, but to anyone who grows up in this country. Ta-Nehisi Coates gives a legitimate voice to the Black Lives Matter movement, having lived through the experience of having a friend, a Howard University classmate, shot down by police for no good reason. This experience has shaped him as a writer, a father, and as an activist.
Native Son – This was 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 a young white woman who was murdered in Chicago by a black man. It’s such a sad story, that seems to show, sadly, that the main character Bigger Thomas had been destined for nothing in his life.
The Warmth of Other Sons Focusing on a few individuals and their own experiences, Isabel Wilkerson tells the tale of the Great Migration, which involved millions of African Americans moving out of the rural south. In order to escape the segregated south, they endured so much – violence, discrimination, poverty. This story is beautifully, painfully told through these voices. This is honestly one of the best books I’ve ever read.
The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander, a law professor at Ohio State University, takes on the controversial topic of mass incarceration. Comparing this experience to a new wave of segregation, in which African American men have lost their constitutional rights en masse, this is a provocative subject. Not all will agree with her argument, but it is backed up by an immense amount of research, making it hard to disagree.
Up From Slavery Born a slave in Virginia a few years before the start of the Civil War, Booker T. Washington was an important leader in the early Civil Rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr would later be compared to him, as they both had a non-violent, non-confrontational approach to their leadership in the movement. Not only was he able to overcome his past and lack of early opportunity, he was able to educate himself, and help many others achieve that same dream.
Just Mercy – I just finished reading this book last week, and I absolutely loved it. It correlates with what Michelle Alexander argues, and tackles another side of mass incarceration. Bryan Stevenson is a criminal defense attorney, who has worked all over the south, working on some of the toughest cases. It is heavy reading, no doubt, but worth a read. It’s a scathing review of the American justice system, and a story I think everyone should hear.
These books 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, mass incarceration and violence. A struggle that is still real and relevant today.