Five new books celebrate the perseverance, perspicacity and power of black Americans.
How should we talk about black history in a time like ours? Today’s political landscape definitely prompts discussion, debate and introspection, and it may warrant speaking bluntly about the state of things. When it comes to race, it’s hard to say if the world is more apt to listen to a benevolent voice or a belligerent demand, but luckily, these books have a little bit of both. As we reflect on the rich contributions of black Americans this month, the following titles make for compelling, relevant and worthy conversation starters.
Conversations in Black
Begin with Conversations in Black. Ed Gordon has assembled a who’s who of black voices in conversation with each other, discussing the world as they see it in 2020. We have Al Sharpton bouncing thoughts off of Charlamagne Tha God, Jemele Hill dissecting Obama’s legacy with Stacey Abrams, and Killer Mike and Harry Belafonte getting into it with Eric Holder. Together, they discuss the treatment of the black community during the Trump administration, the successes and failures of politicians in addressing racial disparity, reparations, the racial wealth gap and so much more. With so many voices animating the expanse of black experiences today, this is the perfect gateway to richer comprehension and, hopefully, conversation.
The Affirmative Action Puzzle
The past few years have seen renewed discussion of affirmative action, with several state legislatures reversing benefits, colleges rolling back programs and no shortage of incensed think pieces on both sides of the issue. If you’re looking to educate yourself on this complicated subject, look no further than The Affirmative Action Puzzle. Author Melvin I. Urofsky traces the development of affirmative action over the generations, beginning with hypothetical (and ultimately abandoned) motions to grant civil rights and reparations at the close of the Civil War, through the incremental fight to access voting, up to the current debate during the Trump era. With this exhaustive history under your belt, you’ll have no shortage of insights for your next roundtable discussion.
Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words
We all know Rosa Parks as the woman who bravely resisted yielding her seat to a white man on a Montgomery bus in 1955, but there’s so much more to the story of this titan of American history—and who better to tell that story than her? In Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words, author Susan Reyburn provides a candid look into Parks’ personal life through previously unreleased letters, documents and photographs. The book is small enough to breeze through in one sitting, and its 96 colorful pages illustrate Parks’ innermost thoughts, fears and triumphs—from her work with the NAACP leading up to the bus boycott, through her years of relative poverty afterward and ending with her eventual glorification, meeting world leaders and seeing the impact of her life’s work upon the world. This courageous woman packed so much into her life, and likewise, the details of her life are packed into this inspiring portrait.
Olympic Pride, American Prejudice
Not all of America’s black heroes won their victories by sitting down. In fact, the athletes profiled in Olympic Pride, American Prejudice ran race after race to cement their names in the history books, at a time when they weren’t allowed to even walk through the front door of many American establishments. In an accessible narrative style, authors Deborah Riley Draper and Travis Thrasher weave together the stories of 18 different runners coming into their prime at the dawn of the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and culminating in their powerful performance in the 1936 Berlin Olympics—much to the dismay of Adolf Hitler. These athletes came from all walks of life, from college students to dock workers to housewives, and competed on the world stage decades before any meaningful civil rights progress was made in the U.S. These historic track and field stars come to life in full relief on the page, revealing their fears, internal debates and complicated relationships with a power structure that simultaneously exalted and shamed them. How do you represent a country that hates you, and should you even try? It’s a complicated question, and one that is well trod in this book.
These historic track and field stars come to life in full relief on the page, revealing their complicated relationships with a power structure that simultaneously exalted and shamed them.
Driving While Black
It’s a long journey on the road to equality, and it’s a bumpy road, at that. If you’re feeling a little highway weary, I’d recommend pulling over, taking a pit stop and cracking open a copy of Driving While Black by Gretchen Sorin. Like most civil rights, vehicular freedom was a cultural battle that took several extra decades to be actualized for African Americans. Once black Americans began to drive, personal automobiles became instrumental to progressive milestones like the Montgomery bus boycotts of 1955, in which fleets of community vehicles carried activists to and from work in lieu of buses. But dangers still abounded for black Americans behind the wheel, due to segregation, Jim Crow laws and white-supremacist terrorist groups running rampant across America. Driving While Black also chronicles the rise of car culture in tandem with rock ’n’ roll music (Chuck Berry loved his Cadillacs), as well as the vast network of black-friendly establishments outlined in the popular Green Book. Feeling gassed up yet? Grab this book to-go and get to reading.