Sunny's bookshelf
Sunny's bookshelf photo by Judy Solomon

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Black History Month, Or Not – Revisited

Black History Month –

I can’t believe I have not upgraded this essay and list of interesting titles since 2013. Today, in our frightening political and racial climate, understanding American History is more important than ever.

Our U.S. History books need a makeover. That was my basic reason for having written the original essay four years ago and it’s still my pie-in-the-sky hope. I have added a few books, both fiction and nonfiction to my 2013 list. I would love to hear back from any of our readers about the essay and the books.

For those of you in the Reno Area, I encourage you to attend a talk to be given at the Northwest Library, this coming Saturday, February 4th, 1-3 pm when “UNR Professor of African American History Greta de Jong presents You Can’t Eat Freedom: Struggles for Social Justice After the Civil Rights Movement. Black activism continued beyond the 1960s in efforts to secure economic reforms aimed at creating jobs, improving social services, and enabling all citizens to lead lives of dignity and autonomy.” Greta de Jong’s presentation will be followed by “Patricia Gallimore, president of the Reno/Sparks NAACP, who will talk about local and national issues.” (Washoe Co. Library System)

From my February 2013 blog:

It is February fellow-Americans, and we know, as readers, students, television programmers and booksellers, what that means: It’s Black History Month!  What I’ve never understood is why only February? Isn’t Black History American history? Way back in 1926 it began as Negro History Week. That’s right, it was only one week a year. The intention of its innovators, Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History was for the annual event to eventually become unnecessary as the history of African Americans became part-and-parcel of American U. S. History. We Americans are either very slow learners or our U.S. History textbooks are being written by people with one eye closed and one hand tied behind their backs. By 1976, that original week of enlightenment was enlarged to one month of annual enlightenment.

Would it be too radical to suggest we study African-American history, not alongside the rest of our history, but inside our history? Since that may never happen, I’d like to think maybe it’s time to start a Black History Year. It would be too much to think or hope that textbook authors might write American U.S. history books that reflect the truth of the American experience.

If such an idea took hold, here is my reading list of recommended books:

  • Roots by Alex Haley
  • The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (Both this and Roots should be required reading for every American high school graduate.)
  • The Many Headed Hydra by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker
  • A Gentleman of Color, the Life of James Forten by Julie Winch
  • The Diligent, A Voyage Through the Worlds of the Slave Trade by Robert Harms
  • Behind the Scenes by Elizabeth Keckley
  • Crispus Attucks, The First to Die by Edmund F. Curley (Historical fiction)
  • Bound for Canaan by Fergus M. Bordewich
  • On Lynchings by Ida B. Wells-Barnett
  • Time on the Cross the Economics of American Negro Slavery by Fogel and Engerman
  • Stolen Childhood, Slave Youth in Nineteen Century American by Wilma King
  • A Slave in the White House, by Elizabeth Dowling Taylor
  • The Negro Cowboys, by Philip Durham and Everett L. Jones
  • Red White and Black, A True Story of Race and Rodeo, by Rick Steber
  • Beautiful Jim Key, The Lost History of A Horse and A Man, by Mim Eichler Rivas
  • Parting the Waters; America in the King Years 1963-65; At Canaan’s Edge; by Taylor Branch
  • The Road to Victory by David P. Colley
  • Brothers in Arms, by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anthony Walton (I love this book!)
  • Home by LeRoi Jones
  • Making Malcolm, The Myth & Meaning of Malcolm X, by Michael Eric Dyson
  • Richard Wright, Daemonic Genius, by Margaret Walker
  • Nigger, by Randall Kennedy
  • Soul on Ice, by Eldridge Cleaver
  • The Underground Railroad, First-Person Narratives, by Charles L. Blockson
  • Red Summer of 1919, The Awakening of Black America, by Cameron McWhirter
  • E.B. DuBois, 1868-1919; W.E.B. DuBois, 1919-1963; by David Levering Lewis
  • Thurgood Marshall, American Revolutionary, by Juan Williams
  • Losing My Cool (memoir) by Thomas Chatterton Williams
  • Arna Bontemps, Langston Hughes, Letters, 1925-1967, Charles H. Nichols

Some favorite fiction or Poetry by African American writers:

  • Mercy, by Toni Morrison
  • Miracle at St. Anna; Son Yet Sung; The Good Lord Bird; by James McBride
  • Walk through Darkness, by David Durham
  • Cane, by Jean Toomer
  • Blues Narratives, by Sterling D. Plumpp
  • John Henry Days; Apex Hides the Hurt; Sag Harbor; The Underground Railroad; by Colson Whitehead
  • Dark Symphony: Negro Literature in America, by Emanuel and Gross
  • Almost any poetry by Margaret Walker, Louise Clifton, Rita Dove, Langston Hughes,
  • Color, by Countee Cullen
  • Golden Slippers, An Anthology of Negro Poetry for Young Readers, compiled by Arna Bontemps
  • The Black Unicorn, by Audre Lorde
  • Carver, A Life in Poems, by Marilyn Nelson
  • Here in Harlem, Poems in Many Voices, by Walter Dean Myers
  • Brown Girl Dreaming; I hadn’t Meant to Tell You This; by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Lazaretto; by Diane McKinney-Whetstone
  • The Devil in Silver; Big Machine; by Victor Lavalle

Admittedly, the above list of books is entirely subjective. Many titles may be out of print, but a lot of them helped fill in the gaps of my understanding of U.S. History. There are many biographies of importance not included, but maybe next year I will just list those. I have added some biographies, but there are still more sitting on my bookshelves.

I wish I could say that my interest in African American history came out of a deep intellectual thirst for the whole story, but that is not the case. When I was a kid I was horse crazy, which meant that I also loved cowboys. But it was not until 1976, when I watched the TV movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, (from the novel by Ernest J. Gaines) did I discover that cowboys came in the color black as well as white. I felt cheated, robbed. Then I felt pissed and wondered how many other things had I not been told about African Americans? And so I began my own education.

Black history is American U. S. History and to acknowledge it as something to be brought out and dusted off once a year is just ridiculous. Ditto for 2017.   –   Sunny Solomon

4 Responses

  1. Good post and so appropriate for our time. We just saw the movie, “Hidden Figures” about the three black American woman working for NASA in the 1960s. Their story of courage,resiliency, and determination also reminded us of Black Americans’ profound contribution in making America great.

    1. Thanks for leaving a comment, Sue. “Hidden Figures” is on my “to see” list. That movie is indicative of why we need new textbooks. We appreciate your interest.

  2. Sunny, of course you meant to include Whitehead’s Underground Railroad…so good. But there is also Slavery by Another Name by Blackmon and with this I understand what it means that the country was built (concretely) by slaves. Also Between The World and Me, Te-Nehisi Coates – it’s a meditation and literally puts the reader in a black skin in a different way than Black Like Me did and that’s still a good one.

    1. Hi Donna – thanks for the comments and suggestions. I only had titles that came from my shelves, but I will now look for Slavery by Another Name and the reason I did not include Coates’ book is because it is still in Ann’s stash. I wish I knew somebody who could start a movement to include many of our Black historians in the rewriting of U.S. history textbooks. But stay tuned, it’s a question I plan to ask at the lecture this Saturday at the library.

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