Every February since 1976, Americans have been celebrating Black History Month. Black History Month is an extension of Negro History Week created in 1926 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson and Rev. Jesse E. Moorland to make all of us aware of the significant contributions of black people to our country and the world.
Way back in 1967, I took a sociology course entitled Black History. I was attending, what was then, Southwest Texas State College in San Marcos. It was a shit-kicker and future teachers school, so just the name of the class got the campus all lathered-up. The slightly-nutty professor–sometimes standing on his desk to make a point–opened our eyes, and minds, regarding black people in America. Included were black authors who brought forth their experiences as individuals and as a people. So to help celebrate Black History Month, I’d like to recommend a few books I was introduced to in that class.
Go Tell it on the Mountain A short, but powerful book, written by James Baldwin, a prominent voice in the civil rights movement. His partially auto-biographical novel echoes the struggles of the soul blended with the social struggles of being black in America. He expresses the role of the Christian church in the black community as both repressive and hypocritical.
Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin So, Griffin, disguised as a ‘Negro’–he actually darkened his skin through medical treatment–traveled in the segregated South and journaled his observations. Even though I thought I knew the injustices perpetrated on racial minorities, this book took me to the depths of the crushing world of racism as Griffin aptly describes how he becomes filled with hopelessness and despair after only a few weeks of living as a black man.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X (as told to Alex Hailey). Malcolm X was big back then another rallying point in the civil right movement. His conversion to Nation of Islam, and association with leader Elijah Muhammad, directed his preaching the radical and controversial concepts of black pride and social justice.
The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois Manning Marable says about this particularly intellectual book, yet moving book, “Few books make history and fewer still become foundational texts for the movements and struggles of an entire people. The Souls of Black Folk occupies this rare position. It helped to create the intellectual argument for the black freedom struggle in the twentieth century.”
And, most of all the poems of Langston Hughes. Sadly, this poem is still relevant today. We have not evolved much and even seem to be going backwards as a society and country.
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak. –excerpt from Let America be America again.
So, why are these books important? Because they provide evidence to the racist attitudes and practices that are our history. In a recent study from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, it seems the Texas State Board of Education is trying to erase the reality about segregation from the standard history/social studies curriculum at public schools. “Incredibly, segregation is not even mentioned except in a passing reference to the 1948 integration of the armed forces,” the study states. Even though we think “we’ve come a long way, baby” there is still work to be done to ensure everyone is treated as belonging to the same race–the human race.
“Always look for another point of view, always learn from people not like you.” Hey, I said that!