It's Black History Month! Who Will You Celebrate With?
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In another thread, I recommended the excellent CD recording by Toni Morrison of her novel, A Mercy. Listening to her unique reading style enhanced my enjoyment of this multi-p.o.v. novel set in 17th C. American colonies that tells the story of early slaves, both black and white.
Set in immediate post WWII England, Andrea Levy's Orange Prize winner, Small Island recounts a Jamaican couples pursuit of opportunity in the Mother Country and their confrontation with white English prejudices.
If your reading time is short,or often interrupted, short stories can fill the bill. Pulitzer Prize winning author, Edward P. Jones is also famous for his collections of short stories. I especially enjoyed the intimate tales that appear in All Aunt Hagar's Children for a look at 20th C. African American life in our nation's capital.
Today many writers are coming "out of Africa" to give us the stories of Saharan and sub-Saharan African pasts and 'recents,' too. Too many to name, but now easier to find than they ever have been are authors of the 20th and 21st centuries with tales that mingle folk history, colonial history, and national history from many perspectives.
So pull out your favorites and help us stack our TBR piles a little higher and enjoy meeting or revisiting the writers who have made black history come alive for you, whether they write nonfiction or fiction.
Also, not for me this month, but I read Aminatta Forna's Ancestor Stones last month, which was excellent, and I know she's got several other titles as well, she's definitely worth a look!
I enthusiastically second Edward P. Jones.
Other favorites include
John Edgar Wideman
And of course monuments such as
Their Eyes Were Watching God
As it turned out, it was a little volume that I turned to repeatedly because the tone was lulling and comforting. Looking at Booker T. Washington's Up from Slavery now, I remain amazed at his accomplishments and determination to lift his entire (as he would say) race up from slavery.
Many would regard his ideas as old-fashioned when it comes to race relations and the directions blacks should go to achieve parity with whites. Still, his rock-bottom values are the values that made America strong and envied, and seem largely forgotten in this day and age.
Another book I read at an even younger age beguiled and entranced me beyond the normal. Sadly, I don't remember the title It was a biography, or maybe an autobiography, of George Washington Carver, who picked the peanut up out of obscurity and pioneered the development of foodstuffs that today makes it the most popular flavor in snack foods. Not to mention how he literally revolutionized Southern (especially) agriculture to its modern state with his research on sweet potatoes and soy beans.
I was so entranced that I thought agronomists were magicians and sought out the biography of Luther Burbank. Another of my revolutionary American genius heroes.
Then in my mind's eye I see the bronze statue of the college Founder, the cold Father symbol, his hands outstretched in the breathtaking gesture of lifting a veil that flutters in hard, metallic folds above the face of a kneeling slave; and I am standing puzzled, unable to decide whether the veil is really being lifted, or lowered more firmly in place; whether I am witnessing a revelation or a more efficient blinding. And as I gaze, there is a rustle of wings and I see a flock of starlings flighting before me and, when I look again, the bronze face, whose empty eyes look upon a world I have never seen, runs with liquid chalk - creating another ambiguity to puzzle my groping mind: Why is a bird-soiled statue more commanding than one that is clean?
That is what Ellison writes of the nameless "Founder" of the "Institute." He has also been looked back on by historians who note that he spent more time acting like a wily political boss than a leader, traveling around with his pack of people and signing autographs and trying to get money.
Suffice it to say, had I been an African American back in his day, he would not have been my choice of leaders.
The philosophy of economic parity preceding civil rights is easy to sneer at now. But I think people too easily dismiss the fact that Southern blacks possessed and owned nothing and had no way of staying alive by supporting themselves upon Emancipation.
I think it's perfectly natural to firsr fight for self-sufficiency, recognizably lower on the totem pole of civilization, before worrying about integrating white society, which remains only marginally accomplished even in our time, in spite of marches, advocacies across the spectrum, and legislation. Washington saw the only way out of economic slavery was the ability to earn one's own living and have practical skills plus intellectual ones via technical education.
Civil rights are empty rights if one has no means of exercising them because of ignorance or inability. It's a shame people think that Washington's idea of pulling his people up from slavery was slavish, It wasn't. It was extraordinarily practical and important. It's poverty that breeds crime, and crime that tears apart a society, and all the civil rights in the world won't make a man independent of dependency on the indulgence of whites if he isn't literate and able to support himself in the most basic way.