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Recommended Reads - Black History Month 2017

 

1- The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America


Author(s): Ethan Michaeli

Description: Giving voice to the voiceless, the Chicago Defender condemned Jim Crow, catalyzed the Great Migration, and focused the electoral power of black America. Robert S. Abbott founded The Defender in 1905, smuggled hundreds of thousands of copies into the most isolated communities in the segregated South, and was dubbed a "Modern Moses," becoming one of the first black millionaires in the process. His successor wielded the newspaper’s clout to elect mayors and presidents, including Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy, who would have lost in 1960 if not for TheDefender’s support. Along the way, its pages were filled with columns by legends like Ida B. Wells, Langston Hughes, and Martin Luther King.

 Drawing on dozens of interviews and extensive archival research, Ethan Michaeli constructs a revelatory narrative of race in America and brings to life the reporters who braved lynch mobs and policemen’s clubs to do their jobs, from the age of Teddy Roosevelt to the age of Barack Obama.

Review: ''Ethan Michaeli's The Defender is a rich, majestic, sweeping history, both of a newspaper and of a people. In these pages, Michaeli captures the degradation and exhilaration of black America in the twentieth century, and driving this story are a handful of men and women infused with incredible courage and a deep faith in journalism's power to seek justice.'' --Alex Kotlowitz, New York Times bestselling author of There Are No Children Here

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2- Islam and the Blackamerican

Author(s): Sherman A. Jackson

Description: Dr. Sherman Jackson offers a trenchant examination of the career of Islam among the blacks of America. Jackson notes that no one has offered a convincing explanation of why Islam spread among Blackamericans (a coinage he explains and defends) but not among white Americans or Hispanics. The assumption has been that there is an African connection. In fact, Jackson shows, none of the distinctive features of African Islam appear in the proto-Islamic, black nationalist movements of the early 20th century. Instead, he argues, Islam owes its momentum to the distinctively American phenomenon of "Black Religion," a God-centered holy protest against anti-black racism. 

Islam in Black America begins as part of a communal search for tools with which to combat racism and redefine American blackness. The 1965 repeal of the National Origins Quota System led to a massive influx of foreign Muslims, who soon greatly outnumbered the blacks whom they found here practicing an indigenous form of Islam. Immigrant Muslims would come to exercise a virtual monopoly over the definition of a properly constituted Islamic life in America. For these Muslims, the nemesis was not white supremacy, but "the West." In their eyes, the West was not a racial, but a religious and civilizational threat. American blacks soon learned that opposition to the West and opposition to white supremacy were not synonymous. Indeed, says Jackson, one cannot be anti-Western without also being on some level anti-Blackamerican. Like the Black Christians of an earlier era struggling to find their voice in the context of Western Christianity, Black Muslims now began to strive to find their black, American voice in the context of the super-tradition of historical Islam. Jackson argues that Muslim tradition itself contains the resources to reconcile blackness, American-ness, and adherence to Islam. It is essential, he contends, to preserve within Islam the legitimate aspects of Black Religion, in order to avoid what Stephen Carter calls the domestication of religion, whereby religion is rendered incapable of resisting the state and the dominant culture. At the same time, Jackson says, it is essential for Blackamerican Muslims to reject an exclusive focus on the public square and the secular goal of subverting white supremacy (and Arab/immigrant supremacy) and to develop a tradition of personal piety and spirituality attuned to distinctive Blackamerican needs and idiosyncrasies.

Review: "Destined to become a fixture in any course dealing with Islam in America, Jackson's treatment of the subject offers many helpful insights while giving a voice to often-ignored Blackamerican Muslims. ...his work will contribute to the lively and growing debate over the place of Islam in America and the role of Blackamerican Muslims in the contemporary American religious scene." --The Virginia Quarterly Review

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3- The Covenant With Black America

Author(s):  Tavis Smiley

Description: In 2006, Tavis Smiley—along with a team of esteemed contributors—laid out a national plan of action to address the ten most crucial issues facing African Americans.The Covenant, which became a #1 New York Times bestseller, ran the gamut from health care to criminal justice, affordable housing to education, voting rights to racial divides. But a decade later, Black men still fall to police bullets and brutality, Black women still die from preventable diseases, Black children still struggle to get a high quality education, the digital divide and environmental inequality persist, and American cities from Ferguson to Baltimore burn with frustration. In short, the last decade has seen the evaporation of Black wealth, with Black fel­low citizens having lost ground in nearly every leading economic category.

And so in these pages Smiley calls for a renewal of The Covenant, presenting the original action plan alongside new data from the Indiana University School of Public & Environmental Affairs (SPEA) to underscore missed opportunities and the work that remains to be done. While life for far too many African Americans remains a struggle, the great freedom fighter Frederick Douglass was right: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

Now is the time to finally convert the trials and tribulations of Black America into the progress that all of America yearns for.

Review: This collection of essays is both a plea and a response to the self-assessed critical circumstances of black America today. Tavis Smiley provides the introduction, touching on the issues he explores as host and interviewer on public television and radio; Cornel West and Haki Madhubuti also provide commentary, tying together the common theme of planning how to address the circumstances faced by black Americans. Marian Wright Edelman offers the statement of purpose introducing the 10 covenants, pledging individual effort in the areas of health care, public education, criminal justice, community-centered policing, affordable neighborhoods, democracy, agriculture, economics, environmental justice, and technology. Among the contributors are Marc H. Morial, Angela Glover Blackwell, and Wade Henderson. Each section offers facts on racial disparities in the U.S.; practical suggestions on what individuals, communities, and the government can do to rectify problems; and other helpful resources. Although specifically aimed at problems and issues facing black America, this work has appeal for all readers interested in social issues that plague the nation as a whole. --Vernon Ford Copyright 2006 Booklist

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4- Centering Black Narrative: Black Muslim Nobles Among the Early Pious Muslims

Author(s): Ahmad Mubarak and Dawud Walid 

Description: Blackness is a term which has been understood differently based upon time and geography. The authors of this book explore how the term was understood by Arabs during the era surrounding the first three generations of Muslims and how such context can better inform understanding who from among them would today be considered Black Muslims in the West. This is very important in light of the effects of colonialism and scientific racism theories such as eugenics etc.,, have forced the idea of species level taxonomies which are in reality social constructs upon the psyche of laymen across the globe. By examining texts of antiquity and centering them in the modern discourse, it is hoped that the nuance and breadth of the human experience can be appreciated. Moving beyond providing generic descriptive terminology, they elucidate in detail particulars based upon semantics of the Arabic language. Authors then give biographical information on a series of early Muslims from African and Arab lineage who would be considered Black in the post modern era.

Review: “Given the current political climate (February 2017) in this era of the Trump anti-Muslim banning agenda and with tensions between Arabized Levantine Arab business owners and inner-city African-American communities, this is a timely book which delves into the question of the intersectionality of "Muslim", "Blackness" and "Arabness" amongst the earliest Muslims including within Ahl al-Bayt (the family of the Prophet Muhammad)” - Customer review from Amazon

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5- Kwanzaa: Black Power And The Making Of The African-American Holiday Tradition

Author(s):  Keith A. Mayes

Description: Since 1966, Kwanzaa has been celebrated as a black holiday tradition – an annual recognition of cultural pride in the African American community. But how did this holiday originate, and what is its broader cultural significance?

Kwanzaa: Black Power and the Making of the African-American Holiday Tradition explores the political beginning and later expansion of Kwanzaa, from its start as a Black Power holiday, to its current place as one of the most mainstream of the black holiday traditions. For those wanting to learn more about this alternative observance practiced by countless African Americans and how Kwanzaa fits into the larger black holiday tradition, Keith A. Mayes gives an accessible and definitive account of the movements and individuals that pushed to make this annual celebration a reality, and shows how African-Americans brought the black freedom struggle to the American calendar.

Clear and thoughtful, Kwanzaa is the perfect introduction to what is now the quintessential African American holiday.

Review: "A groundbreaking, thorough, and illuminating discourse on Kwanzaa by one of the new leaders in the field. Kwanzaa: Black Power and the Making of the African-American Holiday Tradition is a vital resource that will enrich and enhance the discipline of African-American Studies. A pioneering work about a deeply important holiday."

– M.K. Asante, Jr., director of The Black Candle: A Kwanzaa Celebration

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6- Courage Has No Color

 Author(s): Tanya Lee Stone

Description: World War II is raging, and thousands of American soldiers are fighting overseas against the injustices brought on by Hitler. Back on the home front, discrimination against African Americans plays out as much on Main Street as in the military. Tanya Lee Stone examines the little-known history of the Triple Nickles, America’s first black paratroopers, who fought in an attack on the American West by the Japanese. The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, in the words of First Sergeant Walter Morris, "proved that the color of a man had nothing to do with his ability."

Review: “Starting with a riveting opening that puts readers into the shoes of a paratrooper on a training flight, this large-format book offers an informative introduction to the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion. Known as the Triple Nickles, they were America’s first black paratrooper unit. Though WWII brought increased racial integration to the military, the pace was painfully slow. This book traces the paratroopers’ story through their training and their long wait for orders to join the fighting overseas–orders that never came. Instead, the Triple Nickles were sent to fight fires in remote areas of western states. Decades passed before the men were officially honored for service to their country. Written with great immediacy, clarity, and authority, Stone’s vivid narrative draws readers into the Triple Nickles’ wartime experiences. Many well-chosen quotes enhance the text, while excellent black-and-white illustrations, mainly photos, document both the men of the 555th and the racial prejudice on the home front. Adding another personal perspective, artist and writer Ashley Bryan, an African American veteran of WWII, contributes the book’s foreword, a drawing, and a painting from the period. This handsome volume documents the sometimes harrowing, often frustrating, and ultimately rewarding experiences of the Triple Nickles.” Grades 5-9. --Phelan, Carolyn --from Booklist

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7- Prince Among Slaves

Author(s): Terry Alford

Description: "The Prince," as he had become known to local Natchez, Mississippi residents, had been captured in war when he was 26 years old, sold to slave traders, and shipped to America. Slave though he was, Ibrahima was an educated, aristocratic man, and he was made overseer of the large cotton and tobacco plantation of his master, who refused to sell him to the doctor for any price. After years of petitioning by Dr. Cox and others, Ibrahima finally gained freedom in 1828 through the intercession of U.S. Secretary of State Henry Clay. Sixty-six years old, Ibrahima sailed for Africa the following year, with his wife, and died there of fever just five months after his arrival.

Review: "Alford writes with a straightforward simplicity that nonetheless takes account of all sorts of complexities, including racial attitudes in this country at that time, and class attitudes as well."--The New Yorker

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8- The New Jim Crow

Author(s): Michelle Alexander

Description: Once in a great while a book comes along that changes the way we see the world and helps to fuel a nationwide social movement. The New Jim Crow is such a book. Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as "brave and bold," this book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that "we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it." By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, this book is a "call to action."

Review: “Invaluable . . . a timely and stunning guide to the labyrinth of propaganda, discrimination, and racist policies masquerading under other names that comprises what we call justice in America.”

Daily Kos

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9- The Final Speeches: Malcolm X

Author(s): Malcolm X 

Description: Speeches from the last three weeks of the life of this outstanding leader of the oppressed Black nationality and of the working class in the United States. A large part is material previously unavailable, with some in print for the first time.

Review: “This is definitely a great read and a lot of the material here is still relevant today. A very good example being Malcolm's exposing how the press manipulates the public with false imagery. Malcolm was pretty much predicting many of the false political networks of today, like Fox News. One of the best qualities about Malcolm X was that he was a great thinker, and this is why I find him so admirable and why I love reading about him.” - Amazon Customer

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10- Waking From The Dream

Author(s): David L. Chappell

Description: The author of A Stone of Hope, called “one of the three or four most important books on the civil rights movement” by The Atlantic Monthly, turns his attention to the years after Martin Luther King’s assassination—and provides a sweeping history of the struggle to keep the civil rights movement alive and to realize King’s vision of an equal society.

In this arresting and groundbreaking account, David L. Chappell reveals that, far from coming to an abrupt end with King’s murder, the civil rights movement entered a new phase. It both grew and splintered. These were years when decisive, historic victories were no longer within reach—the movement’s achievements were instead hard-won, and their meanings unsettled. From the fight to pass the Fair Housing Act in 1968, to debates over unity and leadership at the National Black Political Conventions, to the campaign for full-employment legislation, to the surprising enactment of the Martin Luther King holiday, to Jesse Jackson’s quixotic presidential campaigns, veterans of the movement struggled to rally around common goals.

Waking from the Dream documents this struggle, including moments when the movement seemed on the verge of dissolution, and the monumental efforts of its members to persevere. For this watershed study of a much-neglected period, Chappell spent ten years sifting through a voluminous public record: congressional hearings and government documents; the archives of pro– and anti–civil rights activists, oral and written remembrances of King’s successors and rivals, documentary film footage, and long-forgotten coverage of events from African American newspapers and journals.

Review: “A vitally needed appraisal of how the civil rights movement re-created itself in surprisingly effective ways after Dr. King’s death . . . No one is better qualified than David Chappell to examine these largely unexplored developments and to make sense of the ironies, tragedies, and triumphs. This is a brilliant, absorbing work that compels us to rethink our conceptions and judgments about the civil rights movement.”—Stewart Burns, author of We Will Stand Here Till We Die

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11- Black Muslims and the Law

Author(s): Malachi D. Crawford

Description: Black Muslims and the Law: Civil Liberties From Elijah Muhammad to Muhammad Ali examines the Nation of Islam’s quest for civil liberties as what might arguably be called the inaugural and first sustained challenge to the suppression of religious freedom in African American legal history. Borrowing insights from A. Leon Higgonbotham Jr.’s classic works on American slavery jurisprudence, Black Muslims and the Law reveals the Nation of Islam’s strategic efforts to engage governmental officials from a position of power, and suggests the federal executive, congressmen, judges, lawyers, law enforcement officials, prison administrators, state governments, and African American civic leaders held a common understanding of what it meant to be and not to be African American and religious in the period between World War II and the Vietnam War. The work raises basic questions about the rights of African descended people to define god, question white moral authority, and critique the moral legitimacy of American war efforts according to their own beliefs and standards.

Review: Black Muslims and The Law is a seminal work that explores the Nation of Islam’s legal battles for civil rights. Dr. Crawford has done an exceptional job documenting the Nation of Islam’s role in moving America toward the promise of democracy for all those living within her borders. (Abul Pitre)

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12- Slavery by Another Name

 Author(s): Douglas A. Blackmon

Description: In this groundbreaking historical expose, Douglas A. Blackmon brings to light one of the most shameful chapters in American history—an “Age of Neoslavery” that thrived from the aftermath of the Civil War through the dawn of World War II.

Using a vast record of original documents and personal narratives, Douglas A. Blackmon unearths the lost stories of slaves and their descendants who journeyed into freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation and then back into the shadow of involuntary servitude shortly thereafter. By turns moving, sobering, and shocking, this unprecedented account reveals the stories of those who fought unsuccessfully against the re-emergence of human labor trafficking, the companies that profited most from neoslavery, and the insidious legacy of racism that reverberates today.

Review: “Shocking. . . . Eviscerates one of our schoolchildren's most basic assumptions: that slavery in America ended with the Civil War.” —The New York Times

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Compiled by Zamzam Yusuf