Zach Underwood | 4 March, 2019
Check out these titles, chosen by our staff and featured on social media last month, to celebrate Black History Month 2019.
Picked by Susan. In Detroit, 1945, eleven-year-old Betty's house doesn't quite feel like home. She believes her mother loves her, but she can't shake the feeling that her mother doesn't want her. Church helps those worries fade, if only for a little while. The singing, the preaching, the speeches from guest activists like Paul Robeson and Thurgood Marshall stir African Americans in her community to stand up for their rights.
Picked by Kim S. Aibileen is a black maid in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, who's always taken orders quietly, but lately she's unable to hold her bitterness back. Her friend Minny has never held her tongue but now must somehow keep secrets about her employer that leave her speechless. White socialite Skeeter just graduated college. She's full of ambition, but without a husband, she's considered a failure.
Picked by Jon. Right from the start, Bigger Thomas had been headed for jail. It could have been for assault or petty larceny; by chance, it was for murder and rape. Native Son tells the story of this young black man caught in a downward spiral after he kills a young white woman in a brief moment of panic. Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Wright's powerful novel is an unsparing reflection on the poverty and feelings of hopelessness experienced by people in inner cities across the country and of what it means to be black in America.
Picked by Bobbie. Growing up in a tough Washington, D.C., neighborhood, Chris Wilson was so afraid for his life he wouldn't leave the house without a gun. One night, defending himself, he killed a man. At eighteen, he was sentenced to life in prison with no hope of parole. But what should have been the end of his story became the beginning. Deciding to make something of his life, Chris embarked on a journey of self-improvement--reading, working out, learning languages, even starting a business. He wrote his Master Plan: a list of all he expected to accomplish or acquire. He worked his plan every day for years, and in his mid-thirties he did the impossible: he convinced a judge to reduce his sentence and became a free man.
Picked by Tony. A compelling look at the struggles of police and activists to hold Baltimore together following the 2015 death of the Freddie Gray.
Picked by Katie. In this toe-tapping jazz tribute, the traditional "This Old Man" gets a swinging makeover, and some of the era's best musicians take center stage. The tuneful text and vibrant illustrations bop, slide, and shimmy across the page as Satchmo plays one, Bojangles plays two...right on down the line to Charles Mingus, who plays nine, plucking strings that sound "divine."
Zora Neale Hurston
Picked by Cecelia. One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston.
Picked by Olivia. Set in the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality. With a sharp, probing imagination, James Baldwin's now-classic narrative delves into the mystery of loving and creates a moving, highly controversial story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human heart.
Picked by Devin. From visionary filmmaker Spike Lee comes the incredible true story of an American hero. It’s the early 1970s, and Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth bravely sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan.
Picked by Dusty. In a bold and innovative argument, a rising legal star shows readers how the mass incarceration of a disproportionate number of black men amounts to a devastating system of racial control. This is a terrifying reality that exists in the UK as much as in the US. Despite the triumphant dismantling of the Jim Crow laws, the system that once forced African-Americans into a segregated second-class citizenship still haunts and the criminal justice system still unfairly targets black men and deprives an entire segment of the population of their basic rights.
W.E.B. Du Bois
Picked by Matt. The distinguished American civil rights leader, W. E. B. Du Bois first published these fiery essays, sketches, and poems individually nearly 80 years ago in the Atlantic, the Journal of Race Development, and other periodicals. Reflecting the author's ideas as a politician, historian, and artist, this volume has long moved and inspired readers with its militant cry for social, political, and economic reforms for black Americans. Essential reading for students of African-American history.
Picked by Jenise and Erin. An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America - the first African-American to serve in that role - she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments.
Picked by Brian. Okey Ndibe's funny, charming, and penetrating memoir tells of his move from Nigeria to America, where he came to edit the influential (but forever teetering on the verge of insolvency) African Commentary magazine. It recounts stories of Ndibe's friendships with Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, and tells of Okey's own development as a novelist; examines the differences between Nigerian and American etiquette and politics; recalls an incident of racial profiling just 10 days after he arrived in the US, in which he was mistaken for a bank robber.
Picked by Jennifer. 2 Dope Queens star Phoebe Robinson is ready to share everything she's experienced in the hope that, if you can laugh at her topsy-turvy life, you can laugh at your own. Written in her trademark unfiltered, witty style, Robinson's latest essay collection is a call to arms. She tackles a wide range of topics, such as intersectional feminism, beauty standards, and toxic masculinity. A candid perspective for a generation that has had the rug pulled out from under it too many times to count
Picked by Kristen. Phoebe Robinson is a stand-up comic, which means that comedic fodder runs through her everyday life. And as a black woman in America, she asserts, sometimes you need to have a sense of humor to deal with the nonsense you are handed every day. And Robinson has experienced her fair share over the years, not lest the people who ask her whether they can touch her hair. All. The. Time. Now, she's ready to take these topics to the page. As personal as it is political, You Can't Touch My Hair is an utterly modern essay collection: one that examines our cultural climate and skewers our biases.
Picked by Talanda. The inspiring true story of one little girl whose strength and dignity during the racially charged 1960s helped change history! When bright six-year-old Ruby is chosen to be the first African-American student to integrate her local New Orleans elementary school, she is subjected to the true ugliness of racism for the very first time
Picked by Sarah M. Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn't commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy's time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy's conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.
Picked by Alaysia. An entertaining picture book that teaches the importance of asking for permission first as a young girl attempts to escape the curious hands that want to touch her hair. It seems that wherever Aria goes, someone wants to touch her hair. In the street, strangers reach for her fluffy curls; and even under the sea, in the jungle, and in space, she's chased by a mermaid, monkeys, and poked by aliens...until, finally, Aria has had enough!
Picked by Zella. Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Picked by Danny. In 1963 Birmingham, Alabama, thousands of African American children volunteered to march for their civil rights after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak. They protested the laws that kept black people separate from white people. Facing fear, hate, and danger, these children used their voices to change the world. Frank Morrison's emotive oil-on-canvas paintings bring this historical event to life, while Monica Clark-Robinson's moving and poetic words document this remarkable time.
Picked by Margaret. In this shocking novel of a young girl alone on the streets, Goines delves into yet another facet of the ghetto experience-the dark, despair-ridden world of a black girl's soul! Sandra took to the streets when she was eight years old and tried to fight off the hunger pangs by shoplifting, moving into the profits of drug pushing. Then she met Chink and discovered love and affection...and rape and murder!