February is Black History Month, and these exceptional books from the past year explore Black culture and history from new perspectives:
Imani Perry’s book tells the story of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” from its roots as a school song composed in 1900 for an assembly honoring Abraham Lincoln’s birthday all the way to its place as the Black National Anthem. With its powerful themes of resilience and struggle, the song’s endurance is traced across political ideologies and time periods from references in Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermons to being sung at Black Panther Party gatherings. Not to mention its longstanding tradition as a musical staple at family reunions, churches, concert halls, and at the Oval Office. Imani even writes about the song’s influence on contemporary art, literature and culture. This is a fascinating look at the past century of Black American history and culture through the lens of a single song. You can find May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem at the John T. Richardson Library.
“Chocolate Cities is built on a simple premise: our current maps of Black life are wrong (3).” Marcus Anthony Hunter and Zandria F. Robinson’s chocolate maps are race-conscious renderings of the United States, where everything below Canada is considered “the South.” Drawing on sources from health, educational and economic data to film, fiction and music to Black scholarship and personal stories, this brilliant and creative book delves into the lived experiences and future of Black life in America. If you love data, geography, and entirely new ways of thinking, this book is a must-read. You can find Chocolate Cities: The Black Map of American Life at the John T. Richardson Library.
This enlightening final book focuses on Black nationalist women in the time period between the Marcus Garvey movement of the 1920s up until the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Rather than a time of lull in Black nationalism, we see how the grassroots activism of women leaders thrived through the Great Depression, WWII and the Cold War. Keisha N. Blain has tapped many archival sources, including FBI files, newspapers, and personal letters, to uncover the stories of these marginalized Black nationalist women. Chicago plays a prominent role, as well, as a hub of Black migration and activist movements during this time period. I loved learning about the lives and activism of these powerful women leaders, who will not be covered in your typical history book. You can find Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom at the John T. Richardson Library.
Happy reading this month!