Black History Month was established in 1976 to encourage people to learn about a part of American history that is often neglected by the general public. Gerald Ford urged Americans “to seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” The history of African Americans is the history of America itself. If you find that you are lacking in knowledge of the accomplishments of African Americans in this country, here are some books to get you started.
Kirbie Bennett, Maria’s Bookshop book seller, recommends Black Prophetic Fire by Dr. Cornel West. West is a philosopher, political activist and prominent social critic.
“Black Prophetic Fire is a collection of reflections by West on various civil-rights figures, including Martin Luther King Jr. and W.E.B. du Bois,” Bennett says. “These essays are passionate, connecting their struggles to the present day and what we can learn from them. It is a fantastic book for learning about these figures, as well as several who are often overlooked, and keeping that history alive.”
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin is a must-read,” Bennett says. Originally released in 1963, it remains a relevant exploration of race in America. Consisting of two essays written in letter format, The Fire Next Time is “Baldwin’s reflections on race relations in the 1960s, where he stresses that if America doesn’t confront the deep wounds of racism, it will explode in hate,” Bennett says. “He didn’t hold back in his criticisms of the civil-rights movement and white America. Those criticisms came out of a deep love for people.”
Meghan Doenges, another Maria’s Bookshop book seller, recommends Heart of Darkness, a novel originally released by Joseph Conrad in 1899. Serving as a powerful metaphor of the dangers and horrors of colonialism, Doenges recommends Heart of Darkness because “it’s not specific to America.” Set in Africa, it shows how much of the racism we witness rose from the “longstanding racism that occurred during colonization in which the natives were often depicted as ‘savages.’ The story follows white characters who slowly go mad as they travel into the interior of the continent, their treatment of the locals becoming more terrible and awful. These attitudes during colonization are the foundations for racism in America.”
Black history is American history. The stories of African Americans are vital to our identity as a country, and knowing the history is helpful in finding ways to help heal race relations in America. These books are a good place to start, and are available at the Durango Public Library and your favorite indie bookstore.