Sharing in our favorite books, films, and art has always been a practice across the globe to form meaningful connections with others. Storytelling is a powerful tool that carries cultures and history forward. They help us answer our questions and bring forth with them even more questions. It helps us form, process, and express our emotions and creates a tether to the past, the present, and the future.
The pandemic has left many of us with no choice but to become professionals at staying home and finding new ways to cope with the times. We have made every effort to keep ourselves occupied with hobbies and pastimes, household projects, and finding new and creative ways to connect with our communities.
As Wisconsinites, no matter if we’re from rural areas like Bayfield living on a dairy farm or from Milwaukee living in a studio apartment, Indigenous or Immigrant, and no matter if we’re Black, brown, or white: we all want to ensure our families make it through this Pandemic safely.
If we use this time to further educate ourselves and be more aware of the issues and stories that impact Americans across the country, we would all be better off. It’s an opportunity for personal growth and development … to inform ourselves and find understanding in the different dynamics of life, examine how every person is impacted by the choices of people made in our history, reflect on the progress and failures in the systems that dictate so much of our day-to-day lives, and learn about the disparities that impact marginalized communities like Black communities.
Black communities are being subjected to volatile treatment and brutality from a system built on racism. They have had to endure living in a society that denies their right to safety and equal opportunity. Society has suppressed and used every attempt to discredit the invaluable contributions and powerful voices of Black people throughout history to this very day.
February is recognized as Black History Month, in honor of that we wanted to focus our First Friday Finds on a few of our favorite recommendations of Black Creators and Black Voices who have helped and continue to shape the America we are today. These recommendations were curated to contribute to what should be a continued journey to learn and understand American history through the lens of the Black American perspective.
Consider checking out regional bookstores like the two listed below to fulfill your reading needs that have many of the titles below and many more!
While the doors are not open for in-store shopping, Spinster Books has made every effort to ensure there’s access for folks in Ashland to buy books locally.
Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
Summary: “The true story of an individual’s struggle for self-identity, self-preservation, and freedom, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl remains among the few surviving slave narratives written by a woman. This autobiographical account chronicles the remarkable odyssey of Harriet Jacobs (1813–1897) whose dauntless spirit and faith carried her from a life of servitude and degradation in North Carolina to liberty and reunion with her children in the North.
Written and published in 1861 after Jacobs’ harrowing escape from a vile and predatory master, the memoir delivers a powerful and unflinching portrayal of the abuses and hypocrisy of the master-slave relationship. Jacobs writes frankly of the horrors she suffered as a slave, her eventual escape after several unsuccessful attempts, and her seven years in self-imposed exile, hiding in a coffin-like “garret” attached to her grandmother’s porch.
A rare firsthand account of a courageous woman’s determination and endurance, this inspirational story also represents a valuable historical record of the continuing battle for freedom and the preservation of family.”
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
Summary: In the searing pages of this classic autobiography, originally published in 1964, Malcolm X, the Muslim leader, firebrand, and anti-integrationist, tells the extraordinary story of his life and the growth of the Black Muslim movement. His fascinating perspective on the lies and limitations of the American Dream, and the inherent racism in a society that denies its nonwhite citizens the opportunity to dream, gives extraordinary insight into the most urgent issues of our own time.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X stands as the definitive statement of a movement and a man whose work was never completed but whose message is timeless. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand America.
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Summary: “ In this celebrated novel, Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison created a new way of rendering the contradictory nuances of black life in America. Its earthy poetic language and striking use of folklore and myth established Morrison as a major voice in contemporary fiction.
Song of Solomon begins with one of the most arresting scenes in our century’s literature: a dreamlike tableau depicting a man poised on a roof, about to fly into the air, while cloth rose petals swirl above the snow-covered ground and, in the astonished crowd below, one woman sings as another enters premature labor. The child born of that labor, Macon (Milkman) Dead, will eventually come to discover, through his complicated progress to maturity, the meaning of the drama that marked his birth.
Toni Morrison’s novel is at once a romance of self-discovery, a retelling of the black experience in America that uncovers the inalienable poetry of that experience, and a family saga luminous in its depth, imaginative generosity, and universality. It is also a tribute to the ways in which, in the hands of a master, the ancient art of storytelling can be used to make the mysterious and invisible aspects of human life apparent, real, and firm to the touch.”
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Summary: Celie has grown up poor in rural Georgia, despised by the society around her and abused by her own family. She strives to protect her sister, Nettie, from a similar fate, and while Nettie escapes to a new life as a missionary in Africa, Celie is left behind without her best friend and confidante, married off to an older suitor, and sentenced to a life alone with a harsh and brutal husband.
In an attempt to transcend a life that often seems too much to bear, Celie begins writing letters directly to God. The letters, spanning twenty years, record a journey of self-discovery and empowerment guided by the light of a few strong women.
She meets Shug Avery, her husband’s mistress and a jazz singer with a zest for life, and her stepson’s wife, Sophia, who challenges her to fight for independence.
And though the many letters from Celie’s sister are hidden by her husband, Nettie’s unwavering support will prove to be the most breathtaking of all.
Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain.
Summary: The story begins in 1619 – a year before the Mayflower – when the White Lion disgorges “some 20-and-odd Negroes” onto the shores of Virginia, inaugurating the African presence in what would become the United States. It takes us to the present, when African Americans, descendants of those on the White Lion and a thousand other routes to this country, continue a journey defined by inhuman oppression, visionary struggles, stunning achievements, and millions of ordinary lives passing through extraordinary history.
Four Hundred Souls is a unique one-volume “community” history of African Americans. The editors, Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain, have assembled 90 brilliant writers, each of whom takes on a five-year period of that 400-year span. The writers explore their periods through a variety of techniques: historical essays, short stories, personal vignettes, and fiery polemics. They approach history from various perspectives: through the eyes of towering historical icons or the untold stories of ordinary people; through places, laws, and objects. While themes of resistance and struggle, of hope and reinvention, course through the book, this collection of diverse pieces from 90 different minds, reflecting 90 different perspectives, fundamentally deconstructs the idea that Africans in America are a monolith – instead it unlocks the startling range of experiences and ideas that have always existed within the community of Blackness.
Summary: “Objects hold history. They’re evocative of stories stamped in time. As part of The Washington Post’s coverage of the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture, people submitted dozens of objects that make up their own lived experiences of black history, creating a “people’s museum” of personal objects, family photos and more.
The Historically Black podcast brings those objects and their stories to life through interviews, archival sound and music. The Washington Post and APM Reports are proud to collaborate in presenting these rich personal histories, along with hosts Keegan-Michael Key, Roxane Gay, Issa Rae and Another Round hosts Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton.”
“In August of 1619, a ship carrying more than 20 enslaved Africans arrived in the English colony of Virginia. America was not yet America, but this was the moment it began. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the 250 years of slavery that followed. “1619,” an audio series hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones, tells this story.
The “1619” audio series is part of The 1619 Project, a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery.
Glory by Common & John Legend
Ella's Song written by Bernice Reagon, a Black Songwriter, song by Resistance Revival Chorus
Ella’s Song by Bernice Johnson Reagon, Originally recorded by Sweet Honey In The Rock.
“Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest.”
The words and lyrics of “Ella’s Song” come to the Resistance Revival Chorus from a long line of freedom fighters. This rallying anthem quoting the indelible words of civil rights leader Ella Baker was written by Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, one of the original SNCC Freedom Singers who later formed the a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock — one of our greatest inspirations in breathing joy and song into the resistance.”
Shot Down by Ledisi
Most streaming services have already created wide selections of movies, tv shows, documentaries, and more to chose from. Most platforms have built playlists that focus on Black stories and history and are constantly evolving and growing. Here are just a few of the many titles that we loved!