Monday, January 16th is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Instead of treating the occasion as just another federal holiday and long weekend, we might want to consider the greater historical significance of the occasion. For some of us that might mean participating in Martin Luther King Jr’s Day of Service by volunteering within the community. Opportunities can be found on this website. Or if you don’t have time, you can donate money, even small amounts are always welcome, to a worthwhile organization. But MLK Day is also a chance to reflect on our nation’s history, and this seems especially important at a time when our country appears to be more divided than ever. Consider adding the following books then to your reading list. Click on a title to buy on Amazon.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (1963) While Baldwin is primarily remembered as one of America’s foremost novelists, (who also happened to be black and homosexual) he was a renowned essayist as well. The Fire Next Time contains two essays; one written in the form of a letter to Baldwin’s 14 year old nephew discusses the role of race in American History. The second essay deals with how race intersects with religion. It received enthusiastic critical reception and is considered one of the most influential books on racial relations to be written in the 1960’s. Indeed, Jacquelyn Dowd Hall used Baldwin’s work as the foundation for her article on the Civil Rights Movement then led…by Martin Luther King Jr.
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler (1979) The late, great Octavia Butler, one of the most visionary authors in sci-fi, crossed genres in this best-selling novel that is one part time travel tale and one part slave narrative. African American woman writer Dana finds herself routinely being shuffled back and forth between her modern California life with her white husband and a pre-Civil war plantation. On the plantation she meets her ancestors; a spoiled, petty, unstable white slave owner and the proud black woman he forces to become his slave and concubine.
The Known World by Edward P. Jones (2003) Set in antebellum Virginia, Jones examines issues of ownership of black slaves by both white and black owners. Besides being a captivating account of parts of history now forgotten, Jones also uses incredible lyric prose with the ability to layer stories upon stories in a non-linear fashion that is truly magical. Small wonder it won the National Book Award AND the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2004.
The Rebellious Life Of Mrs. Rosa Parks by Jeanna Theoharis (2014) The popular legend of Rosa Parks is that of a quiet seamstress who just refused to give up her seat, accidentally setting off a movement in the process. The real story though, as Theoharis exhaustively documents was that of a determined and dynamic activist whose act of rebellion on the bus that day was only one small part of a lifetime of resistance. Hailed by Henry Louis Gates Jr, Melissa Harris-Perry, and The New York Times Book Review, it also won the 2014 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work.
Between the World And Me by Ta Nehisi Coates (2015) Nehisi Coates is one of the most brilliant and insightful columnists/journalists alive today. (He also happens to be the current writer of Marvel Comic’s Black Panther series and his work there has been highly acclaimed as well.) This memoir styled as a series of letters to his teenaged sons, touches on his own childhood in the rough streets of Baltimore, his experience at Howard University, constructions of race, and Black Lives Matter among other issues. It was a New York Times Bestseller, a Pulitzer Prize Finalist, a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, winner of the NAACP Image Award Winner, Winner of the National Book Award and named one of the Ten Best Books of the Year by The New York Times.
Winnie’s book, The Dog-Walking Diaries – A Year in the Life of an Autistic Dog-Walker, can be bought for the dog lover in your life by clicking here to purchase on Amazon.