Don’t Know Much About African American History? A 2 Dope Reading List

Released in 1960, Sam Cooke sang and co-wrote the single “Wonderful World,” the first line of which is:

Don’t know much about history. . .

As Da Hype 1 and I planned our posts for Black History Month, we decided that we wanted to include a list of must-read books for the 2 Dope Sistahs blog. Of course, there are many such lists on other blogs and websites, but we still wanted to provide our recommendations as well. Between a literary scholar and a historian, this proved to be an overwhelming task. I had 48 books on my preliminary list, and I wasn’t sure how to narrow it. There were just too many books, and, of course, I thought people should read all of them.

After much agonizing, I decided to focus on books I would recommend to those who “Don’t know much about African American history.” I thought of my friend who was always wanted me to teach him because he hadn’t taken any history classes in college. I also considered books that I have chosen for my African-American history survey courses over the years. And I wanted to select books that have moved me. Finally, I thought it was best not to overwhelm readers with a long list or declare this as the definitive “must-read” list. The final product, I hope, is a list of six titles that will be helpful for those who are new to African American history and that it will encourage them to read more.

NarrativeDouglass

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, Written by Himself, 1845.

HistoryMaryPrince

Mary Prince, History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, Related by Herself, 1831.

White_ArntIWoman

Deborah Gray White, Ar’n’t I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South, Revised Edition, 1999.

WoodsonMiseducation

Carter G. Woodson, The Miseducation of the Negro, 1933.

DuBois_Souls

W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903.

Diop_AfricanOrigin

Cheikh Anta Diop, The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality, 1974.

The great thing about this list is that many of these titles available on the web free or charge or for a nominal fee for e-readers. Enjoy!

*Thanks to my colleagues and friends, Drs. Tiwanna Simpson and Cherisse Jones-Branch, whom I consulted as I was compiling this list.

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Foto Friday: Springfield Race Riot

Springfield, Illinois is the home of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Springfield was also the site of a race riot in August 1908. Sculptures commemorating the riot are located across the street from the Lincoln Museum.

A scene from the Springfield Race Riot

A scene from the Springfield Race Riot

The outrage from the riot led to the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909.

Please click here for more on the history of the race riot.

"Acts of Intolerance"

“Acts of Intolerance”

This sculpture by Preston Jackson was inspired by photographs of the riot’s aftermath.

Springfield Race Riot marker

Springfield Race Riot marker

Historical marker, Union Square Park, Springfield, Illinois.

Springfield3

Close-up of sculpture.

Springfield2

Close-up of sculpture.

Foto Friday: Sojourner Truth

In honor of Black History and Women’s History months, 2 Dope Sistahs will be posting photos of our visits to historical sites on Foto Fridays. This week’s pictures are from Battle Creek, Michigan, where anti-slavery and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth lived for more than twenty years.

Sojourner Truth carte de visite

Sojourner Truth carte de visite, sold to support herself.

Sojourner Truth (c. 1797-November 26, 1883) was born into slavery in Ulster County, New York at the end of the 18th century. Known as Isabella (or Isabella Baumfree/Bomefree), she freed herself (walked away) from slavery in 1826. An advocate for abolition and women’s rights, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth in 1843. Truth’s narrative, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, is available on the web and can be downloaded free of charge. Click here.

SojournerTruth1

Sojourner Truth Monument in Battle Creek, Michigan

12-foot statue of Sojourner Truth at Monument Park

SojournerTruth3

Sojourner Truth’s signature, from April 1880, Sojourner Truth Monument

Sojourner Truth was unable to read and write, but the above is a representation of her signature.

SojournerTruth5

Headstone, Oak Hill Cemetery, Battle Creek, Michigan

Sojourner Truth is buried at the Oak Hill Cemetery. This stone marker was installed in 1946 by the Sojourner Truth Memorial Association. It replaced the original gravestone.

SojournerTruth6

Historical marker, Oak Hill Cemetery

Several members of Truth’s family are also buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

Underground Railroad Memorial

Underground Railroad Memorial

Although it honors Harriet Tubman and other Underground Railroad “conductors” rather than Sojourner Truth, I decided to include the above picture. This 14-foot statue is also located in Battle Creek.

Still talking about Slavery in 2013: Why 12 Years a Slave Now?

If you watched the Academy Awards last night, you may be luxuriating in the afterglow of 12 Years a Slave’s Best Writing, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Motion Picture wins. Therefore, I thought it was a good time to revisit Da Hype 1‘s post on slave narratives. To her credit, she realized the importance of 12 Years a Slave some time ago.

Why We Write/Talk about Slavery

Harriet Jacobs, author of The Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Harriet Jacobs, author of The Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

I have been teaching African American literature for more than a decade now. During this time, I have taught a number of narratives that address the subject matter of slavery. In fact, during Fall semesters, I teach a course called The Slave Experience. When teaching these courses, my students and I often discuss, “Why it is important to continue to write/talk about slavery?” This question has arisen in the mainstream media and in social media lately, with the movie release of Solomon Northrup’s narrative, 12 Years a Slave.

I teach about the subject matter of America’s institution of slavery for a number of reasons, but the one that seems to be the most pronounced for me and for my students is the fact that we (others who study slavery and other human atrocities) want to be connected to, give voice to, and honor the humanity of those who have been robbed of the status of “human.” My classes are filled with students who elect to take a course on slavery that is not required because they genuinely believe that by better understanding the experience of American slavery, they will be better citizens and better humans. For me, this is what education in the humanities is all about.

Writing/Righting the Accounts of Slavery

Below, you will find a list of some accounts of slavery. I decided to list both fictional and non-fictional accounts because there is so much to learn from them both.

Traditional/Conventional Slave Narratives

Frederick Douglass, author of A Narrative in the Life of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass, author of A Narrative in the Life of Frederick Douglass

This list consists of narratives written by or dictated by slaves themselves, once they escaped bondage. Those who were incapable of writing themselves, often received help from others to chronicle their experiences. These narratives were primarily written as a way of validating (or give witness to) the horrors of slavery, in hopes that the escaped slave’s story could support the abolitionists in emancipating all of those still enslaved.

The conventions of the writing reveals that those who escaped were gracious enough to not only tell their personal stories, but they also wanted to give voice to all who were still silenced and victimized by slavery. They had to tell the stories of how they escaped carefully, without revealing too many details of those who aided them to “freedom”. Assisting a slave in escaping slavery was a federal crime and it could result in prison time or worse for all of those caught participating.

This is only a short list of slave narratives:

  1. Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789)
  2. Mary Prince, The History of Mary Prince (1831)
  3. Frederick Douglass, A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845)
  4. Henry Bibb, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave, Written by Himself (1849)
  5. Henry Box Brown, Narrative of Henry Box Brown, Who Escaped from Slavery Enclosed in a Box 3 Feet Long and 2 Wide (1849)
  6. Josiah Henson, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself (1849)
  7. Solomon Northrup,12 Years a Slave (1853)
  8. Harriet Wilson, Our Nig (1859)
  9. William Craft, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; or, The Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery (1860)
  10. Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)

Neo-slave Narratives

Gayl Jones's Corregidora

Gayl Jones’s Corregidora

Not to be confused with conventional or traditional slave narratives, the genre of literature often called the “neo-slave” narrative, consists of works of fiction that address the institution of slavery. Generally speaking, there are two types of neo-slave narratives: a.) works that have the institution of slavery as its setting, and b.) works that revisit slavery within a contemporary context.

Oftentimes, the narratives were based on actual documented accounts of slavery, as in the case of Beloved, which is loosely based on the experiences of Margaret Garner. These contemporary writers took the opportunity to address, without the rules and conventions of the 19th century, the realities of slavery that perhaps the traditional slave narratives could not. For example, 19th century works of fiction could not explicitly address the sexual violence black women experienced in slavery because the writers did not want to jeopardize the Abolitionist Movement by offending supporters of the movement with their stories of being raped by white slave masters. After all, no one wanted to address the rape culture that existed in American Slavery.

Octavia Butler's Kindred

Octavia Butler’s Kindred

Below, you will find a list of some neo-slave narratives. This list is, by no way, exhaustive:

  1. William Wells Brown, Clotel (1853)
  2. Margaret Walker, Jubilee (1960)
  3. Gayl Jones, Corregidora (1975)
  4. Alex Haley, Roots (1976)
  5. Ishmael Reed, Flight to Canada (1976)
  6. Octavia Butler, Kindred (1979)
  7. Sherley Anne Williams, Dessa Rose (1986)
  8. Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)
  9. J. California Cooper, Family (1991)
  10. Toni Morrison, A Mercy (2008)

Please share with us your experiences reading these narratives.

Foto Friday: Black History Month Project

At 2 Dope Sistahs we want to support other scholars. On this last day of February, we are using our Foto Friday: Black History Month Edition to introduce the work of a budding young scholar named “Nina.” She is Da Hype 1’s daughter. While other first-graders at her school submitted poster projects on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks, Nina is an independent thinker who decided her Black History Month project would be on Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm.

Nina's project

Nina’s project

As you can see, Nina has incorporated the Shirley Chisholm Black Heritage stamp into her project.

NinaProject2

I hope you have enjoyed Nina’s awesome poster. Take note; we may be looking at the work of a future artist, literary scholar, engineer, historian, or even a princess.

Did your young scholar have a Black History Month project? Well, don’t be bashful. Send us a picture on Twitter or Facebook. We’d love to see it.

Don’t Know Much About African American History? A Reading List

Released in 1960, Sam Cooke sang and co-wrote the single “Wonderful World,” the first line of which is:

Don’t know much about history. . .

As Da Hype 1 and I planned our posts for Black History Month, we decided that we wanted to include a list of must-read books for the 2 Dope Sistahs blog. Of course, there are many such lists on other blogs and websites, but we still wanted to provide our recommendations as well. Between a literary scholar and a historian, this proved to be an overwhelming task. I had 48 books on my preliminary list, and I wasn’t sure how to narrow it. There were just too many books, and, of course, I thought people should read all of them.

After much agonizing, I decided to focus on books I would recommend to those who “Don’t know much about African American history.” I thought of my friend who was always wanted me to teach him because he hadn’t taken any history classes in college. I also considered books that I have chosen for my African-American history survey courses over the years. And I wanted to select books that have moved me. Finally, I thought it was best not to overwhelm readers with a long list or declare this as the definitive “must-read” list. The final product, I hope, is a list of six titles that will be helpful for those who are new to African American history and that it will encourage them to read more.

NarrativeDouglass

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, Written by Himself, 1845.

HistoryMaryPrince

Mary Prince, History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, Related by Herself, 1831.

White_ArntIWoman

Deborah Gray White, Ar’n’t I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South, Revised Edition, 1999.

WoodsonMiseducation

Carter G. Woodson, The Miseducation of the Negro, 1933.

DuBois_Souls

W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903.

Diop_AfricanOrigin

Cheikh Anta Diop, The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality, 1974.

The great thing about this list is that many of these titles available on the web free or charge or for a nominal fee for e-readers. Enjoy!

*Thanks to my colleagues and friends, Drs. Tiwanna Simpson and Cherisse Jones-Branch, whom I consulted as I was compiling this list.

Our Favorite Civil Rights Books

The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington has 2 Dope Sistahs thinking about the Civil Rights Movement. Often the narrative is decidedly male-centered, so we decided to share some our favorite books that focus on women’s activism.

wcover[1]

Melba Patillo Beals, Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High

annemoody

Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi

4freedomssake

Chana Kai Lee, For Freedom’s Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer

LettersFromMS

Elizabeth Martinez, ed., Letters from Mississippi: Reports from Civil Rights Volunteers and Freedom School Poetry of the 1964 Freedom Summer

soulisrested

Howell Raines, My Soul is Rested: Movement Days in the Deep South Remembered

BusBoycott

Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It: The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson

light-of-freedom[1]

Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle

EllaBaker

Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement

trailblazers

Vicki L. Crawford, Jacqueline Anne Rouse, Barbara Woods, eds., Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearers, 1941-1965

freedomsdaughters

Lynee Olson, Freedom’s Daughters : The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement

Hey 2Dope Readers, did we miss your favorite? Don’t be shy. Leave us a comment and tell us your favorite titles!!!

_________________________

There are great resources on the internet. We have included a few links below:

Malcolm X vs. Bayard Rustin Debate (January 1962)

Martin Luther King, Jr., A Letter From a Birmingham Jail (April 1963)

Martin Luther King, Jr., Speech at the Great March on Detroit (June 1963)

Fannie Lou Hamer’s Testimony, Democratic National Convention (August 1964)

Foto Friday: Laura Plantation

This installment of Foto Friday, Black History Month Edition, features pictures that I took at Laura Plantation (formerly Duparc Plantation), a 37-acre plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana. Named for Laura Locoul Gore, this sugar plantation was built in the early 19th century and is on the National Register of Historic Places as well as the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail. There are 12 original buildings, including slave quarters. This plantation is thought to be the site where Alcée Fortier collected the folktales from African-American freedpeople that became known as the Brer Rabbit tales.

My good friend and colleague Tiwanna Simpson and I visited it in 2003, when it was in the process of being restored. (I can’t believe it’s been that long!) Since then, there has been a fire that destroyed much of the house and of course Hurricane Katrina, but the restoration was finally completed in 2011. Daily tours focus on lives and lifestyle of Creole owners of the plantation. We learned very little about the enslaved people on the plantation. (Hopefully, that has changed.) We were told that there was a different tour, “the adult tour,” which focused on the enslaved people.

Laura1

Plantation Big House, erected 1804

View from the Big House

View from the Big House

The plantation was built on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Skilled workmanship

Skilled workmanship (left)

I was so glad that Dr. Simpson encouraged me to take this picture, although I didn’t know why at the time. The exposed brick shows the original brick (left) and an addition from the late 19th century. Skilled enslaved people built this home in the early 19th century. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that enslaved people had no skills.

Slave Cabins

Slave Cabins

Enslaved people (and later freedpeople) lived in these cabins on Laura plantation.

Close-up of a cabin

Close-up of a cabin

This cabin has been restored.

Do the Right Thing: The Central Park Five

balanceOn January 1, 2014, Bill de Blasio was sworn in as  the 109th mayor of New York City, the first liberal to hold that office in twenty years. The selection of the leader of the nation’s largest city always garners national attention, and November’s election was no different. Aside from the focus on his proposed policies, de Blasio’s multiracial family (his African-American wife, Chirlane McCray, and their children Chiara and Dante) was fodder for pop culture.

However, it was not de Blasio’s personal life that interested me, but his ideas of reform and righting wrongs. He has pledged to end the stop-and-frisk policy and to “settle the Central Park Five case because a huge injustice has been done.” Although in this case, justice delayed is justice denied, I am hopeful that de Blasio will “do the right thing” and end the city’s legal battle over this case.

In 1989, New York mayor Ed Koch called the sensational, racially charged Central Park Jogger case “the crime of the century.” On the night of  April 19, a 28-year-old, white investment banker–later identified as Trish Meili– was brutally beaten and raped while jogging through Central Park. The police quickly set their sights on a large group of African-American and Latino teens who were in Central Park, some of them harassing and even beating others in the park.

From the larger group of young men in the park that night, the police focused on Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Kharey Wise. The young men, who were between 14 and 16 years old, became known as “The Central Park Five.” Although they all denied their participation in a rape at first, after being interrogated by police for hours on end (between 14 and 30 without attorneys or parents present) and being deprived of sleep, food, and drink, the frightened young men began to turn on each other.

The 2012 Ken Burns documentary, “The Central Park Five,” tells the story of these young men. They contend that their confessions were obtained under duress, that they only parroted stories fed to them by the police, falsely believing that their “confessions” would allow them to return home to their families. However, the confessions–although recanted–sealed their fates. The Five were charged with a number of felonies including rape, attempted murder, sodomy, sexual abuse, and robbery.

Kevin Richardson was convinced that “the truth is gonna come out.” There was no DNA evidence that linked the five teenagers to the crime. In addition, their confessions told conflicting stories about where the crime took place and even the manner in which it was committed. Nevertheless, in two separate trials in 1990, the young men were convicted and sentenced to serve between 5 and 15 years in prison.

McCray, Richardson, Salaam and Santana were all released having served nearly

The Central Park Five (2012), a film by Ken and Sarah Burns.

The Central Park Five (2012), a film by Ken and Sarah Burns.

seven years in prison, leaving only Kharey Wise in prison. In 2001, Wise crossed paths with Matias Reyes. Years earlier the two had an altercation at Rikers Island Correctional Institution while they were being held there. Matias, a serial rapist, had confessed to a series of rapes and a murder when he was apprehended in August 1989. After talking to Wise, Matias, who had “found religion” during his incarceration, realized that Wise had been convicted of a crime he committed. He decided to “do the right thing” and confess to his involvement in the Central Park Rape. In addition, the DNA evidence matched Reyes to the rape.

In 2001, the defense requested that the guilty verdicts of the Central Park Five be overturned. Their convictions were vacated in 2002, and in 2003, the “Central Park Five” filed suit against the prosecutors and the police department for $250 million. At this point, the case remains unresolved, with the next hearing scheduled for January 21. No amount of money can give these men back the youth they missed in prison. So, it’s not exactly justice, but it’s a start. Let’s hope that Mayor de Blasio will “do the right thing.”

Related Articles and Posts:

Foto Friday: Sojourner Truth

In honor of Black History Month, 2 Dope Sistahs will be posting pictures of our visits to historical sites on Foto Fridays. This week’s posts are from Battle Creek, Michigan, where Sojourner Truth lived for more than twenty years.

Sojourner Truth carte de visite

Sojourner Truth carte de visite, sold to support herself.

Sojourner Truth (c. 1797-November 26, 1883) was born into slavery in Ulster County, New York at the end of the 18th century. Known as Isabella (or Isabella Baumfree/Bomefree), she freed herself (walked away) from slavery in 1826. An advocate for abolition and women’s rights, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth in 1843. Truth’s narrative, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, is available on the web and can be downloaded free of charge. Click here.

SojournerTruth1

Sojourner Truth Monument in Battle Creek, Michigan

12-foot statue of Sojourner Truth at Monument Park

SojournerTruth3

Sojourner Truth’s signature, from April 1880, Sojourner Truth Monument

Sojourner Truth was unable to read and write, but the above is a representation of her signature.

SojournerTruth5

Headstone, Oak Hill Cemetery, Battle Creek, Michigan

Sojourner Truth is buried at the Oak Hill Cemetery. This stone marker was installed in 1946 by the Sojourner Truth Memorial Association. It replaced the original gravestone.

SojournerTruth6

Historical marker, Oak Hill Cemetery

Several members of Truth’s family are also buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

Underground Railroad Memorial

Underground Railroad Memorial

Although it honors Harriet Tubman and other Underground Railroad “conductors” rather than Sojourner Truth, I decided to include the above picture. This 14-foot statue is also located in Battle Creek.