February is Black History Month so I thought a new book list was in order. Rather than focusing on the “big name” heroes in black history like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., I thought we could focus on some unsung heroes and previously untold stories instead.
#1 – THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS by Isabel Wilkerson
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life.
She tells the story through the lives of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago, where she achieved quiet blue-collar success and, in old age, voted for Barack Obama when he ran for an Illinois Senate seat; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem, where he endangered his job fighting for civil rights, saw his family fall, and finally found peace in God; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue a medical career, the personal physician to Ray Charles as part of a glitteringly successful medical career, which allowed him to purchase a grand home where he often threw exuberant parties.
Wilkerson brilliantly captures their first treacherous and exhausting cross-country trips by car and train and their new lives in colonies that grew into ghettos, as well as how they changed these cities with southern food, faith, and culture and improved them with discipline, drive, and hard work. The Warmth of Other Suns is a bold, remarkable, riveting work and a superb account of an “unrecognized immigration” within our own land.
#2 – THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS by Rebecca Skloot
Skloot brilliantly weaves together the story of Henrietta Slacks–a women whose cells have been unwittingly used for scientific research since the 1950s–with the birth of bioethics, and the dark history of experimentation on African Americans.
#3 – THE HEMINGSES OF MONTICELLO by Annette Gordon-Reed
This Pulitzer Prize winning work was named a best book of the year by the Washington Post, Time, the Los Angeles Times, Amazon, the San Francisco Chronicle, and a notable book by the New York Times. It tells the story of the Hemings family, whose close blood ties to our third president had been systematically expunged from American history until very recently. Now, historian and legal scholar Annette Gordon-Reed traces the Hemings family from its origins in Virginia in the 1700s to the family’s dispersal after Jefferson’s death in 1826.
#4 – THE OTHER WES MOORE by Wes Moore
Two kids with the same name were born blocks apart in the same decaying city within a year of each other. One grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, army officer, White House Fellow, and business leader. The other is serving a life sentence in prison. Here is the story of two boys and the journey of a generation.
#5 – LABOR OF LOVE, LABOR OF SORROW by Jacqueline Jones
The forces that shaped the institution of slavery in the American South endured, albeit in altered form, long after slavery was abolished. Toiling in sweltering Virginia tobacco factories or in the kitchens of white families in Chicago, black women felt a stultifying combination of racial discrimination and sexual prejudice. And yet, in their efforts to sustain family ties, they shared a common purpose with wives and mothers of all classes.
In Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow, historian Jacqueline Jones offers a powerful account of the changing role of black women, lending a voice to an unsung struggle from the depths of slavery to the ongoing fight for civil rights.