In the weeks since Minneapolis resident George Floyd’s death, America has undergone a racial awakening of unprecedented scope.
Protests against systemic racism and police brutality began May 27 and continue across the country. Backed by the public, civil rights activists have succeeded in initiating meaningful police reform in communities large and small. The nation has once again begun to reckon with its history of anti-Black oppression, which began in 1619 and continues today.
What makes this movement different, activists say, is its magnitude. Academics are calling this most recent uprising the largest in U.S. history. It has reached large, urban cities and tiny, rural villages. Mount Vernon played host to two “Justice for George Floyd” peaceful protests in June, with a combined total of nearly 1,000 people coming downtown to participate.
As America’s racial awakening continues, it’s become clear that people want to know more about the history of racism and inequity here. For weeks, the New York Times’ best-seller list has been dominated by books on those topics.
Here at Knox Pages, we wanted to provide a resource for local residents who wish to educate themselves on race relations. We also wanted to encourage our readers to buy their books from a locally owned bookstore.
That’s why we've teamed up with Knox Alliance for Racial Equality (K.A.R.E.) and Paragraphs Bookstore to craft a reading list for local residents. The list contains nationally acclaimed civil rights texts, as well as locally sourced books that explain Knox County’s history with race relations. It also includes young adult novels and picture books pertaining to the same topic.
All books listed are available for purchase at Paragraphs, located at 229 S. Main St. in downtown Mount Vernon. Readers are able to order online and have the books shipped, or they can pick them up in person.
K.A.R.E. co-chairs Sharon Metcalfe and Jim Singletary believe self-education is crucial to the process of creating a more just society. The process allows for not only learning, they said, but also personal reflection, exploration and self-improvement.
“It is apparent that we did not learn about this history in school when we were younger (especially my age and generation),” Metcalfe said in a statement. “It is critical that we stop the cycle of whitewashing history or only learning the history of the dominant culture.
“For too long, I didn’t even realize there were other pieces of history and I wasn’t learning the entire story. We need to teach our current teachers and students all sides of history as well as the ability to critically think. That is why it is so important to self-educate and read. Work to learn all of the information and then make informed choices. Right now, I think many White people are starting to ‘wake up’ and realize there is a great deal of which they are unaware.”
Paragraphs Manager Lois Hanson said many of the books that made this list have been in high-demand in recent weeks, as local residents have felt the need to self-educate.
“So many people want to read these books that the publishers can't keep them in stock,” said Hanson, adding that some might be on back-order.
While self-education is crucial, group opportunities are also available locally. A coalition of faith communities, institutions and leaders in Knox County have established a course titled “Overcoming Racism,” which is entering its fifth year this fall. Anyone is allowed to participate in the six-week course, which is centered around a different book each year and includes weekly discussions on the selected text.
This year’s class is set to begin Aug. 24, according to organizer Rev. Scott Elliott, of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Mount Vernon. The book being discussed is Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, an award-winning account of how local, state and federal governments have deliberately imposed racial segregation on metropolitan areas nationwide.
Group discussions will be held every Monday night for six weeks at First Church of the Nazarene on Coshocton Avenue. The hour-long conversations will take place on the outdoor pavilion, and masks and social distancing will be required. Anyone interested in attending the class is encouraged to check out the Overcoming Racism Facebook page, or email Elliott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“There are no prerequisites to attend this class,” Elliott said. “Everyone is invited for respectful and dynamic dialogue on overcoming racism.”
Without further ado, here is our collaborative list of must-read books for those interested in learning more about race and inequity – both locally and nationally – during the current civil rights movement:
Stamped From The Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
“From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of How to Be an Antiracist, the National Book Award-winning masterwork revealing how racist ideas were created, spread, and became deeply rooted in American society.”
White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson
"From the Civil War to our combustible present, White Rage reframes our continuing conversation about race, chronicling the powerful forces opposed to black progress in America--now in paperback with a new afterword by the author, acclaimed historian Carol Anderson."
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
“In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander tirelessly researches both the legal history of America's Jim Crow past and the current legal policies that contribute to the mass incarceration of black people. The text adds significantly to scholarship that contextualizes rates of incarceration among blacks and critiques of social and economic inequality.” -- Bruce Smith, Colorado State University Bookstore, Fort Collins, CO
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
“Coates writes about fear and its corrosive effects on our culture from a very personal perspective. He persuades us that we need a new way of understanding American history, a new story, and new names for ourselves and others in order for humanity to survive and thrive.
"Between the World and Me is urgently needed and should be required reading for everyone in America: high school and college students, church group members, business people, and especially all law enforcement and justice department personnel. This is a book I wish did not need to be written, but I am grateful to Coates for having the courage to share his views.” -- Liza Bernard (M), Norwich Bookstore, Norwich, VT
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
"At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin's early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document from the iconic author of If Beale Street Could Talk and Go Tell It on the Mountain. It consists of two "letters," written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism.
"Described by The New York Times Book Review as "sermon, ultimatum, confession, deposition, testament, and chronicle...all presented in searing, brilliant prose," The Fire Next Time stands as a classic of literature."
How To Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
“Ibram X. Kendi’s new book, How to Be an Antiracist, couldn’t come at a better time... Kendi has gifted us with a book that is not only an essential instruction manual but also a memoir of the author’s own path from anti-black racism to anti-white racism and, finally, to antiracism... How to Be an Antiracist gives us a clear and compelling way to approach, as Kendi puts it in his introduction, ‘the basic struggle we’re all in, the struggle to be fully human and to see that others are fully human.’" -- NPR
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
"In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life."
Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla Saad
"This eye-opening book challenges you to do the essential work of unpacking your biases, and helps white people take action and dismantle the privilege within themselves so that you can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on people of color, and in turn, help other white people do better, too."
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
"In So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo guides readers of all races through subjects ranging from intersectionality and affirmative action to "model minorities" in an attempt to make the seemingly impossible possible: honest conversations about race and racism, and how they infect almost every aspect of American life."
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
"Widely heralded as a “masterful” (Washington Post) and “essential” (Slate) history of the modern American metropolis, Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law offers “the most forceful argument ever published on how federal, state, and local governments gave rise to and reinforced neighborhood segregation” (William Julius Wilson).
"Exploding the myth of de facto segregation arising from private prejudice or the unintended consequences of economic forces, Rothstein describes how the American government systematically imposed residential segregation: with undisguised racial zoning; public housing that purposefully segregated previously mixed communities; subsidies for builders to create whites-only suburbs; tax exemptions for institutions that enforced segregation; and support for violent resistance to African Americans in white neighborhoods.
"A groundbreaking, “virtually indispensable” study that has already transformed our understanding of twentieth-century urban history (Chicago Daily Observer), The Color of Law forces us to face the obligation to remedy our unconstitutional past."
White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
"In this "vital, necessary, and beautiful book” (Michael Eric Dyson), antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo deftly illuminates the phenomenon of white fragility and “allows us to understand racism as a practice not restricted to ‘bad people’ (Claudia Rankine). Referring to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially, white fragility is characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and by behaviors including argumentation and silence.
"These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and prevent any meaningful cross-racial dialogue. In this in-depth exploration, DiAngelo examines how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what we can do to engage more constructively."
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum
"Walk into any racially mixed high school and you will see Black, White, and Latino youth clustered in their own groups. Is this self-segregation a problem to address or a coping strategy? Beverly Daniel Tatum, a renowned authority on the psychology of racism, argues that straight talk about our racial identities is essential if we are serious about enabling communication across racial and ethnic divides.
"These topics have only become more urgent as the national conversation about race is increasingly acrimonious. This fully revised edition is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the dynamics of race in America."
We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates
"'We were eight years in power' was the lament of Reconstruction-era black politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. In this sweeping collection of new and selected essays, Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time: the unprecedented election of a black president followed by a vicious backlash that fueled the election of the man Coates argues is America’s “first white president.”
"But the story of these present-day eight years is not just about presidential politics. This book also examines the new voices, ideas, and movements for justice that emerged over this period—and the effects of the persistent, haunting shadow of our nation’s old and unreconciled history. Coates powerfully examines the events of the Obama era from his intimate and revealing perspective—the point of view of a young writer who begins the journey in an unemployment office in Harlem and ends it in the Oval Office, interviewing a president."
Way Up North in Dixie: A Black Family's Claim to the Confederate Anthem by Howard and Judith Sacks
"This book traces the lives of the Snowdens, an African American family of musicians and farmers living in rural Knox County, Ohio. Howard L. Sacks and Judith Rose Sacks examine the Snowdens' musical and social exchanges with rural whites from the 1850s through the early 1920s and provide a detailed exploration of the claim that the Snowden family taught the song "Dixie" to Dan Emmett – the white musician and blackface minstrel credited with writing the song.
"This edition features a new introduction in which the authors discuss the public response to this controversial claim, and present new information on the Snowdens' musical and social experiences."
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Overcome: My Life in Pursuit of a Dream by Dr. Ellmae Simmons
"Tracing the unforgettable tale of a little black girl from a small Ohio town who dared to dream above her station, this memoir captures the larger history of black people in America, from the arrival of Ellamae Simmons' ancestors aboard a slaving vessel in 1775, to the electrifying election of the nation's first African American president.
"Ellamae came of age at a time when even the most gifted Negro girls were expected to become domestics in white homes. But Ellamae yearned to study medicine, and she set about creating a world in which she could do just that. For most of her 97 years, she has been writing her story of struggle and triumph against the odds, refusing to let disappointment or heartbreak turn her aside.
"Delving into themes of inclusion and social justice, education and mental health, marriage and family, this is the story of a woman who wasn't content to just witness history, she went out and made her own."
Young adult books:
» Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds (Hardcover)
» Sulwe by Lupita Nyong'o and Vashti Harrison (Hardcover)
» I Am Enough by Grace Byers and Keturah A. Bobo (Hardcover)
» Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins and Ann Hazzard (Hardcover)
» The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson (Hardcover)
» All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman (Hardcover)
» I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes and Bryan Collier (Hardcover)