Black History Month is as much about rediscovery as it is about celebration and commemoration. At Beacon Press, the books we publish that cover black history reintroduce us to long-forgotten or hidden historical figures, unearth information previously unknown about prominent black leaders, bring us closer to the struggles and triumphs of African ancestors. In the current age of #BlackLivesMatter and other movements that compel us to evaluate our country’s progress in racial justice, it’s important to get reacquainted with the steps black forerunners have taken—and their history—so we can see how to step forward. For this year's Black History Month, we're recommending a list of new and older titles offering biographies, histories, memoir, and more.
Editors Devon W. Carbado and Donald Weise collected twelve first-person narratives spanning eight decades, all told in the voices of the runaway slaves themselves, that reveal the extraordinary and innovative ways these men and women sought freedom and demanded citizenship. More than half of the inspiring narratives in this collection, the first book about the runaway slave phenomenon, had been long out of print. The Long Walk to Freedom also includes an essay by history professor Brenda Stevenson that gives a context for these narratives, a comprehensive brief history of slavery, and a look into the daily life of a slave.
This is the second entry of our Montgomery Bus Boycott Turns 60 Series. About two months into the Montgomery Bus Boycott, times start to become dangerous for Martin Luther King, Jr. and his family. Death threats over the phone are coming in daily to King’s home, most of which Coretta Scott King answers. Aware of his role as a leader, Dr. King turns to his faith for strength and resolve in the face of danger. Sixty years ago today, the danger arrives on his porch in the form of a bomb. This excerpt from Stride Toward Freedom brings us close to the reality of fear Dr. King lived with, and the resilience of the King family.
One night toward the end of January I settled into bed late, after a strenuous day. Coretta had already fallen asleep and just as I was about to doze off the telephone rang. An angry voice said, “Listen, nigger, we’ve taken all we want from you; before next week you’ll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery.” I hung up, but I couldn’t sleep. It seemed that all of my fears had come down on me at once. I had reached the saturation point.
Every year, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is celebrated as one of the greatest orators in US history, an ambassador for nonviolence who became perhaps the most recognizable leader of the civil rights movement. But after more than forty years, few people appreciate how truly radical he was. For Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we present to you an excerpt of Cornel West’s introduction to The Radical King—now available in paperback—a collection of Dr. King's writings curated by Dr. West. In it, he unearths the Dr. King the FBI and the US government knew to be radical, every bit as radical as Malcolm X.
I’ll never forget meeting Sid Mintz, who passed away last month. I was a young(ish) book editor at Beacon Press, hoping to develop our anthropology list. Why not start at the top? Years earlier, Sid had transformed the fields of both history and anthropology with the publication of Sweetness and Power, which was no less than a retelling of the rise of capitalism through the story of sugar. Sid invited me to lunch at the Baltimore Museum of Art. I was nervous.
Headquarters for the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: Cacophony
Two polarized positions mark the ongoing debate in the United States over gun violence, mass killings, and armed citizen militias, such as the militias that seized federal land in Oregon on January 2. These positions rest on the text and interpretation of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution: A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The gun lobby and its constituency argue that the Second Amendment guarantees the right for every citizen to bear arms, while gun control advocates maintain that the Second Amendment is about states having a militia, emphasizing the language of “well regulated,” and that this is manifest in the existing National Guard.
Sixty years have passed since the Montgomery Bus Boycott. We at Beacon are commemorating the anniversary of this milestone in civil rights history with a series that highlights key events and players in the boycott’s timeline. The first entry in our series is an excerpt from Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, Dr. King’s account of applying the large-scale nonviolent resistance movement that desegregated the Montgomery buses. Rosa Parks has just been arrested for not giving up her seat on the Cleveland Avenue bus. Once the news reaches Dr. King and the proposal of a boycott starts floating around, he, along with a number of others, knows it’s time to act.
On December 1, 1955, an attractive Negro seamstress, Mrs. Rosa Parks, boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus in downtown Montgomery. She was returning home after her regular day’s work in the Montgomery Fair, a leading department store. Tired from long hours on her feet, Mrs. Parks sat down in the first seat behind the section reserved for whites. Not long after she took her seat, the bus operator ordered her, along with three other Negro passengers, to move back in order to accommodate boarding white passengers. By this time every seat in the bus was taken. This meant that if Mrs. Parks followed the driver’s command she would have to stand while a white male passenger, who had just boarded the bus, would sit. The other three Negro passengers immediately complied with the driver’s request. But Mrs. Parks quietly refused. The result was her arrest.
Montgomery comrades Rosa Parks and Virginia Durr come together in South Hadley, Massachusetts, 1981. Photo credit: Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives, Portrait Collection.
Today’s theme for University Press Week is Presses in Conversation with Authors. In our entry in the blog tour, our executive editor Gayatri Patnaik interviews Jeanne Theoharis, author of the 2014 NAACP Image Award-winning The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks. Theoharis is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College of CUNY and the author of numerous books and articles on the civil rights and Black Power movements, and the politics of race in contemporary America. She is also series editor for a new Beacon Press series, Stride Toward Justice: Confronting Race, Gender & Class in the United States. The series offers progressive voices writing on and at the intersection of race, gender and class and is an urgent response to the injustices of our times and the ideas that hide and sustain them. Theoharis’s coeditor for the series is Melissa Harris-Perry, Presidential Endowed Chair in Politics and International Affairs, the director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center at Wake Forest University, and host of Melissa Harris-Perry, which airs weekend mornings on MSNBC.
George Orwell’s 1984 taught us that language—and who uses it—truly does matter. In the case of educating Texan youth about American history, language matters a great deal. McGraw-Hill Education’s current geography textbook, approved for Texas high schools, refers to African slaves as “workers” in a chapter on immigration patterns. Other linguistic sleights of hand include using the passive voice to obscure slave owner’s brutal treatment of slaves. It appears we have a Ministry of Truth at work after all, just like the one where Orwell’s ill-fated hero Winston Smith worked, rewriting history. The fact is especially disconcerting, as Texas is the largest consumer of textbooks.
I wrote The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks to challenge the limited stories and troubled uses of Parks and the movement. There was nothing natural or passive about what Rosa Parks did but rather something fiercely determined. It was not a singular act but part of her larger lifelong history of activism, a string of acts of bus resistance in the years preceding her stand, and a collective uprising following her arrest that led to a mass movement in Montgomery. To the end of her life, Parks believed the struggle for racial justice was not over and she continued to press for more change in the United States.
Dan Wilkins, Director of Public Relations for the Ability Center of Greater Toledo, and Nicholas Hyndman, University of Toledo student double-majoring in Disability Studies and Business Administration. Photo credit: Kim E. Nielsen
“I’ve never been this excited about my education before,” my student said as we discussed his undergraduate B.A. degree in Disability Studies. Then he laughed at himself with astonishment. Because of his commitment to the topic, he also was working harder in his college coursework than he ever had before; and he’d never imagined that academic hard work and excitement could go together. This student, like all of our students, came to the University of Toledo’s Disability Studies Program seeking a future job (for himself) and justice (for all).
Members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andris Nelsons
On Monday, October 5th, I had the privilege to join Helene Atwan, our director, and Tom Hallock, our associate publisher and director of sales and marketing, at Boston Symphony Hall for the Terezín Music Foundation’s 2015 Gala, “Liberation: A Concert Honoring the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Nazi Camps.” This celebration perfectly timed with the release of Liberation: New Works on Freedom from Internationally Renowned Poets, a poetry anthology edited and introduced by Mark Ludwig, the executive director of the Terezín Music Foundation.
The concert, featuring works by composers commissioned to set poems from the collection to music, began with a candle lighting to honor the liberators and survivors with members of the Hawthorne String Quartet beautifully playing in the background. The Boston Children’s Chorus performed two pieces, “The Day of Light,” composed by David Post and dedicated to Hanka Krasa, and “The Song About the Child,” composed by Sivan Eldar.
The most frequent question readers ask about An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States is: "Why hasn't this book been written before?" I'm flattered by that question, because it's the one I ask about texts that deeply move me; at the same time the information, argument, or story is new to me, it seems that it was already hidden in the recesses of my brain or heart, a truth. I knew the story I wanted to tell when I set out to write the book, part of Beacon Press's ReVisioning American History series, but that didn't make it easier to transfer to paper. Writing and rewriting, I discovered the story, just as my readers do as they read it.
But why hasn't this book been written before? We believe we don't suffer censorship in the U.S., but we do. Rather than being mandated by the government, historians self-censor in response to institutionalized policing of the parameters of what's acceptable and what will be marginalized. William Burroughs's narrator in his 1984 novel, The Place of Dead Roads, observes that "people are not bribed to shut up about what they know. They are bribed not to find out...Now, Americans are told they should think. But just wait until your thinking is basically different...You will find out that you AREN'T supposed to think." This is particularly true in the writing of our history. It's not a free speech issue but one of asking questions that challenge the core of the scripted narrative. Historians are validated to the extent that they remain guardians of the United States origin myth.
Edith Barksdale Sloan speaking at the first national conference of household workers, in 1971. (Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site, National Archives for Black Women’s History)
I’d been following the domestic workers movement here in Massachusetts as they campaigned to pass the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. In 2014, Massachusetts became the fourth state to approve the domestic workers bill of rights which guarantees basic work standards, such as meal and rest breaks, parental leave, protection from discrimination, sexual harassment, etc. I wanted to know more about the movement and this lead me to Premilla Nadasen, who was involved as an activist and historian.
I tend to gravitate towards stories of fierce activists and agitators on the margins, so naturally I was fascinated by the history Premilla unearthed in Household Workers Unite. The women she writes about—Dorothy Bolden, Geraldine Roberts, Josephine Hulett—were all brilliant organizers who responded to the challenges that were unique to their profession, challenges that were so severe that mainstream labor regarded them as “unorganizable.” For instance, domestic workers were isolated in the home, they could have any number of employers at any given time, and perhaps most problematic, their work was categorically disregarded as work. They were excluded from basic state and federal labor rights; and were, to quote Geraldine Roberts, “invisible workers.”
In response, they recruited other domestics on buses and street corners, made alliances with black freedom movements and women’s rights groups. They sought to professionalize the occupation through technical training programs.
In 1988, Pope John Paul II beatified Junípero Serra, the first step to canonization. In the wake of the Red Power movement of the 1970s and the International Indigenous Movement that followed, there was a strong outcry from California Indigenous descendants of those who perished of overwork, starvation, and outright killing in the Franciscan missions that the hands-on Serra created. The Franciscans, not the Spanish state, were the actual first colonizers of California Indians, by forcibly relocating them from their traditional territories and villages to labor for the Franciscans in the missions, making the order wealthy from the products produced there. Indigenous peoples’ who are involved in UN human rights work raised a ruckus in the UN system, and friendly Human Rights NGOs and formerly colonized member-states and liberation movements lobbied the Vatican at the UN to not canonize a notorious colonizer. That was twenty-seven years ago, and Serra was not brought up for sainthood, such a notion being clearly unacceptable. Then, to the shock of the California descendants, in May 2015, the new and admired Pope Francis took Serra off the shelf where he was meant to stay, gathering dust, and announced canonization, trying to pass him off as a Latin American, or US American, apparently not having received the memo that the Spanish empire was overthrown by the Mexican people in a ten-year war to drive them out. California was a part of Mexico. One of the first acts of the independent Mexican government was to secularize society, sending the Franciscans packing, closing all the missions.
Photo credit: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Department of Homeland Security)
Dilley, a small Texas city eighty-three miles north of the Mexican border, greets visitors with a cheerful sign.
“Welcome to Dilley, Texas,” it reads. “A Slice of the Good Life.”
That good life extends only so far. Just west of town, nearly two thousand women and children are locked up inside the massive South Texas Family Residential Center. With a capacity of 2400, the brand-new Dilley is now the largest immigration prison in the United States. There are so many children at the camp that they sometimes outnumber the adults, the New York Times reports; their average age is nine years old.
I've lived in Interior Alaska for the past eleven years, about 100 miles, as the raven flies, from the highest mountain in North America. I have always called this formidable and beautiful summit "Denali," as do a majority of Alaska residents, including our three Republicans in Congress. Since President Obama just empowered Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to change the official name from Mt. McKinley to Denali, soon you'll be calling it Denali, too.
For the past few days, I've been glued to the national media coverage centered on my home, and I'm thrilled that the rest of the world will finally call the mountain Denali. Unfortunately, in the rush to cover the big news, the media has been getting small but important details wrong, especially those related to the rights and identities of Alaska Native people. So instead of retelling the strange story of an obsequious explorer, a presidential hopeful, and the gold standard, I want to dig deeper, finding a route through the context surrounding Alaska's iconic peak.
Nearly eighty years ago, Margaret Mitchell published what would become a best-selling novel, Gone with the Wind. More than thirty million copies have sold worldwide, and in 1939, the film adaptation was released. The novel tells the tale of a young white woman slaveholder, Scarlett O’Hara, who struggles to come to terms with her descent into poverty in the South during and after the Civil War. The story is hailed as a classic in American literature and beloved by audiences for its heroic portrayal of one headstrong woman’s journey for independence and self-discovery.
On September 4, 2005, eight years before the #BlackLivesMatter movement was born, officers of the New Orleans Police Department opened fire on two families crossing the Danziger Bridge. Hurricane Katrina had ravaged the city six days before. The officers were on site for an unrelated distress call. All the innocent victims were black and unarmed. A harrowing story of blue on black violence, author and investigative journalist Ronnie Greene’s Shots on the Bridge vividly recounts the crime and the ensuing case. With the anniversaries of Katrina and the crime coming up, we caught up with Ronnie Greene to ask him a few questions about his book.
I was first drawn to this story in August 2011, when I happened to read an AP account of the federal court conviction of officers with the New Orleans Police Department, who had fired upon two groups of people on a small bridge and then covered up their crimes.
In reading that first story, I instantly felt these events were worthy of a book. I was struck in learning about the victims, including Ronald Madison, a forty-year-old with the mental development of a six-year-old. With Katrina coming, Ronald stayed back to be with the family dogs. His older brother Lance, a onetime professional football player, stayed to watch over him. Now I was reading that Ronald was killed—shot in the back—and his brother, his protector, had been falsely arrested for allegedly firing at officers. I read about the other family on the bridge, the Bartholomews, along with their nephew Jose Holmes Jr. and his friend James Brissette Jr. JJ, was killed, and several in the Bartholomew family were critically wounded. The mother, Susan Bartholomew, had to have her arm amputated. As the bullets were coming that morning, her daughter, Lesha, lay atop her mother to try to protect her.
In truth, each of the victims was unarmed, yet police hatched a cover-up to conceal their actions.
This Sunday is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Celebrated annually on August 9, the United Nations selected this date to recognize the accolades and contributions of the world’s indigenous peoples as well as to promote and protect their rights. In time for the paperback release of Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s American Book Award-winning An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, we're sharing the following passage from her book to commemorate the occasion. In this passage, Dunbar-Ortiz gives the history of the day’s creation and the role our very own UUA played in repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery.
In 1982, the government of Spain and the Holy See (the Vatican, which is a nonvoting state member of the United Nations) proposed to the UN General Assembly that the year 1992 be celebrated in the United Nations as an “encounter” between Europe and the peoples of the Americas, with Europeans bearing the gifts of civilization and Christianity to the Indigenous peoples. To the shock of the North Atlantic states that supported Spain’s resolution (including the United States and Canada), the entire African delegation walked out of the meeting and returned with an impassioned statement condemning a proposal to celebrate colonialism in the United Nations, which was established for the purpose of ending colonialism.
The “Doctrine of Discovery” had reared its head in the wrong place. The resolution was dead, but it was not the end of efforts by Spain, the Vatican, and others in the West to make the Quincentennial a cause for celebration.
While July 26 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we need to recall that discrimination against people with disabilities is not over.
The ADA accomplished a lot. It banned employment discrimination, made public transportation accessible, opened places of public accommodation and added closed captioning so the Deaf could watch television, to name a few. But discrimination against people with disabilities remains.
There is economic discrimination. When we talk about the ninety-nine percent and the one percent, we may forget that within that ninety-nine percent there are some groups that suffer the most. There is no group in the US as badly off as people with disabilities who are the largest and poorest US minority.