By José OrduñaA large bearded man named Tommy rolls a shopping cart full of wooden crosses into a small square off the Pan American Avenue. Someone has painted them all white. One block south of where we stand, the United States ends abruptly. Between a double wall made of iron, a concrete trench is filled with loose coils of concertina wire. The metal teeth glint under the red sun. To our west sits an air-conditioned McDonald’s and just past that a Wal-Mart sprawls into the horizon.
A Q&A with Margaret ReganStarting in the 1980s, we began to have a policy of detaining immigrants. We didn’t really have detention centers ever since we shut down Ellis Island and Angel Island in the 1950s. 1980s policy changed. We were going to do detention centers. So, what do you do? You suddenly start needing prisons. You go to the private sector because they’re agile, they can do things. Corrections Corporation of America began around 1983. Their first project was an immigration detention center in Houston, Texas. And they quickly moved into the regular prison sector also. So they are a for-profit corporation.
By Christopher EmdinIn his proclamation for this year’s National Teacher Appreciation Week (May 2-6), President Barack Obama states that “our country’s teachers—from the front lines of our civil rights movement to the front lines of our education system—have helped steer our country’s course. They witness the incredible potential of our youth, and they know firsthand the impact of a caring leader at the front of the classroom.” Associate professor and educator Christopher Emdin is certainly at the front lines of a radical approach to teaching urban youth.
By David StovallThe 2016 report issued by the Southern Poverty Law Center (The Trump Effect) reveals a disturbing, but commonly known fact in US public schools: the United States has NEVER intended to educate the majority of its populace. Because it hasn’t, we find ourselves in a constant struggle to make sense of a world that masks the realities of economic decline, imperialism, and white supremacy. The inability to provide an education that provides the masses with the capacity to ask critical questions of themselves and government feeds into a sordid process that engages a mythical relationship. With a problematic account of history that is imbued in the larger racist colonial project of stereotype, violence, and innuendo, our society rewards diversions from historical accuracy through the glorification of the contributions of rich white males.
By Alondra NelsonGenetic genealogy testing aligns with an enduring human desire: the search for roots and identity. The appeal of genetic ancestry testing cannot be understood without also understanding the backdrop of the specific example author Alex Haley provided about how this should be accomplished and what effects it might produce. Roots, for which Haley received a Pulitzer Prize, tells the story of Haley’s colorful family genealogy, which he traces back to The Gambia. The story is framed as the author’s “epic quest”: his prodigious efforts across years and continents to uncover his family’s past. In 1977, when Haley’s work was transformed into a television miniseries, the story of his ancestors’ trials, tribulations, and resilience held the country in rapt attention for eight days.
By Molly AltizerPresidential candidate Donald Trump demonstrated his brand of blatant racism when he accepted an invitation by local Republicans to speak in the town of Patchogue, NY, last week at a Republican fundraiser just blocks from where Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero was murdered in 2008.
By Dina Gilio-WhitakerIndigenous peoples have long fought for meaningful inclusion in international political fora, beginning at least as far back as 1923 with the League of Nations, the United Nations’ precursor. Despite the fact that Indigenous peoples (IPs) have always practiced the art of international diplomacy with each other and outsiders who invaded their territories—and the fact that their existences as nations typically far predate today’s modern states—they have been largely shut out from the contemporary world’s political processes.
A Q&A with José OrduñaHappy Publication day to José Orduña and his memoir, The Weight of Shadows: A Memoir of Immigration and Displacement! The Weight of Shadows chronicles the process of becoming a North American citizen in a post-9/11 United States. It is a searing meditation on the nature of political, linguistic, and cultural borders, and the meaning of “America.” Our executive editor Gayatri Patnaik spoke with Orduña to discuss James Baldwin’s influence, Orduña’s hopes for the book, and how he crafted the narrative.
What sacrifices does a Pakistani wife have to make while living under a military dictatorship? Why are there still so few women working in the hard sciences? Which historically misunderstood workforce forged alliances with activists in the women’s rights and black freedom movements? The answers lie in the books we are featuring this year during Women’s History Month, which explore and applaud the contributions women have made—through survival, activism, trailblazing—to history. Ranging from the individual voice of memoir to the joint voices of the collective biography, their narratives ring out with equal intensity.
By Theresa PerryAs I was reading this book, I remembered Dr. Emdin’s March 2014 Simmons College—Beacon Press Race, Education, and Democracy Lectures, upon which this book is based. To the rapt audience, overflowing with high school and college students, teachers and teacher educators, community activists and organizers, the excitement was palpable. The young and the elderly enthusiastically embraced Dr. Emdin’s ideas about urban education and urban youth. Most importantly, all of us in the room could feel Dr. Emdin’s passion, love, and respect for our youth.
By Premilla NadasenWelcome to the third entry in our Montgomery Bus Boycott Turns 60 Series. Domestic worker Georgia Gilmore was one of the little-known organizers and activists in the boycott, which is why, during Women’s History Month, we are putting the spotlight on her. Gilmore raised money for the boycott and founded the organization Club from Nowhere so that black donators could give money to the cause anonymously without drawing unwanted attention from their white employers and losing their jobs. She cooked out of her own home for people involved in the boycott after she was fired from her own job because of her activism. As this excerpt from Premilla Nadasen's Household Workers Unite shows, Dr. King would not have become the leading civil rights leader he was without the behind-the-scenes work of people like Gilmore who kept the cause afloat.
By Jeanne TheoharisOn Friday, the news broke of MSNBC’s silencing of Melissa Harris-Perry’s show and the dismantling of her editorial control. In her courageous letter to staff, she wrote why she was not willing to read the news and “provide cover” for MSNBC this weekend: “Our show was taken—without comment or discussion or notice—in the midst of an election season…I am not a token, mammy, or little brown bobble head…I love our show. I want it back.” MSNBC executives later in the weekend called Harris-Perry “brilliant, intelligent, but challenging and unpredictable” and confirmed they were “parting ways.”
By Rashod OllisonOut of the thirteen events on my eleven-city tour in support of Soul Serenade: Rhythm, Blues & Coming of Age Through Vinyl, I was most nervous about the one that would take me back to where it all started. On Feb. 9, I returned to Little Rock, Ark., where I grew up, and to Pyramid Art, Books & Custom Framing, among the first places where I performed spoken word poetry as a teenager. Back then, in the early ’90s, the old location was downtown on Main Street. The new one, a sleeker, brighter and more expansive place, is over on Wright Avenue, in the heart of a historically black section of the city.
By Christian ColemanRenowned author and MacArthur fellow Octavia E. Butler would have been sixty-nine this year, and maybe two or three books deep into writing a new series. Ten years have passed since her death, and in that time, the Huntington Library became the resting place for her archives. Her archives contain, among many things, drafts of an abandoned third entry in her Parables epic and the sketch of a sequel to Fledgling, the story of a genetically engineered vampire. Poring over the notes for novels that could have been and rereading her bio, in which she wrote that she remembers being “a ten-year-old writer who expects someday to be an eighty-year-old writer,” I feel the ten years she has been gone.
By Gayle F. WaldMore than forty years after her burial in an unmarked Philadelphia grave, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, gospel’s first superstar and its most celebrated crossover figure, is enjoying a burst of Internet celebrity. A video of her playing one of her signature tunes, “Didn’t It Rain,” from a 1964 TV special filmed for British television has been racking up more than ten million views on YouTube and Facebook. Old and new fans the world over, dazzled by Tharpe’s powerful singing and wildly charismatic guitar playing—all while wearing a proper church lady coat—are proclaiming Tharpe the “godmother” of rock and grumbling over her absence from rock canons like as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
By Christopher EmdinOne of the most brazen statements related to Black History Month in recent years came from rapper Kanye West about ten years ago when he said “...I make Black History everyday, I don’t need a month.” Since then, this phrase has found it way across the lips, Twitter timelines, and Facebook statuses of a new generation of Black folks every February. Like many of Kanye West’s statements, the words seem to revolve around a need to affirm oneself. However, reflecting deeply on the essence of the quote, and considering its decade long permanence as a manta of sorts for the hip-hop generation, West’s declaration signals the tensions between Black History Month and the youth to whom it should mean the most.
By Aviva ChomskyIn our post-modern (or post-post-modern?) age, we are supposedly transcending the material certainties of the past. The virtual world of the Internet is replacing the “real,” material world, as theory asks us to question the very notion of reality. Yet that virtual world turns out to rely heavily on some distinctly old systems and realities, including the physical labor of those who produce, care for, and provide the goods and services for the post-industrial information economy.
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.
By Rev. Dr. William J. Barber with Jonathan Wilson-HartgroveI learned a great deal in Martinsville about moral leadership—more than I realized at the time. But I did not know what was next for me when our family moved back to North Carolina in 1991. Preaching had helped me find a voice of moral dissent, but my father had shown me long before that you don’t have to pastor a church to preach. I was at the core of my being a preacher, but I knew that preaching did not have to be my job. In fact, I had begun to think I might be more effective if it weren’t. The pastoral work of managing a tight-knit community was not without its challenges and frustrations, which inevitably took time and energy away from public justice work. One of my aunts kept telling me I needed to stop trying to be a lawyer. I wasn’t sure what I was trying to become, but I knew I wasn’t in a hurry to find another church.
By Mary Frances BerrySince the Supreme Court in 2013 effectively lifted preclearance requirements for states and counties with a history of race discrimination, states have passed a raft of new voter ID laws and taken other steps which they claim will prevent voter fraud. The challenge to North Carolina’s voter Identification law underway in federal court may be ground zero for this issue.