By David Freedlander | Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did something unheard of in politics: she skipped town. While the Crowley forces were holding a big rally on a rainy Saturday, Ocasio-Cortez was thousands of miles away at the US-Mexico border to protest the Trump administration’s child separation policy. It led to striking visuals that rocketed around social media of Ocasio-Cortez pleading with guards at the gate, but it seemed suicidal politically. It was Ocasio-Cortez’s idea, and no one tried to talk her out of it.
Where would we be without the leadership of extraordinary women who chose to challenge the societal status quo? This year’s theme for International Women’s Day was Choose to Challenge. As Women’s History Month draws to a close, we’re highlighting books from our catalog to celebrate the inspiring women who saw the need for change, and took action for equality!
By Jeanne Theoharis and Brandy Colbert | What you learned about Rosa Parks in school was a myth. Much of what is known and taught about her is incomplete, distorted, and just plain wrong. Because Rosa Parks was active for sixty years, in the North as well as the South, her story provides a broader and more accurate view of the Black freedom struggle across the twentieth century. Jeanne Theoharis and Brandy Colbert show young people how the national fable of Parks and the civil rights movement—celebrated in schools during Black History Month—has warped what we know about Parks and stripped away the power and substance of the movement.
By Helene Atwan | When Beacon was founded, in the mid-1850s, two burning issues of the day were abolition and women’s suffrage. Here, as we transition from Black History into Women’s History Month, I’m feeling so proud of our lasting tradition of publishing biographies that celebrate Black lives and women’s stories, and often both.
Black history isn’t just about the history-makers and big social movements. They begin as everyday people whose day-to-day experiences, inner Black life, and Black joy—this especially!—are just as much a part of Black history. Without daily life and joy, the picture narrows solely on struggle and trauma, and comes off as incomplete. We need it all.
By Daniel S. Lucks | The ease with which Donald Trump took over Ronald Reagan’s Republican Party is one of the most significant political developments of the Trump era. For many Americans, this is surprising because the Gipper was a sunny and avuncular figure, and his projection of America as a “shining city on a hill” is the antithesis of the Trump’s polarizing dystopian view of “American carnage.”
It’s a kneejerk reaction to imagine what James Baldwin would say about the state of things in the US when the anniversary of his death comes every December 1. Especially now. Much like how the issues that folk legend Odetta sang about are still, sadly, relevant today, so it goes for the issues Baldwin wrote about in “Notes of a Native Son.” Which is why our director, Helene Atwan, says it remains so potent a text to go back to.
By Eileen Truax | “Good afternoon, Senator Sanders. My name is Odilia Romero, Indigenous Bene Xhon.” Standing onstage at the Casa del Mexicano in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood in east Los Angeles, Odilia holds a microphone in one hand and in the other her speech for Bernie Sanders, then a candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. It was May 4, 2016, and in the auditorium beneath the fifty-foot-high domed ceiling, four hundred people had gathered, a mix of pro-immigrant organizations, young activists, and members of the Latina community.
By Gustavus Stadler | I knew that when my book came out, I would inevitably be asked questions like, “What would Woody Guthrie do today? Where would he stand on this issue? What would he think of this candidate or that elected official?” I’m mostly accustomed to writing about topics at least several decades distant from the present, and I try hard to honor the otherness of the past, rather than portray it as a simpler version of the now. Plus, responses to such questions so often depend more on the projections of the answerer than on historical evidence.
By Judith Ortiz Cofer | On a bus trip to London from Oxford University where I was earning some graduate credits one summer, a young man, obviously fresh from a pub, spotted me and as if struck by inspiration went down on his knees in the aisle. With both hands over his heart he broke into an Irish tenor’s rendition of “Maria” from West Side Story. My politely amused fellow passengers gave his lovely voice the round of gentle applause it deserved. Though I was not quite as amused, I managed my version of an English smile: no show of teeth, no extreme contortions of the facial muscles—I was at this time of my life practicing reserve and cool. Oh, that British control, how I coveted it.
Be Proud of Your Past, Embrace the Future. That’s this year’s theme for Hispanic Heritage Month. In times like these, the theme is a manifesto to live by. The books in our catalog about the lives and contributions of Hispanic/Latinx communities attest to it.
A Q&A with Vicki Mayk | What really drew me to the story was Owen Thomas, the young man who is at the center of my book. When he died by suicide in April 2010, I was invited to join a private memorial page that friends set up for him on Facebook. The way that everyone talked about him—from his teammates at his high school near Allentown, PA, and at the University of Pennsylvania to friends, former teachers, casual acquaintances—was mesmerizing. They told stories about him being a warrior on the field and one of the kindest humans off the field.
By Pamela D. Toler | The Chinese heroine Hua Mulan is one of the oldest and most enduring examples of a woman who becomes a warrior because of her role as a daughter. Scholars have argued for centuries over whether or not Mulan was a historical figure. At some level, it doesn’t matter as far as piecing together her story is concerned. The available information about her life is scarce to nonexistent, even by the often-shaky standard of what we know about other women warriors of the ancient world.
President Ronald Reagan won over voters with his Midwest wholesomeness, his rehearsed charisma forged from years as a B-movie actor, and more importantly, his “old-fashioned” American pride. His sense of American pride appealed massively to white conservatives, as well as converts to Republicanism, and threw obstacles in the path of civil rights legislation. His racist policies were devastating for Black and Brown Americans during his presidency, and the effects still resonate today.
This year, the Americans with Disabilities Act has a thirtieth candle to blow out on its birthday cake. The ADA is the widest-ranging and most comprehensive piece of civil rights legislation ever passed in the United States, and it has become the model for disability-based laws around the world. We reached out to some of our authors to reflect on the impact of this landmark in disability history and on the ongoing fight for disability rights. We share their statements with you below.
By Cornel West | Ida B. Wells is not only unique, but she is the exemplary figure full of prophetic fire in the face of American terrorism, which is American Jim Crow and Jane Crow, when lynching occurred every two and a half days for over fifty years in America. And this is very important, because Black people in the New World, in the Diaspora, Brazil, Jamaica, Barbados, were all enslaved, but no group of Black people were Jim Crowed other than US Negroes.
There is no other way to put it. The start of this year’s Pride Month was painful. We can’t stop thinking of the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and of too many before and after them. Witnessing modern-day lynch mobs during a pandemic is soul-crushing. Do not be tempted to say the upheaval happening now is “unique” or “unprecedented.” Because it is not. The US has centuries of history inflicting violence and death on Black bodies. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his “The Other America” speech, “the riot is the language of the unheard.” And the US has not listened since the days of slavery and settler colonialism. So the protests and riots rage on.
By Imani Perry | I turned eight the year Stevie Wonder’s album Hotter Than July was released. My favorite song from that album was “Master Blaster.” Like most people, I imagine, I called it “Jammin,’” from its refrain, “Nobody ever told you that you / would be jammin’ until the break of dawn.” A reggae-influenced jubilant song, it makes you want to dance and laugh. And I was listening to it, nostalgically, the day before I heard that the former and first Zimbabwean prime minister, Robert Mugabe, had died.
Can you taste it? The taste of joy when quarantine ends, the panic shopping eases up, and we can get on with the new reality of civilian life. The coronavirus pandemic will change the way we live. However the new reality takes shape, we’ll be ready and eager to get back outside. Not to mention delirious with relief. Until then, safety first. But at least we have plenty of books to turn to as resources and for escape during quarantine!
By Melanie Brooks | In the last couple of weeks, as the story of novel coronavirus has continued to shroud the globe and taken central stage in the news, I’ve uncharacteristically turned to Twitter for the latest headlines. Bite-sized pieces of information concerning the climbing numbers of cases and deaths, the state of the curve, the plummeting economy, the revised lockdown stats, and the conflicts in management at the state and federal levels are all I can digest amidst the restless charge of uncertainty lighting up my nerves.