By Gayatri Patnaik | A little over ten years ago, I found myself mulling over what kind of history books Beacon Press could successfully publish. With the incredible history titles published every year by both university and trade presses, what could Beacon do to distinguish our list in this competitive space? Certainly, the books would need to reflect Beacon’s progressive vision of social justice and also the inherently “cross-over” nature of our list. Cross-over in two senses—both in terms of the intellectually grounded but accessible writing, as well as our ability to find multiple audiences—trade, academic, and activist—for our titles.
A Q&A with Dominique Christina | I started writing when I was a senior in undergrad. I whimsically elected to take a creative writing course solely because the man who taught the course was a professor I would see on campus walking around in tye-dyed shirts and Birkenstock sandals with uncommercial hair. He was profane and funny, and I thought I would enjoy being in a classroom with him. What I did not know was that his course would change the trajectory of my life. He refused to let me hide in the writing which I fully intended to do. He insisted on authenticity and transparency and confession, and I found myself, for the first time really, having permission to say things I thought I would die with.
It’s an iconic moment that’s been seared into sports history and Black history. Fifty years ago, track and field athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in the Black Power salute during the American national anthem at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City to protest racial inequality. That day, not only did Smith and Carlos win gold and bronze medals respectively; they also joined the ranks of Jackie Robinson and Paul Robeson in a long legacy of Black athlete-activists. Journalist Howard Bryant covers the trajectory of their sports careers in The Heritage.
By Howard Bryant | Look at the ugly faces, twisted but not betrayed. The betrayed face contains a hint of hurt, that layer of justified anger that makes you stop and feel a little compassion. This is not that. These are the faces of rage. They don’t get it. Well, that part isn’t exactly true. They get some of it. They get half of it, their half, the half that convinces them they’ve always been the good guys, and when you’re the good guys, then there is no other half. When they look down from their seats at the football field, they get the enormous American flag unfurled across the field bigger than Rhode Island. They get the color guard, faces stoic, grimly professional, the immaculate Navy uniforms, with the porcelain-white gloves holding the massive flag. And the soldiers? They always get the soldiers.
A Q&A with Sherrilyn Ifill | Our national engagement with this history of lynching is a process, and so I think it’s important to offer new opportunities to new generations of readers who want—or maybe will discover they need—to learn more about this important part of our past.
By Sharon Leslie Morgan | Debates are erupting across America over statues, flags, markers, symbols, buildings, and street names that honor people, landscapes, and events of historic import. Often, the person or event being commemorated is offensive. Especially repugnant are those that celebrate “heroes” who committed extreme acts of inhumanity. Some demand that these icons be removed. Others demonstrate a willingness to fight for their retention. Which ones should stay? Which ones should go? Is there a middle ground? Who decides?
By Richard Hoffman | Friends ask me, “How was your trip to Prague?” and I tell them that Prague is as beautiful as everyone says. I’m thinking, as I say this, that sometimes, in a world with Instagram, Pinterest, Wikimedia, it becomes harder to experience a place, to have an unmediated encounter with it. I had been worried about that. In the weeks preceding the trip, I avoided the travel books my wife brought home from the library, resisted the temptation to let Rick Steves, via YouTube, walk me through the cobbled squares under towers and domes and historic statuary, and deliberately zoned out when friends who had been there enthused about it. I need not have worried. Prague “in person” is so richly layered and textured, no camera or travelogue could possibly have spoiled it for me.
By Karl Giberson | The emergence of “Trump Evangelicals” is baffling and confusing. The latest puzzle in what has become a political sideshow is Jeff Sessions’ ill-considered appeal to St. Paul—the primary source for Christian theology—in a futile attempt to mute the national outcry about the Trump administration’s decision to abuse immigrant children as a strategy to discourage immigrants from seeking to enter the United States illegally.
By Daina Berry | Many enslaved children have vivid memories of the sale experience. Marlida Pethy of Missouri recalled that when she was “nine or ten years old,” she was “put up on de block to be sold.” Of the stand, she recalled, “It was just a piece cut out of a log and [it] stood on [one] end.” Her recollection about her price is even more telling: “Dey was offered $600 but my mistress cried so much dat master did not sell me.” The mistress’s attachment to her human property was so great in this case that the family decided not to sell Marlida. Such interventions were not always successful or helpful. Several enslaved people reported that their mistresses were as violent and sadistic as their husbands. In this case, we do not know if Marlida preferred to remain with her mistress. All we know is that Marlida was not sold and that, decades later, she remembered the monetary value she carried at auction. It made a deep impression on her young mind.
By Clayborne Carson | Dorothy Foreman Cotton, a prominent veteran leader in the human rights movement and a frequent visitor to the King Institute, passed away on June 10, 2018 in her home at Ithaca, New York. Throughout the 1960s, Cotton was the highest-ranking female member in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), directing the group’s Citizenship Education Program (CEP) at the peak of the Southern civil rights struggle. She held a position in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s inner circle of executive staff. In December of 1964, Cotton was part of the entourage that traveled to Oslo, Norway to celebrate King’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Graduates across the country are heading off to new adventures and new stages of their education or careers. If you’re looking for the perfect book this season for the graduate in your life, check out our graduation gift guide with recommendations from our catalog. Remember that you can always browse our website for more inspiration titles.
By Scott W. Stern: As the United States prepared to enter World War I in the spring of 1917, and as millions of young men gathered in dozens of military training camps across the country, federal officials were worried: these young men might get sick. They might contract pneumonia, tuberculosis, the flu, or, most terrifying of all, syphilis or gonorrhea.
For Black athletes, sports and politics have always been intertwined. Their very presence on the field is a political act. Some athletes have used their status and influence to speak out against racial injustice; others have remained silent. From legends like Paul Robeson and Jackie Robinson to current icons like Colin Kaepernick and LeBron James, the heritage of Black activism within sports is deep and complex. Journalist Howard Bryant details it in full in The Heritage: Black Athletes, a Divided America, and the Politics of Patriotism.
By Bill Ayers: On April 26 and 27, we joined thousands of people from around the country and around the world at the Peace and Justice Opening in Montgomery, Alabama. Days were filled with formal and informal gatherings, reunions and new connections, the Peace and Justice Summit featuring many powerful thinkers including Elizabeth Alexander, Jelani Cobb, Ava DuVernay, and Michelle Alexander, and on the last night, the Concert for Peace and Justice. The focus of the gathering was the unveiling of two breathtaking new sites: the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and the Legacy Museum, both projects of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI).
By Paul Ortiz: When migrant laborers, Nuyoricans, Chicana/os, Afro-Cubanos, Guatemaltecos, and immigrants from every part of earth united on May Day in 2006, they protested immigration restriction measures that threatened their families, their livelihoods, and their dignity. The testimonials featured on picket signs, in interviews, and on the Internet and other venues opened a window into the resurgence of working-class political culture. The demonstrators vigorously expressed their opposition to US House Resolution 4437.52. Latinx workers restored the age-old faith that racial capitalism had tried to drown out, that labor was the true source of the nation’s wealth.
By Eugene Grant: I didn’t learn of Benjamin Lay until I was thirty-one years old. This is important, because I myself have dwarfism. There is a shameful absence of books documenting the lives of important historical figures with dwarfism. Just as Game of Thrones and Tyrion Lannister alone cannot compensate—as many average height people seem to think he does—for centuries of ridicule and abuse, so Marcus Rediker and The Fearless Benjamin Lay cannot make up for this dearth of representation, but the book is a significant step forwards.
By Scott W. Stern: Silence was not common in the contentious chambers of the House of Representatives, but the wee hours of Friday, April 6, 1917, were different. This was an epic moment: exactly 101 years ago today, the representatives were voting on war. Beginning at 2:45 am, as the clerk of the House called each member’s name, one after the other, scarcely a sound broke the tense stillness, except representatives calling “Aye” or “Nay.” Their votes echoed hollowly through the House’s grand galleries, filled with curious onlookers, many still finely attired from evening parties hours earlier.
By Jonathan Rosenblum: The revolutionary Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been slain twice: First, by an assassin’s bullet fifty years ago, and a second time, by the political, economic, and cultural elites of our time. They have reduced his radical teachings to gauzy notions of justice and equality, seeking to soothe their guilty consciences and hope the rest of us don’t look too closely.
A Q&A with Mary Frances Berry and Jeanne Theoharis: I wrote this book, History Teaches Us to Resist: How Progressive Movements Have Succeeded in Challenging Times, because my editor, reinforced by friends and colleagues after Trump’s election, argued that the public needed reminding of how and why resistance has succeeded and or failed in the past. And I felt I could provide that based on my experience in several movements and through my historical research. Though history does not repeat itself exactly, perhaps we can learn something from history or at least be encouraged.
A Q&A with Joseph Rosenbloom: What urgent mission brought MLK to Memphis in 1968 even as he was on the verge of launching his Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, DC? What happened in Memphis before King was fatally shot there on April 4? Redemption answers the questions more vividly and completely than any other published account.