A Q&A with Aviva Chomsky | The United States has tried to remake Central America in its own (US) interests and in the interests of US corporations, time after time. During the 1970s and 80s, Central Americans rose up in protest against a system that dispossessed peasants from their land in favor of big plantations and export agriculture enforced by US-supported militaries and police. Nicaraguans won their revolution in 1979, toppling the US-supported Somoza dictatorship.
By Leigh Patel | On Friday, June 4, the remains of two Black girls, Delisha and Katricia “Tree” Africa, were to be collected from the home of physical anthropologist Alan Mann, an emeritus professor associated with both the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University. Delisha and Tree were members of the Black liberation community in Philadelphia known as the MOVE. On May 13, 1985, Philadelphia police officers fired thousands of shot and grenades at 5:30 in the morning, peppering the row house where this communal organization resided.
This year’s theme for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is Advancing Leaders Through Purpose-Driven Service. Beacon Press views their writers as leaders, charting the way to a better future with uncovered histories, cultural commentary, and more. Which is why, as AAPI Heritage Month wraps up, we’re putting the spotlight on the work of our Asian American writers. The following list of recommended reads—by no means exhaustive—honors their work and contributions to our society and American history at large.
A Q&A with Eric Berkowitz | My UK publisher was proposing ideas for new projects, none of which seemed likely to hold my—or the public’s—interest very long, until one or another censorship/free speech issue popped up. I think it was the censorship of “drill” music—a hardcore rap genre—there, along with the inevitable battles and accusations. It struck us that every time an issue like this comes up, it’s as if it was for the first time.
By Aviva Chomsky | Joe Biden entered the White House with some inspiring yet contradictory positions on immigration and Central America. He promised to reverse Donald Trump’s draconian anti-immigrant policies while, through his “Plan to Build Security and Prosperity in Partnership with the People of Central America,” restoring “US leadership in the region” that he claimed Trump had abandoned. For Central Americans, though, such “leadership” has an ominous ring.
A Q&A with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz | It was the first time a filmmaker showed interest in the book. I never imagined that any filmmaker, even if they loved reading the book, would be interested in using it in a documentary. But Raoul Peck is not any ordinary filmmaker. I have long admired his work. His first documentary, from 1989, was “Lumumba: Death of a Prophet,” which is about the first president of the former Belgian Congo colony that won its independence in 1960 and was then assassinated with CIA involvement.
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.
By Yaba Blay | The US Census reveals much about the country’s perspective on race. It counts people according to how the nation defines people, and historically, those people counted as Black have been those people with any known Black ancestry. Blacks are defined by the one-drop rule. No other racial or ethnic group is defined in this way, nor does any other nation rely upon this formula; the one-drop rule is definitively Black and characteristically American. It should make sense then that the origins of the rule are directly linked to the history of Black people in the United States, and as such, our discussion of the one-drop rule begins during the period of colonial enslavement.
By Alex Zamalin | Aaron Sorkin, screenwriter of the long-running television serial, The West Wing, prefers flair to substance. His characters talk fast and sound like civics teachers. But it’s not clear, beyond aspirational quotes, what they offer. The same is true in this acceptance speech. During his Golden Globes acceptance speech for writing the Netflix film, “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Sorkin quoted one of the film’s character’s, Abbie Hoffman, saying, “‘Democracy is not something you believe in or a place to hang your hat. But it’s something you do. You participate. If you stop doing it, democracy crumbles.’ I don’t need any more evidence than what happened on Jan. 6 to agree with this.”
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 Julian Bond | The next songs are traditional songs from the standard hymnal and church repertoire that have been altered to become Freedom Songs, this one from the height of the Birmingham movement in 1963. It is based on the parable of the lost sheep. The singers are Carleton Reese and the Alabama Christian Movement Choir, and the song is a traditional gospel song with new words. As you listen, you’ll hear the leader, Carleton Reese, open with the call, “Oh Lord, I’m running,” and the choir will respond, “Lord I’m running, trying to make a hundred.”
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 Julian Bond | We are going to listen today to several Freedom Songs, all of them taken from a three-record set “Voices of the Civil Rights Movement: Black American Freedom Songs 1960–1966”—all of them should blow your mind. The set was compiled by Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, Director of the Smithsonian’s Program in Black American Culture. You will hear her voice on some of these songs and will remember her from the movement in Albany, Georgia. She is best known as the Founder and Director of the singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock. In the liner notes, she says the “music culture of the civil rights movement was shaped by its central participants: black, Southern, and steeped in oral tradition.”
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.”
Is the coast clear? Any instances of blackface or diversity snafus on the horizon to mar Black History Month? Any of that nonsense to call out? Only last year and the year before did rashes of both spread in news headlines. But not this year. We’re conditioned to anticipate them like clockwork, but it’s a relief not to see them. Too soon to call it? Anyway, this year’s Black History Month is starting on a more auspicious note.
By Rev. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock | No one in American history has addressed more eloquently or advanced more effectively the ideals of freedom, justice, and equality than the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. With his voice, he discredited the fallacious doctrine of white supremacy; and through his activism, he changed America, liberating the sons and daughters of “former slaves” and “former slave owners” for the possibility of what he called “the beloved community.” Dr. King bequeathed to all of us a gift of love.
By David R. Dow | According to reporting from Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman at the New York Times, President Trump was already exploring the possibility of pardoning himself, even before a riotous mob incited by Trump’s tweets and baseless charges of a stolen election stormed and defiled the US Capitol on Wednesday, January 6, the day Congress was meeting to fulfill its duty under the Twelfth Amendment to count the states’ electoral votes for President and Vice-President.
By Kyle T. Mays | African Americans and Native Americans in urban districts and on reservations were major reasons why Joe Biden won the presidency. To be sure, Trump’s disastrous handling of the Coronavirus and racism were fundamental reasons why people voted him out. But the people in Detroit, Philadelphia, the Navajo Nation, and other locales put Biden in office. The importance of the Black and Indigenous vote underscores their importance to American democracy—a democracy that many, including French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville believed would never happen.
A Discussion with Frances Moore Lappé, Adam Eichen, and David Daley | I know that Biden has said that democracy reform is important, and I wish he had highlighted it more. And who knows? It may take another march or several more marches. But I feel like we are in a different world today. President Trump is such an alert. Most people understand that this was a presidency that was not a fluke, but rather a direct product of a highly broken, warped system not in favor of the people. That’s clear now, and that’s a big gain for us. People are more awake.
By Paul Ortiz | The reconfiguration of racial capitalism in the early twentieth century hinged upon the exploitation of agricultural workers who were fired, deported, or driven into cities when they tried to organize in defense of their interests. Local governments, growers, and vigilantes in the Sunbelt counties stretching from Orange County, Florida, to Orange County, California, put the hammer down on agricultural laborers seeking to achieve independence. Employers and their enforcers ruthlessly suppressed Mexican, Chinese, Sikh, Japanese, Indian, Italian, white, and African American farmworkers seeking to organize.