A Q&A with Pamela D. Toler | I’ve been fascinated by the concept of women warriors ever since I was a nerdy kid who read every biography of famous women I could get my hands on and who regularly blew her allowance on comic books with female superheroes. But the real trigger for me came in 1988, when Antonia Fraser published Warrior Queens. Fraser’s book not only introduced me to women I’d never heard of before, but also to a new idea: that women “fought, literally fought, as a normal part of the army in far more epochs and far more civilizations than is generally appreciated.” Once I was aware that women warriors had existed in many times and places, it seemed like I ran across references to them everywhere. I began collecting their stories with no particular purpose in mind. After a couple of decades, that file was pretty fat, and I decided it was time to share.
February: a month that’s too short to celebrate the centuries’ worth of contributions Black Americans made to American history—and in 2019, evidently, a hot mess of a breeding ground for racial stupidity in the news! Whether it’s Liam Neeson revealing his past racist vendetta. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam admitting he was in a racist yearbook photo involving blackface. Or Gucci apologizing for and removing its “blackface” sweater. So much blackface. Even though we’re in 2019, it keeps happening. And because it keeps happening, we need to keep learning why and what to do about it. Time to hit the books! Again! In the spirit of Ibram X. Kendi’s anti-racism syllabus, we put together our own.
By Richard A. Serrano | For years, I have carried around in my head a haunting tale—that of a handsome young black army soldier named John Arthur Bennett, and what occurred along a snowy winter creek in Austria and deep in the bowels of death row basement at the army’s Fort Leavenworth prison.
By Howard Bryant | For black men, sports was not as promising an employment opportunity as it appeared. Their bodies were valuable, but beyond playing, chances to coach, evaluate personnel, or run or own teams were as remote as they were in the non-sports world. And as for the Heritage, Jackie Robinson had created the template of the black political athlete, but it was still a game, and employees were still just ballplayers, with plenty of visibility but not nearly enough security (the million-dollar, guaranteed contract was a decade and a half away), so the tolerance for speaking out about social issues was low. Even during the obvious inequality of the Jim Crow era, the white mainstream was still confounded by the black demand for equality.
By Kay Whitlock | I am often drawn to historical battlefields and sites by a sense that the memories, the ghosts, the landscape will somehow reveal more than I have yet learned through book-and-documentary-related study. And by the inchoate sense that I may even be changed by it, that in mysterious ways, my justice vision will be moved toward greater wholeness. In solitary reflection in places where something terrible happened, I listen to the land, to winds, to the rustle of leaves. I cull histories, photographs, poetry, and survivor accounts to try to conjure in my imagination the people and the place and the moment. And sometimes something close to that happens, a quiet ripple in time and perception that somehow shifts how I see and experience everything. When I lived in southern Colorado, long before a national historic site was created, I periodically drove out east to Sand Creek, where a long-ago cavalry massacre of Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples—mostly women, children, and elderly people—took place. There, I sat alone for hours and in silence on land unmarked by buildings or pathways. For whatever reason, Shiloh still disquiets me in a way many other historic battlegrounds do not.
By Kay Whitlock | In the autumn of 2017, my partner and I joined a long car caravan winding slowly across White Sands Missile Range. Organized semiannually by the Alamogordo, New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, the trek set out from an empty lot adjacent to the local high school’s athletic fields. Journey’s end, Trinity Site, is where the first atomic bomb—scientists and officials working on the device called it “the gadget”—exploded at 5:29 a.m. on 16 June 1945. It is open to the public only two days each year, the first Saturdays in April and October.
A Q&A with Stephen Puleo: I’m proud to say that Dark Tide is still the only adult non-fiction book about the Great Boston Molasses Flood. The book has been out for fifteen years and is still the definitive account of the flood—and I hope always will be.
By Mary Frances Berry | Protest movements began to shift tactics in the late 1980s. Unlike earlier movements, which had identifiable leaders who demanded specific policy changes, political protests increasingly relied on creative expression to influence the public and public policy. Using storytelling, graffiti, alternative music, street theater, puppetry, and new media technologies, protests sought to change popular culture and mobilize support for progressive change. The medium became the message, as Marshall McLuhan had recommended decades earlier. Now there was rap music, zap actions by the Guerrilla Girls, and Critical Mass, which brings hundreds of people together for bicycle riding in the streets, and which San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown was finally forced to accept. Disruption remained the aim of these gatherings; however, it would be misleading to draw sharp distinctions between protest styles of the 1960s and 1990s.
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.