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!
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A Q&A with Robin Broad and John Cavanagh | This book is about two of the most unlikely and inspiring victories that we’ve ever witnessed or had the privilege to be part of. That these wins take place in a poorer country, one that the United States and global corporations have exploited for decades, makes the wins even more remarkable. As we celebrated the victories, we realized that by sharing the story of these wins in a narrative nonfiction book, we could also share this sense of hope with readers, including readers who may have given up hope in these challenging times.
By Christian Coleman | It’s another fest of firsts for Octavia E. Butler! The multi-award-winning author and MacArthur fellow is having a moment, or rather a series of rolling moments that’s been gaining speed over the last few years, and we hope it keeps going!
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 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.
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.”
By Jonathan Rosenblum | Last year’s dreadful miasma of Covid, recession, police violence, and coup attempt obscured some remarkable advances by local and national left-wing movements. Florida voters, while rejecting the Biden/Harris ticket, overwhelmingly approved a $15 minimum wage. Arizona and Oregon approved tax increases on the wealthy to fund public education. Colorado passed paid family leave. Portland, Me., voters approved rent control. All six representatives in historically swing districts who supported Medicare for All won reelection. Ninety-two of the 93 House Democrats—including all four in swing districts—who ran in November as Green New Deal sponsors won reelection. At least 20 candidates endorsed by Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) won office.
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 Leigh Patel | Jim Clyburn, Congressional representative from South Carolina and the majority whip, has an office in the Congressional Chambers, with his name title displayed clearly. However, Clyburn does not work out of that office, instead working from an unmarked office with this staff. On January 6, the day of the storming of the Capitol building, some of the domestic terrorists attempted to enter Clyburn’s office. His staff had piled furniture and were texting from inside. They were able to block the rioters from entering.
By Marilyn Sewell | At last, it’s over! I mean the last four years of suffering from an abusive relationship—with our former president. Why am I not alive with energy, ready to get back to my writing? Wanting to Zoom with friends? Pushing ever harder with my climate activism? I find that I’m simply exhausted, needing to recover.
“Science and technology have permeated nearly every aspect of our lives throughout the course of human history. But perhaps, never before in living memory, have the connections between our scientific world and our social world been quite so stark as they are today. . . . As new technologies take root in our lives, from artificial intelligence to human genome editing, they reveal and reflect even more about the complex and sometimes dangerous social architecture that lies beneath the scientific progress we pursue.”
After living through four years of an endless horror franchise, Joseph Biden gets sworn in today as commander in chief. Kamala Harris, in a historic moment for the US, gets sworn in as the first woman of color Vice President. And they have so much wreckage laying before them. No easy reset button will fix it or spirit it away. The pressure is on their administration to do right by a country reeling from a traumatic relationship with a white supremacist tyrant, and rightfully so. We reached out to our authors to ask what they want Biden and Harris to know, understand, or be aware of. On Inauguration Day, we share their responses with you.
By J. A. Mills | I’ve lived in Washington, DC, for twenty years, but I’ve only been inside the US Capitol a handful of times. For meetings, hearings, and receptions related to protecting wild tigers, rhinos, and bears. I love this city for her vast green areas and restrictions on building height that bring attention to the sky, the dome of the Capitol, and the soaring Washington Monument. I also love her for her residents of all colors and beliefs, whom I overhear on the sidewalks speaking many of the languages of the world.
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.