Community Greens

People of all colors discussing evergreen ideas.

Tomorrow in African-American History


So what’s on your coffee table: Ebony, Essence, Black Enterprise, XXL, Africana or a book on the Harlem Renaissance? Whatever’s there, consider reading it for Black History Month. Or is that African-American History Month? Who exactly decided what we call us these days? When did I become hyphen-added American?

My mother, who will be 92 this year, was never comfortable being called Black. She grew up colored, Negro, sometimes something worse and now politely allows people to call her African-American. I can see her measure the speaker whenever someone calls her African-American as she assesses whether there was a need for racial qualification.

So what are we up to now? Is it 4/5s? 7/8s? Now that a Black man, excuse me, an African-American, is president are we fully enfranchised. Last night on Real Time with Bill Maher there were jokes, jabs and jibes about whether President Obama was really born in Nigeria. Really? I have yet to hear Barack Obama compared directly or indirectly to John F. Kennedy. As a fully enfranchised president, I would assume someone would make the comparison at some point. Covering the White House, as a journalist, use to be a feather in your cap. Now I’ve heard it’s more like turkey, not quite an eagle, hmmm.

In that context, let’s consider why and what you should be reading for African-American History Month. If you were born after 1980 you have always bought CD’s and probably not vinyl. Seems to me that most of those folks may not have read The Miseducation of the Negro, The Souls of Black Folk, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Up From Slavery, or The Autobiography of Malcolm X and those who have read them a long time ago.

But African-American History doesn’t mean you have to read historical and biographical novels. You could take the period approach to African-American History and explore the Harlem Renaissance and its amazing creativity before civil rights. There is lots of Civil Rights Movement grist for your reading and, you’ll have several biographies and points of view to consider reading about Martin Lither King Jr., the SCLC and the Black Panthers.

Or Consider Contemporary African-American Literature. Well, not exactly Oprah’s Book Club (Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 launched in 2012). African-American literature begins at the event horizon of slavery, freedom and equality and sings through themes of racism, sexism, segregation and human rights from a Black point of view.

Pick a jump point but make a reading resolution. Read 10 African-American books this year. That’s a minimum. Read more if you are a reader. Lots of folks have quoted, “if we forget history we are doomed to repeat it”. The Sankofa may be the most recognized of Asante Adinkra symbols. We interpret it as “return and get it” or “It is not a taboo to return to fetch something you forgot earlier on” and amplify it as the importance of learning from the past. I prefer “Using past experiences to build the future”.

During African-American History Month promise to build your future by learning about the unique Black context of American History and you will be able to look at racial qualification in an empowering light.

Reading List

The Mis-Education of the Negro

The Souls of Black Folk

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Up From Slavery

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Roots: The Saga of an American Family

The Color Purple


Their Eyes Were Watching God


Go Tell It on the Mountain

Native Son

Invisible Man

A Raisin in the Sun

The Known World


Filed under: Community Green

One Response

  1. Thanks Chuck. This is my favorite post from you yet. Reading is one of the most affordable and deeply enriching hobbies we have. I love your list of books and would add one that compellingly links the last thirty years in African American economics, social criticism and culture. It’s by a man who has only recently passed the 30 year mark and is a college professor. His masterwork for where African American culture and civics are going is called It’s Bigger than Hip Hop: the rise of the post Hip Hop Generation. See a video of his at


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