NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

Books to read this Black History Month

This Black History Month, reading and exploring the many the works of Black writers and novelists is just one quick way of supporting and celebrating Black history. Each of the novels and collections on this list are a testament to just how inimitable the illustration of the black experience is.

Though BHM only lasts for just a few more weeks, I urge you this year to truly explore all there is to offer out there in regard to Black literature and history. Our generation is in the midst of a vast awakening, and one way to get involved is by educating yourself on the experiences of the past.

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

This book consists of two personal essays by Baldwin. The first is in letter form dedicated to his young nephew. In this letter, Baldwin explains the important role race plays in American history while urging his nephew to turn any anger or resentment into passion and hope for a brighter future. The second, “Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region of My Mind,” Baldwin addresses his concerns and predictions for the future regarding the rise of Black power, and how ties to America make this unlikely. He acknowledges the root of this issue as the false promise of the ‘American dream.’ Throughout this book, Baldwin’s hope for the future glimmers through his honest concerns.

“How can one respect, let alone adopt, the values of a people who do not, on any level whatsoever, live the way they say they do, or the way they say they should?” -James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

Love by Toni Morrison

Morrison, a novel peace prize winner and Pulitzer novelist, has provided us with countless novels featuring black characters. Love surrounds the lives of several women and their ties to one man. This novel follows Morrison’s well known nonlinear and split narrative writing style to encapsulate the stories of each of these women in one novel. Morrison explores these women’s experiences with love in its numerous forms. This book is about love itself, and how it can be distorted through themes like history, gender, and race.

“My nature is a quiet one, anyway. As a child I was considered respectful; as a young woman I was called discreet. Later on, I was thought to have the wisdom maturity brings.” -Toni Morrison, Love

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

This text introduces a modern form of racism in America, and its effects. Alexander explains the phenomenon of systemic racism against Black Americans. This book is important in the education of racism because it emphasizes that racism is still extremely prevalent in our society. It may be subtle sometimes, but it is systemic, and these systems are in need of reconstruction. Alexander discusses in depth the corruption of the criminal justice system in America. This book should be on everyone’s reading list this month, because in order to change broken systems, we must all educate ourselves on what is happening and what has happened.

“The nature of the criminal justice system has changed. It is no longer primarily concerned with the prevention and punishment of crime, but rather with the management and control of the dispossessed.” -Michelle Alexander, The new Jim Crow: mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness

Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges

These are Civil rights activist Ruby Bridge’s own words of her experience as the first Black child to desegregate an all-white elementary school in Louisiana in 1960. This biography shares the pivotal event in history that was desegregation in America’s south. In the text, Bridges quotes writers and passerby who witnessed her brave and historic act of going to school as a young Black girl in America. She captivated the essence of her courage, innocence, and the forgiveness she developed over time.

“Racism is a form of hate. We pass it on to our young people. When we do that, we are robbing children of their innocence.” -Ruby Bridges

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Award winning American author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates aims to answer intimidating questions about the meaning and importance of race as well as his personal narrative and awakening. His perspective provides readers with an honest look into the bigotry and constant interrogation Black Americans constantly experience.  Coates manages to blend important history with his own experience as a Black man navigating his place in America’s present and future. This is a crucial book to read in the age of such generational reckoning.

“Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Black authors have created beautiful literature that highlights the struggles of African Americans in a society that was built around tearing them down. These authors have managed to capture such horrific experiences through their words and personal accounts. It is important to note that though these stories are vital to ensuring that racism and injustices are not forgotten, Black authors deserve credit for their tales of Black joy, pride, and success as well.

It is an important step to take to first understand America’s history with race and injustice by listening to those who continue to be affected by it. That being said, this list is merely an introduction to a vast inventory of illuminating texts— and I incline you not to stop here.

Additional reading:

The New African American Identity: The Harlem Renaissance