What to Read this Month: February 2019

February is Black History Month, so before I get to the books, here are some exhibits, resources, and events:

Duke People’s State of the University is a campus activist group that has successfully pressured Duke to “ban the box” – not require job applicants to disclose criminal history – and rename the Carr building. The Chronicle named PSOTU one of its Chron15 Pioneers.

Duke is home to the personal and professional papers of John Hope Franklin, historian, activist, and public scholar. The John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture, housed at the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library collects and preserves primary sources. The John Hope Franklin Center of International and Interdisciplinary Studies produces a weekly webcast called Left of Black, hosted by Duke Professor Mark Anthony Neal. The Franklin Humanities Institute hosts the lab From Slavery to Freedom: Representations of Race and Freedom in the African Diaspora.

February 13 marked the 50th anniversary of the Allen Building Takeover at Duke. The Takeover is commemorated by an online exhibit and a physical exhibit on display through July 14 in the Jerry and Bruce Chappell Family Gallery in Perkins. Duke Digital Collections include Silent Vigil (1968) and Allen Building Takeover (1969) Audio Recordings. In addition to the  Allen Building Takeover recordings, Duke has digitized the oral history collection Behind the Veil: Documenting African-American Life in the Jim Crow South. Members of the Duke community now also have access to a database of oral history interviews of African Americans: The HistoryMakers Digital Archive.

NC Central University has two remaining events in their Black History Month Activities: a lecture from The Universal Ethiopian Students’ Association, 1927-1948: Mobilizing Diaspora by Dr. Takeia Anthony and the musical drama A Need Fulfilled, profiling the lives of black nurses in World War II.

For more exciting reads, check out our New and Noteworthy and Current Literature collections.


Unseen: Unpublished Black History From The New York Times Photo Archives by Darcy Eveleigh, Dana Canedy, Damien Cave, and Rachel L. Swarns.

Hundreds of stunning images from black history have long been buried in the New York Times archives. Unseen dives deep into the Times photo archives – known as the Morgue – to showcase this extraordinary collection of photographs and the stories behind them.

It all started with Times photo editor Darcy Eveleigh discovering dozens of these photographs. She and three colleagues – Dana Canedy, Damien Cave and Rachel L. Swarns – began exploring the history behind them, subsequently chronicling them in a series entitled “Unpublished Black History” that ran in print and online editions of the Times in February 2016. It garnered 1.7 million views on the Times website and thousands of comments from readers. This book includes those photographs and many more, among them: a 27-year-old Jesse Jackson leading an anti-discrimination rally in Chicago, Rosa Parks arriving at a Montgomery Courthouse in Alabama, a candid behind-the-scenes shot of Aretha Franklin backstage at the Apollo Theater, Ralph Ellison on the streets of his Manhattan neighborhood, the firebombed home of Malcolm X, Myrlie Evans and her children at the funeral of her slain husband , Medgar, and a wheelchair-bound Roy Campanella at the razing of Ebbets Field.

Were the photos – or the people in them – not deemed newsworthy enough? Did the images not arrive in time for publication? Were they pushed aside by words at an institution long known as the Gray Lady? Eveleigh, Canedy, Cave, and Swarns explore all these questions and more in this one-of-a-kind book.

My favorite photograph from this book is at the beginning of the section “Arthur Mitchell, Dancing Through Barriers” on page 96. Unfortunately, this image does not appear in the online photograph series.


Talking Back: Voices of Color edited and with an introduction by Nellie Wong.

Talking Back: Voices of Color is a dynamic anthology featuring voices of youth, political prisoners, immigrants, and history-makers. Essays by a multi-racial, intergenerational mix of 25 Black, Latinx, Native American, and LGBTQ community organizers. Topics include quality education and environmental justice, indigenous land rights and international solidarity, film and book reviews, hidden histories of women of color, and tales of endurance and survival.

The introduction by Nellie Wong, a celebrated and widely published poet, explores the meaning of talking back as a step in gaining self-esteem and as a collective act. She writes: “To whom do we talk back? To those who will silence us. Those who incarcerate us in prison or in the home. Those who deny us our rights to cross borders to seek refuge from violence and safety for our children. Those who brutalize us because of our race, gender or sexuality… These voices of color matter. They need to be heard. Everywhere.”

This vibrant anthology astonished me at every turn. Many of the events referenced are history that I was never taught, stories that never penetrated the mainstream media, and news that never struck me as important on a visceral level amid the flood of a 24/7 news cycle and the filter effect of social media. Talking Back: Voices of Color opened my eyes to lived realities. I highly recommend this book, but reading it requires open-mindedness and a willingness to listen rather than reflexively judge based on the organizers’ politics.


Showtime at the Apollo: The Epic Tale of Harlem’s Legendary Theater by Ted Fox, illustrated by James Otis Smith.

Writer Ted Fox and artist James Otis Smith bring to life Harlem’s legendary theater in this graphic novel adaptation of Fox’s definitive, critically acclaimed history of the Apollo.

Since its inception as an African-American theater in 1934, the Apollo, and the thousands of entertainers who performed there, have led the way in the presentation of swing, bebop, rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel, soul, funk and hip-hop – along with the latest in dance and comedy. The Apollo has nurtured and featured thousands of artists, many of whom have become legends. The beauty they have given the world – their art – transcends the hatred, ignorance, and intolerance that often made their lives difficult. Today, the Apollo enjoys an almost mythical status. With its breathtaking art, this graphic novel adaptation of Showtime at the Apollo brings to life the theater’s legendary significance in music history, African American history, and the culture of New York City.

Multiversity Comics interviewed Ted Fox and James Otis Smith at New York Comic Con 2018. In addition to the new graphic novel, we have the 1983 book it was adapted from.


Afro-Descendants, Identity, and the Struggle for Development in the Americas edited by Bernd Reiter and Kimberly Eison Simmons.

Indigenous people and African descendants in Latin America and the Caribbean have long been affected by a social hierarchy established by elites, through which some groups were racialized and others were normalized. Far from being “racial paradises” populated by an amalgamated “cosmic race” of mulattos and mestizos, Latin America and the Caribbean have long been sites of shifting exploitative strategies and ideologies, ranging from scientific racism and eugenics to the more sophisticated official denial of racism and ethnic difference. This book, among the first to focus on African descendants in the region, brings together diverse reflections from scholars, activists, and funding agency representatives working to end racism and promote human rights in the Americas. By focusing on the ways racism inhibits agency among African descendants and the ways African-descendant groups position themselves in order to overcome obstacles, this interdisciplinary book provides a multi-faceted analysis of one of the gravest contemporary problems in the Americas.

Bernd Reiter has also written The Dialectics of Citizenship: Exploring Privilege, Exclusion, and Racialization and The Crisis of Liberal Democracy and the Path Ahead. Kimberly Eison Simmons contributed to Black Feminist Anthropology: Theory, Politics, Praxis, and Poetics and wrote Reconstructing Racial Identity and the African Past in the Dominican Republic.


Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly.

Newbery Medalist Erin Entrada Kelly’s Hello, Universe is a funny and poignant neighborhood story about unexpected friendships.

In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his crazy-about-sports family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and she loves everything about nature. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister, Gen, is always following her around. And Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just stop being so different so he can concentrate on basketball.

They aren’t friends, at least not until Chet pulls a prank that traps Virgil and his pet guinea pig at the bottom of a well. This disaster leads Kaori, Gen, and Valencia on an epic quest to find missing Virgil. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms.

The acclaimed and award-winning author of Blackbird Fly and The Land of Forgotten Girls writes with an authentic, humorous, and irresistible tween voice that will appeal to fans of Thanhha Lai and Rita Williams-Garcia.

I saw this book while browsing the New and Noteworthy collection. It looked adorable and positive, and did not disappoint. Hello Universe is so cute and wholesome that I was tearing up at the end because everything turns out well and friendship is amazing.

 


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