The scholar Carter G. Woodson, who’s known as “the father of black history” and the creator of what would become Black History Month, dedicated his life’s work to promoting the study of black people and their accomplishments. In his seminal book The Mis-Education of the Negro, Woodson makes the argument that African Americans have to learn about their history in order to help heal their inherited trauma.
The visual artist Lorna Simpson’s work approaches black identity with an eye toward archival history and everyday life, such as in her collages that showcase the dynamism of black women’s hair. Kiley Reid captures a modern dilemma in her novel about a young black woman whose part-time babysitting gig turns awkward due to her white employer’s attempts to impress her with “wokeness.”
Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” written in 1963 while he was being detained for leading a protest, is as relevant as ever when reflecting on black history and racial politics. The same is true of a poem Nikki Giovanni wrote after King was assassinated, imagining how black people could respond to such an overwhelming loss.
Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas.
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‘Letter From Birmingham Jail’
“[This] eloquent call for ‘constructive, nonviolent tension’ to force an end to unjust laws became a landmark document of the civil-rights movement.”