Celebrating Black History Month in 2021

Posted on February 1, 2021

by The History Reader

Black History Month was originally created half a century after the abolition of slavery in order to celebrate the history and the people of Africa that were deemed influential. It was not officially recognized until 1976 when Gerald Ford saw the hatred that was being spread during the Civil Rights Movement. Since then, it has become a tradition for all US Presidents to celebrate this month and designate a theme. For 2021, the theme of Black History Month is “Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.” 
This is a particularly significant year to be aware and informed about Black History Month due to the recent events that have occurred in the country. Given the rise of both violence and protests, it is important to see not just the accomplishments of black people, but the hardships they have faced as well. History books and literature have too often overlooked the inclusion of the black community, but as Langston Hughes once wrote, “I, too, am America”. Here are some books that will make black people be seen, understood, and empowered.

Buses Are A Comin’: Memoir of a Freedom Rider

by Charles Person with Richard Rooker

Charles Person was the youngest of the original Freedom Riders, as he was just eighteen years old. In 1961, he rode from Washington D.C. to New Orleans in order to bring attention to the unconstitutional nature of public segregation. Though this did not end segregation in the South, Person and the other riders’ voices have been immortalized. Person hopes that his young age during this journey will inspire the young people today to step up and stand up for injustice, as their voices will be heard one way or another. It is a story of resilience and perseverance in the face of injustice, and a call to action for the people of today.

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The Burning: The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921

by Tim Madigan

Madigan wrote about the Tulsa Race Massacre back in 2001, but it did not receive the reception he had hoped, as America was not ready to accept the harsh truths that led to this horrific event. The context of the Massacre—and even the massacre itself—is not common knowledge and not included in history books, which is why Madigan takes it upon himself to educate readers on what really happened. It was not a unique event, as this was when the Jim Crow movement was gaining momentum, and being openly racist and violent was normalized and even encouraged. This is a book written 80 years after the massacre. Since then, many steps have been made toward social equality and anti-violence. However, as recent events have shown, there is still much to be done. The knowledge and historical context this book teaches is vital for any reader to learn about and try to prevent more racially motivated killings such as the Tulsa Race Massacre. 

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Grace Will Lead Us Home: The Charleston Church Tragedy and the Hard, Inspiring Journey to Forgiveness

by Jennifer Berry Hawes

A more recent tragedy than the other books on this list, Hawes writes a very raw, unabridged account of the 2015 shootings at the Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina, and its aftermath. The members of Emanuel AME believed they were welcoming a nice young white man into their Bible study, however, Dylan Roof showed up to the church with one goal in mind: to start a race war. A deeply human account of grief, faith, and forgiveness, Grace Will Lead Us Home is a very poignant reminder that racism is very much alive in America today.

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What Truth Sounds Like: RFK, James Baldwin, And Our Unfinished Conversation About Race in America

by Michael Eric Dyson

With this book, Dyson illustrates what went on behind the scenes in the political realm when it came to issues of race. He writes about Robert F. Kennedy’s relationship with James Baldwin, and how frustrating their first meeting was. Baldwin brought other African American activists with him, and Kennedy left the meeting angry at how hard it was to talk about racial inequality. Eventually, RFK learned to somewhat see the struggles of African Americans, but he still believed them to be ungrateful and unpatriotic, an attitude that has continued by many Americans towards today’s BLM movement and other racial activists. Dyson’s book is a wonderful display of how certain biases do not necessarily die over time. 

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Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime

by Ron Stallworth

Though mostly known as the Academy Award-winning film, Black Klansman is Ron Stallworth’s autobiographical account of his work as a black man going undercover to learn about the KKK. He recruits a white man to befriend the KKK in person while Stallworth does all the work over the phone in order to gather information and stop any planned acts of terrorism. While this was during the peak of the KKK’s rise in America, Stallworth is miraculously able to come out of this alive. This is a true story of hatred and violence in a divided America, and a cunning man who is determined and brave enough to make a mockery of the very organization that would kill him for the color of his skin. 

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Be Free Or Die: The Amazing Story of Robert Smalls’ Escape from Slavery to Union Hero

by Cate Lineberry

An awe-inspiring true story that has been overlooked by history, Be Free or Die follows Robert Smalls who steals a Confederate ship in order to serve the Union and emancipate himself and his family. After successfully escaping Charleston and bringing arms to the Union troops, he was able to rise up the ranks and become the first black captain of an Army ship. This is a liberating read that displays the many struggles and achievements of African Americans during the Civil War.

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Bending Toward Justice: The Birmingham Church Bombing that Changed the Course of Civil Rights

by Doug Jones

In 1963, the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed, killing four girls and injuring twenty-two other people. The Ku Klux Klan was suspected to be behind it; however, due to lack of evidence, the case was closed and there was no further investigation until 1977, when one of the bombers was finally convicted. After this, there were continued investigations, with the final two suspects convicted in the early 2000s. Jones not only highlights the racial injustice and violence that African Americans experienced, but he brings to light issues in the legal system as well, as it took nearly forty years for all the suspects to be charged due to apathy towards the case. Nevertheless, this did not stop people to seek justice for the lives that were affected by this act of terrorism. 

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Bonus Reading!

Glory: Magical Visions of Black Beauty

by Kahran and Regis Bethencourt

After listing books that investigate the often tragic events that the black community has faced throughout history, Glory is a book filled with images that highlight the richness of black culture. It embraces and empowers a historic past, as well as including present-day images in order to challenge what the typical notions of beauty are. Glory is not just another picture book, as it brings to life past, present, and future visions of black culture. Kahran and Regis Bethencourt provide a book full of positive visibility and representation for black people—especially black children—everywhere.

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