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African American Heritage Month Book Talk: Part II

Social Science, Philosophy and Religion Department, Central Library,
4 award winning books from African American authors
African American Heritage Month Book Talk: Part II

February is African American Heritage Month and we are celebrating with book recommendations from the Social Science, Philosophy & Religion department collection throughout the month. Titles in this two-part series may be just published or returned to the spotlight during this special month.

Four Titles to Explore

Book cover for Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America
Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America
Byrd, Ayana D.

Byrd and Tharps examine historical hair traditions, the inhumane and unhealthy conditions faced by American slaves, the growth of the Black hair care industry, the various hair styles used in the African American community, examples of discrimination faced by African-Americans over their hairstyle, and the portrayal of African American hairstyles in the media and popular culture. Starting as far back as the year 1400 with various African societies, the authors show how a hairstyle conveyed information about a person’s cultural status, age, religion, and wealth. They contrast that with the experiences of slaves in America, who had to use whatever products were at hand for their hair care, such as tools intended for shearing sheep, and cornmeal and kerosene for scalp cleaning. The African-American hair care industry grew in the early twentieth century due to entrepreneurs such as Annie Turnbo Malone and Madam C.J. Walker. Byrd and Tharps also pay attention to the hair fashions used in the African-American community over the decades, and they detail how the Afro became a symbol of African-American unity and pride during the Civil Rights Movement. As time went on, African-Americans faced workplace discrimination over wearing cornrows at work. Throughout this informative book, Byrd and Tharps include photos and lists, such as “Black Hair Glossary”, “A Helping of Good Old-Fashioned Black Hair Superstitions” and “Ten Memorable Moments in Black Hair History”.

Book cover for Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
Obama, Barack

Before then-Illinois State Senator Obama introduced himself to America at the 2004 Democratic National Convention where he had the high profile speaking slot nominating Sen. John Kerry for President, he introduced himself to America in print with this 1995 autobiography.

In Dreams from my father, Obama relates his early years moving with his single mother across the Pacific Rim, his college and law school successes, and his community organizing in Chicago’s South Side. Obama explores his Kenyan and White Midwestern heritage in addition to the Hawaiian and Indonesian influences he absorbed during his mother’s academic postings, all as he develops his identity as a Black man in America. Nine years after its publication, Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States. If you haven’t read or recently re-read Dreams From My Father, it’s a good time to enjoy this essential memoir by an American icon.

Book cover for Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching
Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching
Giddings, Paula

Born to slaves in Mississippi, Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) was an educator, suffragist, and founding member of the NAACP. She is best known for her work as an investigative journalist exposing the horrors of lynching perpetrated against African Americans. Winner of the 2008 Los Angeles Times Book Award for Biography, Giddings’ meticulously researched work is an illuminating portrait of a remarkable American and early leader of the civil rights movement.

Book cover for Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party
Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party
Bloom, Joshua

Bloom and Martin present their extensively researched history of the Black Panther Party, including fifty illustrations and photos, and over eighty pages of footnotes. Through interviews, analysis of Black Panther archives, and academic sources, they provide political and social context to explain the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party and its continued legacy. Original organizers Huey Newton and Bobby Seale were able to tap into the inner-city rage against police brutality and poor economic conditions that led to rebellions in Watts, Detroit, and Newark. Starting as an armed self-defense movement against the police in Oakland, the Black Panther Party grew to provide community assistance programs and engendered support from moderate African-Americans, liberal whites, and anti-war supporters. Publicity from run-ins with police and courtroom trials overshadowed their message of self-reliance and self-determination. Within a relatively short time, the Black Panther Party’s influence began to wane, as they had difficulty maintaining a coherent political vision. Discipline within the Party proved elusive as members in local chapters committed illegal and criminal activities under the guise of revolutionary activities. Efforts by the federal government to deescalate the United States' involvement in Vietnam and early affirmative action programs were also factors in the Black Panther Party’s loss of support.

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