If you only read one book this month for Black History Month, make it We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It’s a collection of eight essays — each from a year in President Barack Obama’s presidency — that were previously published in the Atlantic.
His essays are brilliant, thoughtful, and complex — while they are each from a year during Obama presidency, they cover an array of subjects within cultural, social, and political issues of race and racism. One essay focuses on mass incarceration of black Americans, while another on racist policies that prevented and prevents African American families from homeownership and establishing wealth.
In another of Coates’ essays, he argues for the importance of learning about Civil War history, a war over whether or not black people could be enslaved. This defining war ultimately (thankfully) said no, you cannot enslave people. Each essay is filled with history, and because of that it’s the perfect book for this month. Plus, the writing is excellent.
Aside from being a national correspondent for the Atlantic magazine, Coates has written New York Times bestseller Between the World and Me and the new Black Panther series for Marvel Comics (with Brian Stelfreeze). Maybe you want to read a few of his Black Panther comics in preparation for the upcoming Marvel film.
For other titles for Black History Month, consider the official theme for this year’s Black history month: “African Americans in Time of War.” Black people have fought in every single war in United States history. Soldiers of freedom : an illustrated history of African Americans in the Armed Forces by Kai Wright covers most of them, from the Revolutionary War to the Vietnam war. One potentially great read is The Hellfighters of Harlem : African-American Soldiers Who Fought for The Right to Fight for Their Country by Bill Harris, which is about the most celebrated all-black unit during World War I. Many black veterans were frustrated after fighting for other people’s rights , because when they returned to America they experienced unequal opportunities for success, police violence, and hostile discrimination. Take a moment and read their stories.
Those who who do not learn about history are doomed to repeat it. And those who don’t question history are doomed to fall prey to the winner’s idealizations and cover-ups. To take that closer look, read comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory’s new book Defining Moments in Black history : Reading Between the Lies. Gregory covers everything, from African ancestry, the Harlem Renaissance, modern-day protests, and more.
If none of these are appealing right now (maybe you’re not a fan of history or nonfiction), you can still honor Black History month by prioritizing books on your to-read shelf written by black authors. All these titles and more are available through the Heartland Library Cooperative.