Literary Links: Black Activists and Activism

February is Black History Month so I will be calling attention to some great books about and by Black activists. Highlighted below are activists young and old, from Amanda Gorman, who at 22-years-old became the youngest poet to read a poem at a presidential inauguration, to Ida B. Wells, who was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize almost 90 years after her death for her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching. There are also a couple great books that focus on the importance of activism in the African American community. 

For more than 50 years, Angela Y. Davis has been known for her political activism at the cutting edge of the black liberation, feminist, queer and prison abolitionist movements. Her life is beautifully illustrated in the newly updatedAngela Davis: An Autobiography,” which features a new introduction from Davis.

Written by Ida B. Wells’ great-granddaughter, Michelle Duster, Ida B. the Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells visually celebrates Wells’ life and the Black experience. Wells was a African-American journalist and activist who led an anti-lynching crusade in the 1890s. Almost a century after her death, Wells’ genius is being celebrated in popular culture by politicians and through song, public artwork and landmarks. 

In the graphic novel, March: Book One,” we learn of one of the key figures of the civil rights movement, congressman John Lewis. Book one spans Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luthur King, Jr. and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent methods. This series by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell, has two additional books as well as a new sequel series, Run,” that shows the continuation of the story of John Lewis and the struggles seen across the United States after the Selma voting rights campaign in 1965.

The Coretta Scott King Award honors outstanding books for young adults and children by African Americans that reflect the African American experience. In My Life, My Love, My Legacy,” King wrote about her tireless work to found and develop the King Center as a citadel for world peace, her 15 years of lobbying for a U.S. national holiday in honor of her husband and her championing of  women’s, workers’ and gay rights. 

In,“Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America,” award-winning historian Keisha N. Blain explores the life of Fannie Lou Hamer, a key political thinker and activist who worked alongside leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. Despite her limited resources and countless challenges as a Black woman living in Mississippi, Hamer endured and committed herself to making a difference in the lives of others. 

On January 20, 2021, Amanda Gorman became the youngest poet to read at a presidential inauguration in U.S. history and the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate. In “Call Us What We Carry: Poems,” Gorman explores history, language, identity and erasure through an imaginative and intimate collage. Gorman focuses her personal activism on issues of oppression, feminism, race and marginaliztion, as well as the African diaspora.

Looking at the wider picture of activism, Adrienne Maree Brown explores in Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good how we can make social justice a more pleasurable human experience. She challenges us to rethink the ground rules of activism. How can we awaken within ourselves desires that make it impossible to settle for anything less than a fulfilling life? Included are essays that explore topics on climate change, race and gender; sex and drugs; building a new narrative; and about how politics should feel good.

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