Start Exploring Black History This Month

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February can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, from their first birthday in four years to some time with their sweetheart, but one of the most important things we should all try to celebrate is Black History Month. The man in the picture there is Edward C. Williams, the first American Black Librarian. He was the director of the Hatch Library of Western Reserve University in the early 1900s and eventually became the Head Librarian at Howard University. He even wrote and published a novel of his own! Did you know that? I didn’t until I started working on this post!

As a white person, I know how easy it is to mistakenly feel like I’m aware of the “important stuff” I should know, but the fact of the matter is that there are so many interesting stories and people that have been swept under the rug. Writers and researchers are doing so much to draw out that missing history and give perspectives that many, including myself, have just flat-out missed. If you want to start on a similar journey of realizing the past is more complex and with more amazing people than you ever imagined, or want to connect more strongly to your heritage, here are some recommendations of areas of Black History you might want to look into you potentially hadn’t considered.

Cover of African Europeans

African Europeans: An Untold History

Written by the first black woman to ever hold a professional chair in a UK history department, Olivette Otele is out to show us that the common idea that Europe only recently has had people of African descent is completely wrong, and that there have been important people in Europe with African heritage since as early as the third century. For those wanting a look at history from a non-American lens, this book might fit the bill.

Other Recommendations:
African Samurai: The True Story of Yasuke, a Legendary Black Warrior in Feudal Japan
Beyond the Shores: A History of African Americans Abroad

Cover of Twisted

Twisted: A Tangled History of Black Hair Culture

As strange as it may seem just to say it, Black Hair has been a hotly contested issue in American history. There is a stigma about these natural hairstyles that still persists today. I have seen this be an issue even in something as seemingly insignificant as a video game character creator not having any Black Hairstyles on offer, making it impossible for certain players to see themselves in their games. Of course, it goes much deeper than entertainment, and Emma Dabiri, in a book that combines both her personal experiences with her hair and in-depth research on the history involved in Black Hairstyles, explores it all.

Other Recommendations:
My Beautiful Black Hair: 101 Natural Hair Stories from the Sisterhood
Glory: Magical Visions of Black Beauty

Cover of Hog and Hominy

Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America

If you’re more the type who wants to eat your way through history, perhaps a book like Hog and Hominy is more your speed. Soul Food is a rich and delicious culinary tradition, one that you may have integrated into your regular cooking routine in ways that you might not even know. Food is one of the biggest social connections we have to a community, but it’s also an indicator of status in society in a lot of ways, and Frederick Douglass Opie breaks all of this down through interviews and research on the history of this style of cooking.

Other Recommendations:
Soul Food Love: Healthy Recipes Inspired by One Hundred Years of Cooking in a Black Family
Carla Hall's Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration

Cover of Extraordinary Black Missourians

Extraordinary Black Missourians: Pioneers, Leaders, Performers, Athletes, & Other Notables Who've Made History

For those into local history, consider this book that collects over a hundred interesting and extraordinary Black Missourians from throughout history. The book covers names you might have heard before, such as Josephine Baker and Dred Scott, but also a wide variety of lesser-known names and history makers that helped to make this state what it is. Written by two Missourians, this book is likely to give you some local perspectives you haven’t considered.

Other Recommendations:
Missouri's Black Heritage
13 Days in Ferguson

Cover of The Black Guy Dies First

The Black Guy Dies First: Black Horror Cinema from Fodder to Oscar

The horror movie genre has, for a long time, used a trope of including Black people in their movies but having them be the first victims of whatever horrible creature or killer exists in the film. Of course, newer directors and films are working to change this and other unfortunate tropes, but these ingrained ideas have affected horror cinema for years. One of the authors of this book, Dr. Coleman, has been a long-time researcher of Black Cinema, as well as a documentarian of similar topics, and Mark H. Harris, the other author, is a long-time entertainment journalist and reviewer. They are ready to lead you through the history of the themes and traits that Black actors and storytellers had to work through throughout the history of movies.

Other Recommendations:
Black Rodeo: A History of the African American Western
Game of Privilege: An African American History of Golf

Of course, these are just places to start! There are so many other ways to delve into Black History, and if nonfiction isn’t your thing, dive into the many stories written by Black authors. So consider adding a little celebration of Black History Month into your reading these next few weeks! I know I will be. And we might learn something we never even realized about the world we live in and the wonderful people in it.

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