Afro Centric Readings

"Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality" (Vintage, $24) by Richard Kluger. "Simple Justice" chronicles race relations and the history of the treatment of African-Americans in the United States. The book's central focus is on the struggle to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Plessy v. Ferguson.

In that decision the court held that the concept of "separate but equal" treatment based on race was not unconstitutional, in essence approving state-sponsored apartheid. In chronicling that struggle "Simple Justice" tells the story of the brave and exceptionally talented people and the trials they went through culminating in the court's unanimous decision in Brown striking down racial segregation. "Simple Justice" is an important and powerful work.

"The Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison. Painter Iona Brown. Painter Jacob Lawrence. These are personalities in art. Their lives are important to a contemporary history.

Frederick Douglass' "Narrative" ("Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave"),

W.E.B. Du Bois' "The Souls of Black Folk" and "Darkwater." Ernest Gaines' "A Lesson Before Dying," one of the finest novels ever written by an artist of any race, is informative, moving and accessible. As wonderful, in its own way, is William Melvin Kelley's "A Different Drummer."

"Skin Game" (1971) starring Louis Gossett Jr. and James Garner, which manages to be reasonably accurate and entertaining — even slavery had its humorous moments. For more contemporary interest, Arnold Perl's 1972 documentary "Malcolm X," which not only does a better job of capturing the times than the more recent feature film but also features the work of the "godfathers of hip-hop," The Last Poets.

Drama, in performance, is hard to find, but I have always loved Ron Milner's "What the Wine-Sellers Buy," a contemporary tale in 1974 which now seems both prophetic and still powerfully relevant.

I am always moved by some of the works of Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), not only for his treatment of folk subjects ("The Banjo Lesson" and "The Thankful Poor"), but for paintings like "The Annunciation" and "Lions in the Desert."

My own introduction to the idea that there was such a thing as black history came from hearing and singing the spirituals, especially as arranged by William Levi Dawson. A fine collection of his arrangements is available from St. Olaf Records. And of course there's Miles (Davis) and "Kind of Blue," but I also try to point people to Lee Morgan's "Search for the New Land."

LaMonica Garrett, actor (the film, "Transformers: Dark of the Moon,"

"Open Letter to the South" by Langston Hughes. Langston Hughes was one of the early pioneers for true democracy. In this poem he writes about the working class regardless of race coming together to unite as one. And with that type of unity, there is greater power. "We did not know that we were brothers./ Now we know!/ out of that brotherhood/ Let power grow!"

"The Jackie Robinson Story" (1950), it teaches young people to appreciate … that with courage, hard work and perseverance no challenge is insurmountable.

I would recommend the documentary series "Eyes on the Prize" because it seeks to tell the rich and complex history of the struggle for racial equality through the lens of the women and men who led that fight. Not all of their names are well known to us like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. or even Jackie Robinson. Many of them worked behind the scenes, never achieving the recognition of national leaders, but their contributions to the civil rights movement were invaluable. Their stories should remind all of us that the need to fight for justice still exists.

Other Significant Works Worth a Read:

  • Copper Sun, by Draper, Sharon
  • The Magnificent Twelve: Florida's Black Junior Colleges, by Smith, Ph.D., Walter L.
  • Fortune's Bones: The Manumission Requiem, by Nelson, Marilyn
  • Carver: A Life in Poems, by Nelson, Marilyn
  • Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary, by Myers, Walter Dean
  • Mississippi Challenge, by Walter, Mildred Pitts
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Freedom Movement, by Patters, Lillie
  • We Beat the Street: How a Friendship Led to Success, by Davis, Sampson, Jenkins, George, Hunt, Rameck and Draper, Sharon
  • Fallen Angels, by Myers, Walter Dean
  • Anthony Burns: The Defeat and Triumph of a Fugitive Slave, by Hamilton, Virginia
  • Trouble's Child, by Walter, Mildred Pitts
  • The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl, by Hamilton, Virginia
  • Lena Horne, by Haskins, James
  • The Middle Passage: White Ships Black Cargo, by Feelings, Tom
  • This Life, by Poitier, Sidney
  • Don't Explain: A Song of Billie Holiday, by De Veaux, Alexis
  • The Young Landlords, by Myers, Walter Dean
  • James Van Der Zee: The Picture Takin' Man, by Haskins, James
  • Let the Lion Eat Straw, by Southerland, Ellease
  • Cornrows, by Yarborough, Camille
  • Benjamin Banneker, by Patterson, Lillie
  • Barbara Jordan, by Haskins, James
  • Darkness Before Dawn, by Draper, Sharon
  • Coretta Scott King, by Patterson, Lillie
  • I Have a Dream, by King, Martin Luther, Jr.
  • Portia: The Life of Portia Washington Pittman, the Daughter of Booker T. Washington, by Stewart, Ruth Ann
  • The Legend of Africana, by Robinson, Dorothy
  • I Never Had It Made: the Autobiography of Jackie Robinson, as told, by Duckett, Alfred
  • My Chill Wind, by McDonald, Janet
  • Lou in the Limelight, by Hunter, Kristin
  • Movin' Up, by Gordy, Berry
  • Marvin and Tige, by Glass, Frankcina
  • Black Troubador: Langston Hughes, by Rollins, Charlemae
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.: Man of Peace, by Patterson, Lillie
  • Monster, by Myers, Walter Dean
  • The First Part Last, by Johnson, Angela
  • Just Another Hero, by Draper, Sharon M.
  • Remember: The Journey to School Integration, by Morrison, Toni
  • Becoming Billie Holiday, by Weatherford, Carole Boston
  • A Wreath For Emmett Till, by Nelson, Marilyn
  • The Freedom Business, by Nelson, Marilyn
  • Street Love, by Myers, Walter Dean
  • Harlem Hustle, by McDonald, Janet
  • The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing - Traitor to the Nation, by Anderson, M. T.
  • Mare's War, by Davis, Tanita S.
  • The Negro Speaks of Rivers, by Hughes, Langston and Lewis, E. B.
  • Giants: The Parallel lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, by Stauffer, John
  • Autobiography of My Dead Brother, by Myers, Walter Dean
  • The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfill a Dream, by Davis, Sampson, Jenkins, George, Hunt, Rameck, with Page, Lisa Frazier
  • Black, Blue, and Gray: African Americans in the Civil War, Haskins, Jim
  • Black Boy, Wright, Richard
  • A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry, Lorraine
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston, Zora Neale
  • Mining for Freedom: Black History Meets the California Gold Rush, Roberts, Sylvia Alden