Tag Archives: reading

Five Recommendations for Black History Month

As we continue to observe Black History month, here are 5 histories that have been the among the most compelling that I have read.

The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson. Wilkerson, tells the history of the mass migration of African Americans from the South to the Industrial North in the decades following the Civil War. While full of well-documented history, she structures that history around the stories of three different individuals who migrated at different times to different places. Those family stories bring the history to life and make for a compelling chronicle of the northern migration, both the opportunities and the pitfalls.

The Half Has Never Been Told, by Edward E. Baptist. Baptist writes a history of chattel slavery in the US from the perspective of economics and argues that the emergence of the US as a world economic power was only possible because of the tortuous institution of slavery. The expanding production of cotton in the 19th century brought prosperity not only to the owners of the land and production, but to northerners who invested in that production, not to mention others who benefited indirectly from the rippling effects of cotton production. Even the Industrial Revolution of 19th century England, centered in the milling of cotton and the production of clothing, would not have been possible without the whip-induced productivity of black slaves. “For what was done in the fields — specifically what was done to force enslaved people to create new ways to accelerate the pace of their own labor — shaped what was possible in the factory, the bank, the marketplace, and the halls of state. Invisible new financial wires bound the bodies of enslaved people to the dreams and desires of whose whose measuring eyes stared down women and men on the auction block and to those of investors around the world. Slavery rendered the United States powerful, its white citizens richer and more equal.” (p. 421)

Family Properties by Beryl Satter. Here you’ll find the well-documented history of the contract housing crisis in Chicago in the 1950s and 1960’s. Satter, who teaches history at Rutgers, does not, however, tell the story in the cold, distant tones of an historian. Her father was an attorney who represented many of the African Americans in their fights to keep their home. The dysfunction of the City of Chicago, is exposed, along with the realtors and property owners whose motive was money over people. Satter chronicles the breakdown of whole sections of the city. One of the chapters that I found particularly compelling was the one that told the story of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s visit to the Chicago. He attempted to import strategies that were successful in the South to Chicago and got buried by the Daley machine.

White Rage, by Carol Anderson. I first learned of Carol Anderson through a powerful op-ed she wrote in the Washington Post following the killing of Michael Brown and the subsequent unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. In this book, Anderson examines each historical era in the US since the Civil War and tells the story of how the white privileged, institutional structures of oppression have denied economic opportunity to our African-American citizens. She terms “white rage” that reaction of white people to the advancement of people of color and in that reaction, the inevitable move to derail their advancement. This book was compelling in laying out the ongoing systematic structures of oppression.

The History of White People, by Nell Irvin Painter. On its surface this seems like an odd choice for Black History month, but stay with me for a moment. Here, Painter documents the development of race theory as a real thing, and in particular the notion of American whiteness. Race is not based on biology, but on a sociological construct that is meant to privilege white people and oppress people of color. She provides numerous illustrations through history of how white people have constructed notions of race for a variety of social, economic, and political gains. Read this book for a full scale debunking of the myth of race and of the devastation that such myths have unleashed on those whose skin is not white.

What books of Black History would you recommend?

My Favorite Books of 2017

I still remember the first chapter book that I learned to read: Miss Suzy. I was so proud to  read all by myself this book that my parents had been reading to me forever. Later on, I spent summers wearing out the path between our home and the Bridgeport Public Library. One summer, it was to see if I could read all the Hardy Boys series in one summer. The next summer it was Nancy Drew. My parents bought the Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Civil War, and I read that one summer; we also had the Worldbook Encyclopedia in our home. I didn’t read it cover to cover, but I got my licks in.

Reading continues to be important to me as an adult — as a pastor, as a curious resident of this amazing world, and as a responsible citizen of this nation and the global community. Reading also goes hand in glove with my vocation as a writer. The aspiration to be a good writer requires reading good writing.

2017 has been a year of transition, leaving one call in the western suburbs of Chicago and taking a position as pastor of a church Door County, Wisconsin. Transitions require a tremendous amount of my physical, intellectual, and emotional resources. For me, that means I haven’t done as much writing this year as I had hoped.

Reading, however, has remained constant. And I have read some books this past year that I thought were pretty great. Below is a list of the ones that really stood out for me.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll post a short review of each, a new review posted every few days. They’re not listed in any order that would suggest that I liked one better than the other. They are from different genres and I liked them for different reasons. They appear here roughly in the order in which I read them, simply a random list of my favorites from the past year.  If there’s anything that looks intriguing, come back and take a look at the review.

The Age of Anger: A History of the Present, by Pankaj Mishra

Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders

Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit

The Day the Revolution Began, by N. T. Wright

Do I Make Myself Clear?, by Harold Evans

Tears We Cannot Stop, by Michael Eric Dyson

The Daughters, by Adrienne Celt

Original Blessing, by Danielle Shroyer

White Rage, by Carol Anderson

How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds, by Alan Jacobs

Faith Formation in a Secular Age, by Andrew Root

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond

Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari