Black lives matter. When we examine history, we see the myriad ways people made choices and set up institutions to demean and erase the lives of Black people. We also see people who stood up and put their lives on the line to assert the value of Black lives.
The events of the last ten days have felt like an inflection point, one that will determine the future direction of our nation. As historians, we see how times like this do not come out of nowhere, but are the result of a complex array of decisions and actions made by humans in the distant and recent past. Over the last week, the members of the History Department have collected some readings and resources we have found valuable to try to understand the moment we are in, and we’d like to share them in this blog post.
An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz. This is about the current plague of violence in Chicago.
The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, A Death, and America’s Dilemma by Alex Kotlowitz.. This one’s about an investigation of a death in St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, MI.
The Cross and the Lynching Tree, by James Cone. American Christianity has been complicit in the brutality heaped upon black people from the earliest years of the colonial period. Cone squarely addresses a narrative too little known and discussed.
Stony the Road We Trod, edited by Dr. William Meyers. Africans and people of African descent have been systematically omitted from their presence in, and impact upon, the Bible. This source sets out to fill in some gaps.
The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander. After the Civil War and up to the mid-20th century, white supremacists did their best to reconstruct the antebellum status quo. Jim Crow segregation was the result. Their success was and has been updated for the new millennium.
Martin & Malcolm & America, by James Cone
Pillar of Fire, Parting the Waters, At Canaan’s Edge by Taylor Branch. Excellent narratives of the King Years and Civil Rights Movement.
The Narrative of the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, by Frederick Douglass. A classic “must read” reading from, aside from Abraham Lincoln, one of the most important figures of the 19th century. His rise from slavery to abolitionist, newspaper editor, presidential advisor, ambassador, human rights activist, suffragist, and statesman draws shudders at the thought of the brilliance that was nearly crushed beneath the heel of bigotry.
Preserving the White Man’s Republic: Jacksonian Democracy, Race, and the Transformation of American Conservatism, by Joshua A. Lynn. The racist policies of Andrew Jackson and the nation of enablers that made it possible for African Americans to be enslaved, women silenced, and Native Americans kicked across the continent was brilliantly engineered by those who spared no effort to create a “white man’s republic”.
The Miseducation of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson. Straight talk from the man who inspired Black History Month.
The Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B. Dubois. Dubois predicted that America’s chief problem in the 20th century would be the problem of the color line. He was bullseye correct and might as well have predicted the same for the 21st century.
Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight. More about Douglass and is wonderfully written, awe inspiring.
When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America by Paula Giddings. In this pioneer work, Giddings writes United States history with Black women at the center.
Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America by Martha S. Jones. This book examines how African Americans battled in the courts and legislatures for citizenship rights during the slavery era.
Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family from Slavery to the Present by Jaqueline Jones. Jones digs up a fantastic array of sources to tell the story of how Black women defined the meaning of their work throughout US history.
At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance: A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle McGuire. McGuire re-writes the history of the Civil Rights Movement by linking it to the history of Black women’s fight against sexual violence.
Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody. In this autobiography, Moody relates the empowerment that came from her Civil Rights activism, but also the exhaustion and bitterness.
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X Kendi. This is a National Book Award winner by an American University historian. It examines the intellectual history of racist ideas in the US, and talks about how deeply they are embedded in our history. examines the intellectual history of racist ideas in the US, and talks about how deeply they are embedded in our history. Xendi uses five “tour guides” to lead us through the development of racist ideas in the United States: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B.DuBois, and Angela Davis. The title comes from an 1860 speech by Jefferson Davis, when he said that the “inequality of the white and black races” was “stamped from the beginning.'”
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Ta-nehisi Coates combines memoir and history in beautiful and heartbreaking prose in the form of a letter to his son. It shows how racism shaped American history, but also how it shapes the lives of individuals today. This work is short and accessible. Read it with someone (a few friends, your parents, your church group) and discuss.
Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 by Anna Deavere Smith. This was a groundbreaking work of documentary theatre, based on interviews that Anna Deavere Smith conducted with people who lived through the Los Angeles riots of 1992. She performed it as a one-woman show. It’s a theatrical take on oral history–well worth reading.
Blue Dreams: Korean Americans and the Los Angeles Riots by Nancy Abelmann and John Lie. This looks at how and why Korean Americans were caught up in the Los Angeles racial riots in 1992.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture’s “Talking About Race” portal.
Additional note from Dr. Gloria Tseng
A Cry, a Lament, a Prayer of Anguish and Brokenness Offered up to God
“…the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words…the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8: 26-27).
I first met Ingrid at a conference organized by Andrew F. Walls Centre for the Study of African and Asian Christianity at Liverpool Hope University in Liverpool, England, almost ten years ago. She spoke of her experiences as a missionary co-worker of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in South Sudan, serving as a mobile trainer of adult literary teachers in Sudan. I remember being deeply moved by her lively and humorous presentation, which also made me laugh, most unusual for an academic conference. Subsequently a friendship developed between us, and I have appreciated her spiritual and academic encouragement and insights ever since. Ingrid had received her Ph.D. in Literature from Rutgers University and taught Black Feminist Theory and African Diaspora Literature at the University of South Carolina before becoming a missionary. Currently, she and her husband, Andrew F. Walls, missionary and pioneer scholar in the field of world Christianity, are an independent missionary couple affiliated with the Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture in Akropong-Akuapem, Ghana, and the Walls Centre in England. They are members of Crown Terrace Methodist Church in Aberdeen, Scotland. They also worship at Shiloh Church in Oakland, California, Ingrid’s home congregation, when their itinerant ministry brings them (back) to the US. Their passion is the development of Christian scholarship, especially among African brothers and sisters whose cultural roots are in primal religions. Ingrid’s current research focus is on the Christianity of the first African diaspora to the Americas.
Ingrid sent this prayer to me about a week ago. On the one hand, it is a lament offered up on behalf of the communities of color and a cry to God for justice long-deferred in this country; on the other hand, as the worldwide ripple effects of the demonstrations in American cities have shown, the cries of those long marginalized in our society and those who stand with them in this country have resonated with all who long for justice in their own communities around the world. She has generously agreed to let this prayer be shared here.
for the killing fields of American Streets
by Ingrid R. Walls
This, this is our world now, no sheltering for homo sapiens, no grasslands where humans roam free; this is our home now, where the predators are us, the ones set free to choose life…this is where now the lines between the evil and good are finer than silken thread…this is where the dead video their lives for us to see, to look and make calls to heaven from our mobiles…this is where generational tears will not do, unless they splinter the threads of gleaming hate and gloating murder still connected across time and space….this is where there is no haste to make amends, or to mend broken hearts too crushed to be mended…this, this is where holy wills must keep pumping the blood line of new life into the veins of a world kneed down, its head on the ground, its rib bones stark from the hunger within, its belly bloated and keep swelling by too much, too much just too many mass killings, and law reaper killings, and drive by killings, and killings that drain-out breath from the breathing, and aid from the disabled, and bury care for the elderly, and killings too that look like sanctioned changes to the status quo….this ground is grown dried, soaked right through to the bone marrow with the wounded fear that all this dying gives… …but dry bones can still live…they can still be knitted back together with the Word…the word in the limb, in the eyes, in the nose, in the mouth and the touch of the chosen…to see, and to keep watchful and to steer the way forward back into day light again, in this world, this world, that once used to be our home….
© 2020 ingrid reneau walls