Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the Supreme Court’s ruling on the 1965 Civil Rights Act was what Amy Davidson in The New Yorker pointed out:

The majority ruling was built more on resentment of a particularly petulant kind: grudging about the need to remember an unpleasant past and to be mindful of the marginalized; offended by the idea that anyone would consider certain parts of the country more racist than others, or, really, that anyone is particularly racist at all these days.

Since a person who followed my work has recently claimed the same thing – with hostile words and a complete disassociation from my social media presence – this commentary seems particularly astute.

As I said on Monday, racism is not dead in the U.S., and while the majority of the Supreme Court might like to pretend it is, I’m not willing to pretend, not with Trayvon Martin’s killer on trial and when a Cheerios ad with a biracial child causes such hatefulness.  I’m with Michael Twitty on this one – the only surprise about racism is when people don’t see it. 


So with our need to be more aware of the struggles that people of color have faced and do face in our great but flawed nation, I present to you this list of amazing books about Civil Rights, race relations, and the history of slavery and segregation in the U.S.  Any one of them would be a great addition to the Super Summer Reading Program, if you’re joining us.

1. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., And The Southern Christian Leadership Conference by David J. Garrow . An honest, in-depth study of Dr. King’s work, his struggles, and the other great leaders who surrounded him.

2. Bayard Rustin: Troubles I’ve Seen by Jervis Anderson – Bayard Rustin is one of the most under-recognized members of the Civil Rights Movement.  He was integral to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom; he studied the work of Ghandi and nonviolent resistance; and he was a gay man at a time when just being black was dangerous, let alone black and gay.  One of my favorite people in history.

3. The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege by Robert Jensen  – This book helped me understand what is meant when we say “white privilege.” It helped me own my own responsibility in this situation as well as recognize the much larger, systemic ways that people of color are under-privileged in the U.S.  And it gave me ways to act.

4. Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South by Kenneth M. Stampp – If you’re new to the nuances of the chattel slavery system in the U.S., this book is a good introduction. It’s unpoliticized, carefully researched, and very detailed.

5. Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Emancipation and Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Segregated South – In each of these volumes, the people who lived these experiences share their own stories – and the recordings are amazing.  If you’d like to read (or hear) primary sources, if you want to know what it really meant to live under slavery or under the South’s Jim Crow laws, these books will show you.

I’m going to be reading a great deal more about slavery, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights movements.  I’ll let you know what I love as I find it.

And if you pick up any of these titles or have read them before, I hope you’ll let me know what you think.

For this is, of course, not just “black” history. This is our history as a country – rich, wrought, bloody, and beautiful.

Where did you learn about slavery, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights history?  Any books on the topics that you’d like to recommend? 

I’m also waiting impatiently for the rulings on civil rights for LGBT people today.  May the Supreme Court make a decision for equality for all people.