Book Beat: Black American Voices

Submitted by J. Alder on

February is Black History Month, when we honor the achievements, struggles, and history of African Americans. Historian Carter Woodson conceived and announced Negro History Week in 1925, and it was first celebrated in 1926. It sparked a surge of interest in African American history by all Americans. The 1950s and 1960s brought more awareness to the voices and experiences of Black Americans, and the week of celebration gained an even wider following. In 1976, 50 years after that first celebration, President Gerald R. Ford expanded the event to a full month, urging Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

  • Better Living Through Birding: Notes from a Black Man in the Natural World by Christian Cooper. Cooper has been an avid birdwatcher since he was 10 years old. He often rode the subway to Central Park from his New York City home to watch birds. One day, he encountered a dog walker, longstanding racial tensions erupted, and his video of the incident went viral. This book talks of how his life until then gave him the ability to withstand the incident, but also tells the story of his world travels, his writing job with Marvel Comics, and his life as a gay Black man in America.
  • Thicker Than Water: A Memoir by Kerry Washington. In this moving and beautifully written memoir, the award-winning actor and activist provides an intimate view into both her public and private worlds as she tells her life's journey, sharing how she discovered her true self and sense of belonging.
  • Leslie F*cking Jones: A Memoir by Leslie Jones. The Saturday Night Live alum opens up about her childhood, her choice to leave college to pursue standup comedy, and her road from a struggling comic to SNL. This is a testament to confidence, determination, overcoming adversity, and sheer grit.
  • Don't Let Them Bury my Story: The Oldest Living Survivor of the Tulsa Race Massacre in her Own Words by Viola Ford Fletcher. Vividly recounts the lasting impact of the Tulsa Massacre on her life. As the oldest survivor and last living witness to the tragic events of 1921, the 109-year-old shares a journey through a lifetime of pain and perseverance. Her inspiring story is a powerful reminder that some wounds never fully heal, and we must never forget the lessons of history.
  • Up Home: One Girl's Journey by Ruth Simmons. Born in 1945, Ruth Simmons grew up the twelfth child of sharecroppers. Her first two-room home had no running water, no electricity, no books to read. Yet despite this, Simmons would become one of America's preeminent educators.

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Janet Alder is Marketing and Communications Coordinator with Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries, which has 15 locations in Clark, Skamania, Klickitat, and Cowlitz Counties. Call 360-906-5000 or visit the library district website for more information.

A version of this column first appeared in The Messenger, February 2024.

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