Five Books: These Histories of Black Struggle Should Inform Us in 2016

Five Books: These Histories of Black Struggle Should Inform Us in 2016

Five Books: These Histories of Black Struggle Should Inform Us in 2016

Essential reading.


Today’s movement for black lives is the latest chapter in a struggle against racist oppression that has occupied black Americans since the country’s founding. In this issue, Dani McClain explores how social media shapes perceptions of leadership in the movement. Below, she recommends five books about organizing the struggle, yesterday and today.


Alabama Communists During the Great 

by Robin D.G. Kelley

University of North Carolina Press, 2015

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Robin D.G. Kelley’s account of Alabama sharecroppers in the 1930s and 1940s describes the Communist Party’s vision for the United States, revealing a left political program that transcends the Cold War rhetoric with which many of us heard it described as kids. Kelley brings Hosea Hudson and his comrades alive to show how black rural Southern workers organized themselves to fight for access to fair work, civil rights, and equal treatment under the law.


An Autobiography

by Assata Shakur

Lawrence Hill Books, 2001

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This memoir tells the story of Assata Shakur, formerly JoAnne Chesimard, a onetime member of the Black Panther Party who escaped from a federal prison in 1979 and has since been living in Cuba under political asylum. Assata offers the reader a look at the conditions that would lead a black woman living in mid-20th-century America to join a black-nationalist organization. And it considers the inner workings of the Panthers as they faced ceaseless manipulations by Hoover’s FBI and other reactionary forces determined to destroy black revolutionary leadership.



by Howard Zinn

Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2015

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This classic work of revisionist history corrects the lies and distortions many of us learned in US history and government classes. Zinn’s work challenges the notion that great men—founding fathers, presidents, wealthy industrialists—are the engines of history, determining the direction of this country from the top down. Instead, Zinn tells the stories of the people who have organized to make a place for themselves at a table that was initially set for just a few.


The World the 
Slaves Made

by Eugene Genovese

Vintage Books, 1976

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A must-read for anyone who still believes the Emancipation Proclamation—or any policy pronouncement from Lincoln—freed the slaves. Roll, Jordan, Roll offers a history of enslaved people that details the many ways they worked to preserve their family lives, souls, and daily routines against the crushing institution of slavery. Genovese’s history offers a crucial reminder of the humanity, strong networks, and areas of resistance that enslaved people maintained in this country despite every effort to break them.


A Communications Guide for Racial Justice

by Hunter Cutting and Makani Themba-Nixon

AK Press, 2006

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Looking back at it now, Talking the Walk reads like a case study in why Twitter and other social-media platforms are necessary. Without the ability to broadcast their own realities, those assumed to be powerless are too often at the mercy of mainstream and corporate media outlets that rely on stereotypes and generalities. Despite the explosion of social media since the time this book was published, Cutting and Themba-Nixon’s guide remains an essential tool for understanding how social-justice organizations might plan their communications strategies and disrupt dishonest media narratives.

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