February is when Black History Month, (BHM) is celebrated in the US and Canada, which is a time to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Black historical figures and communities; and reading the works of Black authors is one way to commemorate it.
Black History Month (US and Canada) – a background
The concept of Black History Month was developed in the US by historian Carter G Woodson in 1926, although it wasn’t officially recognised until 1976. Woodson wanted to create a time to publicly acknowledge African-Americans and raise awareness of Black history.
February coincides with the birthdays of two seminal figures in Black-American history; the first Frederick Douglas, an African-American writer and abolitionist, and American president Abraham Lincoln who became an ally when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 that declared by 1863 all enslaved people engaged in rebellion against the Union “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free’.” The month also acknowledges civil rights activists pioneers including Martin Luther King Jr and many others.
The US Government defines Black History Month as “both a celebration and a powerful reminder that Black History is American history,” while Canada sees it as an opportunity to celebrate Black Canadians and their communities who have contributed to the diversity of the nation.
Black History Month has a theme each year, and in 2022, it’s Black people’s health and wellness. However, the month can be a time for honouring historical role models from the community, as well as acknowledging what needs to change in the future to enhance equity for Black people globally. You can start the celebrations by reading the works of Black authors.
Black authors to enrich Black History Month 2022:
Below are 10 books penned by Black authors as well as those covering important topics about Black history and communities, identity and discrimination, and more.
1. You Don’t Know Us Negroes and Other Essays by Zora Neale Hurston, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Genevieve West
Here, celebrated female Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston explores the topics of slavery, Jim Crow, and other elements of Black history, as well as sexism and feminism in this collection of hard-hitting essays. This is a must-read for those after an intersectional perspective on Black American history.
2. Black Fortunes: The Story of the First Six African Americans Who Survived Slavery and Became Millionaires by Shomari Wills
Black Fortunes details the inspiring experiences of the first six self-made African-American millionaires who overcame slavery and assassination to achieve great financial success. This book is ideal for those interested in Black business history and stories of determination, resilience and achievement.
3. Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty by Dorothy Roberts
In this seminal work, Roberts examines the legacy of America’s abuse of Black women’s bodies from the economic and sexual exploitations of slavery to government programmes that sterilized poor Black women in the 1970s, and much more. This is vital reading material for this year’s BHM theme.
4. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
This book, which is the first in a series penned by acclaimed writer and poet Maya Angelou, explores her experiences with racism, sexual trauma and violence as a youth. This powerful work also explores themes such as healing through self-love and the love of literature.
5. The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley by Malcom X
The Autobiography of Malcolm X tells the real-life story of the iconic human rights activist, exploring important themes including the American Dream, institutional racism, and the growth of the Black Muslim movement.
6. Willie: The Game-Changing Story of the NHL’s First Black Player by Willie O’Ree
In 1958, Canadian ice-hockey player Willie O’Ree played for the Boston Bruins making history as the first Black player to play in the National Hockey League (Nhl). O’Ree then faced decades of racism from ice-hockey fans and fellow players. This memoir details this challenging period as well as his later role as an advocate for diversity in sport following his retirement.
7. Black Matters by Afua Cooper & Wilfried Raussert
Black Matters is a collaboration between Afua Cooper, who was the poet laureate of Halifax, and photographer Wilfried Raussert. This powerful book captures the daily experience of being Black in Canada, expect Raussert’s photographs accompanied by poems written by Cooper.
8. North of the Color Line by Sarah-Jane Mathieu
North of the Color Line by historian Sarah-Jane Mathieu examines the experience of African-Americans who immigrated to Canada after the end of Reconstruction in the United States. This is a striking work documenting the experience of the Black diaspora following the end of slavery and the start of the Jim Crow era.
9. The Skin We’re In by Desmond Cole
In The Skin We’re In, journalist and activist Desmond Cole examines life in Canada as a Black person incorporating his personal journalism, activism, and experiences alongside headline stories from across the country, including the death of Somali-Canadian Abdirahman Abdi at the hands of the Ottawa police.
10. The Black Prairie Archives: An Anthology by Karina Vernon
This historical collection of “Black prairie literature” of Canada’s western region includes works by nineteenth-century Black fur traders and pioneers and highlights their contributions to a diverse literary tradition that hasn’t been given enough attention.