This year, Black History Month brings the release of several new non-fiction books that delve into the past, present and future of African-Americans in the country. One book is currently a critically acclaimed film, another documents the moment five-years-ago when a crime led to the conception of the Black Lives Matter movement. Readers can take a look back in time with yet another book featuring new revelations about one of the most notorious killings during the civil rights era. Race in America can be a grave topic, but each book, in its own way, offers hope for the future.
“I am not your Negro,” by Raoul Peck from texts by James Baldwin (Vintage, $15) Peck had the daunting task of translating Baldwin’s notes from an unfinished book “Remember this House,” into a film about race relations and the civil rights era. He started the process with a book. Baldwin’s words are more than a half-century old, but could be spoken today. Some Americans have rallied around the idea of making America great again, but it is Baldwin who said in 1966, “The American Way of life has failed — to make people happier or make them better.” Baldwin reflects on the lives of civil rights icons including Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, noting that King and Malcolm X had reached similar ideologies at the end of their lives.
“The Blood of Emmett Till,” by Timothy B. Tyson (Simon & Schuster, $27) It has been more than 60 years since white men in the Mississippi Delta lynched 14-year-old Emmett Till. The nation watched an all white jury acquit the two white men who killed the young boy from Chicago after he had whistled at a white woman. The murder and the subsequent attention it received helped lay the foundation for the Civil Rights Movement. Tyson details the events surrounding this notorious race crime, by drawing on court documents and interviews, including the first public statements from Carolyn Bryant, the white woman in whose name Till was killed.
“Rest in Power: A parents’ story of love, injustice and the birth of a movement,” by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin (Spiegel & Grau, $26) In 2012, a teen who died at the hands of an adult became the symbol for a new era of social activism in America. Five years after Trayvon Martin’s death marked the conception of the Black Lives Matter movement, his parents tell the story of how their lives were set on an entirely different path as activists and champions of social justice. Telling their story from alternating perspectives dated from Feb. 2012 through July 2013, Fulton and Martin trace the events of Travyon’s death, walking readers through the days before their son was shot and killed to the moment when George Zimmerman, the shooter, was found not guilty. In telling the story again, they hope to find power in Trayvon’s death.
Martin Luther King, Jr. The Last Interview and other conversations, (Melville House, $15.99) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as marriage counselor? It happened in May 1958, when King offered his advice on marriage and other issues of concern to black Americans in an issue of Ebony Magazine. That article is among five conversations with King that span his first extended appearance on television to his last interview ten days before he was assassinated. King holds forth on issues ranging from the “New Negro,” to segregation — the topic of a previously unpublished 1958 interview with Mike Wallace. The interview, discovered in Wallace’s papers after he died, asks King the question, “Does Segregation Equal Integration?”
The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell, (Dutton, $28 coming in May) You may remember the media explosion when Bell, the black, sociopolitical comedian who hosts CNN’s “United Shades of America,” attended a cross burning with several KKK members. Now the self-proclaimed black nerd is offering up a new way of doing things, like having those awkward conversations about race and racism with people who don’t look like you. Bell uses his childhood, marriage, fatherhood and awkward dealings with white relatives for material and through his own experiences, gives us all a way to move forward.