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Great Reads for Black History Month

  • Feb 2, 2010
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Over the past few years I have read a number of terrific books concerning the history of African-Americans in this country.  I have compiled the list below for those who would like to read more. The books address a wide range of subject matter and are presented in no particular order. I enjoyed each and every one of these books and I have reviewed them all here on Lunch. 
Authors Donnie Williams and Wayne Greenhaw transport you back in time to the historic events that were taking place in Montgomery, Alabama back in 1955 and 1956. Read about Rosa Parks and the Montogomery Bus Boycott and also about E.D. Nixon a little known figure who played a major role in the creation of the Civil Rights Movement in this country. An outstanding read!
See the full review, "The inspiring story of E.D. Nixon and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.".
Railroads in the African American Experience: A
Released in January 2010 "Railroads In The African American Experience" takes readers on an illustrated tour of the black railroad experience from slavery to Amtrak. Author Theodore Kornweibel, Jr., examines the significant contributions of African Americans to the building, maintenance, operation, and profitability of the American railway system. Mr. Kornweibel is an esteemed professor of African-American Studies at San Diego State University and a lifelong railroad buff. His love of the subject matter is quite apparent throughout this very entertaining and informative new book.
See the full review, "An extremely important addition to the literature on the African-American experience in America.".
A Mighty Long Way
The inspiring story of Carlotta Walls Lanier who at the tender age of 14 became one of the first nine blacks to intergrate Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. The year was 1957. "A Mighty Long Way" is Carlotta Walls LaNier's gripping first person narrative of the historic and painful events that took place in Little Rock back in 1957 and the effect that the experience would have on the rest of her life. Believe me this is a very compelling story.
See the full review, "Walking the walk in Montgomery with a true civil rights pioneer--- Carlotta Walls LaNier.".
Forever Free The Story of Emancipation & Reconstr
A new examination of the vitally important years of Emancipation and Reconstruction during and immediately following the Civil War. DIscover how in the years immediately following the Civil War large numbers of former slaves poured into cities and towns all over the South. Once there these black men and women quickly established their own schools, churches, hospitals and fraternal societies. Learn how and why the high hopes of the newly freed African Americans would be dashed just a few short years later. There also numerous illustrations and photographs from the period to aid in your understanding of just what was going on in those years. A fascinating read!
See the full review, "This excellent book will make "Black History Month" come alive for you.".
Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season (Thorndike Press Large Print Nonfiction Series)
The year was 1947 and Branch Rickey decided that it was finally time to intergrate Major League Baseball. While there were a good many African-American players who deserved a shot to play in the big leagues Mr. Rickey determined that the man with the courage and temperment to be a trailblazer was Jackie Robinson. "Opening Day" chronicles that historic and tumultuous season from start to finish. Learn how Robinson managed to interact with his own teammates on the Dodgers while at the same time dealing with newspaper reporters, fans and of course the players on opposing teams. You will discover that Branch Rickey was correct. Jackie Robinson was the right man for this extremely sensitive and difficult job.
See the full review, "Engaging account of Jackie Robinson's groundbreaking rookie season.".
Negro League Baseball: The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution
The trials and tribulations of the Negro leagues from they inception in the 1930's until there demise in the early 1960s. Discover the many obstacles that the owners of Negrp League teams faced each and every season. It was a struggle from the outset and just when the League was finally hitting it's stride Major League Baseball decided to integrate their game. As you might expect the results were devastating for Negro League Baseball. MLB took all the best players and before long Negro Leagues were not longer viable. This is a book that is more about the Negro Leagues as a business that about the players themselves. An extremly interesting and well written book!
See the full review, "Behind the scenes look at the history of the Negro Leagues".
Notes On The State of America
OK. So about a year and a half ago I get an e-mail from author Ron Peden from Cambridge, MA. He had seen my reviews on line and wondered if I would be interested in reading and reviewing his new book. The subject matter was extremely controversial. You see Mr. Peden was making a case for reparations for African-Americans for all of the past indignities and oppression that they had suffered. I read the book from cover to cover and learned an awful lot. Mr. Peden makes a compelling case for his cause and while I might not in the end agree with the idea of reparations I can now understanding exactly where he is coming from. This is a book that challenged much of what I had been taught inschool and a great deal of what I believe. Nevertheless, I felt it was well worth my time and attention.
See the full review, "The values and beliefs of most European-Americans are challenged to the very core by Ronald Peden.".
Not Just The Levees Broke
The story of how Phyllis Montana-LeBlanc came to write "Not Just The Levees Broke" is a fascinating one indeed. This incredible opportunity came along after Phyllis was interviewed for Spike Lee's documentary film "When The Levees Broke". Spike Lee was extremely impressed with what Phyllis had to say and the way she was able to say it. It was apparent to Lee that Phyllis was "the dominent voice in the piece". Well one thing led to another and before long the chance to do a book came along. And Phyllis made the most of her once in a lifetime opportunity. Hear the story of Katrina from an ordinary citizen who lived through this ordeal. A fine effort from a first time author.
See the full review, "We need to hear more from "regular" Americans like Phyllis Montana-Leblanc".
The Execution of Willie Francis
This was without a doubt one of the best books I read in 2008. "The Execution of Willie Francis" would remind you a lot of the classic Harper Lee novel "To Kill A Mockingbird" but this is an incredible true story. Young Willie Francis was just 16 years old when he was charged with the murder of popular St. Martinville druggist Andrew Thomas. The year was 1946. By all accounts the trial was a travesty of justice and WIllie was sentenced to die in a portable electric chair that was hauled from town to town in those days to do the nasty deed. But a funny thing happened when they tried to execute Willie Francis. There was some kind of equipment malfunction and Willie did not die. Now the State of Louisiana sought to try to execute him a second time. The case would eventually go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. A positively compelling read!
See the full review, "The story of Willie Francis will outrage and sadden you.".
A terrific biography of the legendary gospel/blues pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Long before "women in rock" became a media catchphrase, African American guitar virtuoso Rosetta Tharpe proved in spectacular fashion that women could rock. Shout, Sister, Shout! is the first biography of this trailblazing performer who influenced scores of popular musicians, from Elvis Presley and Little Richard to Eric Clapton and Etta James. Tharpe was raised in the Pentecostal Church, steeped in the gospel tradition, but she produced music that crossed boundaries, defied classification, and disregarded the social and cultural norms of the age; incorporating elements of gospel, blues, jazz, popular ballads, folk, country, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll. Tharpe went electric early on, captivating both white and black audiences in the North and South, in the U.S. and internationally, with her charisma and skill. People who saw her perform claimed she made that guitar talk. An extremely important book that can be enjoyed a wide variety of audiences!
See the full review, "Entertaining biography of this highly influential pioneer figure in the world of gospel music.".
Blood Done Sign My Name
This just might be the best non-fiction book I have ever read. Author Timothy B. Tyson is a white man from North Carolina teaching Black History in Wisconsin. Tyson was 10 years old back in 1970 and living with his family in the small rural town of Oxford, N.C. His dad was the Methodist minister and his mom a schoolteacher in town. One day in May, his 10 year old playmate Gerald Teel casually remarked that "Daddy and Roger and 'em shot 'em a nigger." Indeed, his daddy and two of this brothers had brutally shot and killed a 23 year old black man, Henry Marrow, for very dubious reasons. This single event would have profound implications for the little town of Oxford and would play a major role in shaping the life of one Tim Tyson. Trust me this is a tremendous read. On February 19 the motion picture version of "Blood Done Sign My Name" will be released in theaters across America. I am looking forward to seeing it!
See the full review, "Confronting the painful history of race in America. This may be the best book I have ever read.".
My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir
Compelling and thoughtful autobiography of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Forget everything you have read about him in the press. Read "My Grandfather's Son" and judge for yourself. I found this to be a brutally honest book written in the man's own words. Furthermore he has a passion for a particular sport that positively dumbfounded me. A classic case of "Don't judge a book by its cover."
See the full review, "A well written, inspiring and brutally honest autobio by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.".

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February 03, 2010
Thanks for sharing this excellent list! One of my favorite baseball books was Maybe I'll Pitch Forever by Leroy Satchel Page. Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison have some excellent classic works. Of course there is The Autobiography of Malcom X and Roots. You may want to check out James Michener's Alaska which has a lot of information about Capt Michael Healy a son of former slaves who did incredible things in Alaska for the Coast Guard forerunner.
February 02, 2010
That's awesome that you've written reviews on all of these books!  Nice way to compile your reviews :)  It'd be great if you could give us a little taste of the books on this list, but the title of your reviews seem to be great blurbs for them, too!  Thanks for sharing, Paul!
February 03, 2010
By the way, thanks for the update, Paul, very informative! :)
February 02, 2010
I'd also suggest readers consider one currently on the Canadian best-seller lists, "The Book of Negroes" by Lawrence HIll. Two oldies but goodies come to mind as well, "Roots" by Alex Haley and "Black Like Me" by Richard Wright (I believe that's the author but I'm not certain on that one). Good list, Paul.
February 03, 2010
Thanks for pointing out the error, Patty
About the list creator
Paul Tognetti ()
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I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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