Top Ten Books for Black History Month

Roundup: Talking About History
tags: Black History Month



John A. Kirk is the author of three books on Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. He is the George W Donaghey professor of history at the University of Arkansas, at Little Rock.

The US civil rights movement is a perennially popular topic that has spawned a massive body of literature.

What interests me about its history is how it engages with questions of race relations that are at the heart of US history: how a nation that became the world's model for democracy was born in the shadow of slavery; how that issue tore apart the nation in a bloody civil war; and how, despite that war, a new system of racial discrimination based on segregation, disenfranchisement and economic exploitation persisted well into the latter half of the 20th century.

I'm also interested in how the civil rights and black power movements emerged from grassroots activism, transforming some aspects of racial discrimination but leaving many other elements intact. The issues the civil rights movement raised are still relevant today – and not only in the US.

1. King: A Critical Biography by David L Lewis

Of the many worthy contenders to choose from, I particularly like Lewis's 1970 biography of Martin Luther King, because it was one of the first to take on the task after King's assassination in 1968. While sympathetic to King, the book is not afraid to point to his shortcomings. Revealingly – and perhaps a reflection of King's acceptance into the pantheon of American heroes – subsequent editions have dropped the word "critical" from the title....




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