Around Martin Luther King Day, the hashtag #ReclaimMLK was born on social media in the hopes to reclaim a real image of Martin Luther King Jr.’s work and life to combat the shallow and sanitized picture that was painted in many of our childhood lessons.
As this fight takes place, so too must we work to reclaim and treasure the work of black women in history as well.
We owe it to the women who came before us to honor their scholarship, struggle, voice, and liberation throughout the folds of mainstream media and consciousness.
To just describe some of these women wouldn’t be enough, we must honor their works by actively reading their literature, remembering their fight and engaging in dialogue surrounding their work in February and beyond.
Sit down, come explore something new and consider these books the #BlackWomensHistoryStarterPack:
“Assata: An Autobiography,” Assata Shakur
Assata Shakur was a leading figure and former member of both the Black Liberation Army and Black Panters. Throughout the ‘70s, she was accused of various crimes which she chronicles throughout her autobiography. Shakur also allows the reader to follow her as she develops her social consciousness and gives timeless advice about emotional well being, love, and even joining the revolution. This riveting, authentic, witty, informative and heart breaking read will resonate with any readers as today’s headlines mirror her past.
They call us thieves and bandits. They say we steal. But it was not we who stole millions of Black people from the continent of Africa. We were robbed of our language, of our Gods, of our culture, of our human dignity, of our labor, and of our lives. They call us bandits, yet every time most Black people pick up our paychecks we are being robbed. Every time we walk into a store in our neighborhood we are being held up. And every time we pay our rent the landlord sticks a gun into our ribs. -Assata Shakur
Alternative: “Angela Davis Autobiography,” Angela Davis
“Killing the Black Body,” Dorothy E. Roberts
Like many of the books we come across that give detailed accounts of black women’s history, this certainly is not a light or easy read. This informing, insightful read chronicles the historical ownership of black women’s bodies and the injustice black women have faced throughout history. If you ever were in disbelief about how both racism and sexim completely alter and affect black women’s lives, this book will remove any doubt. As with most literature, you must read this with a critical eye. In time, one would hope for an updated edition that accounts for black trans women and today’s “war on women.”
Black mothers’ inclusion in welfare programs once reserved for white women soon became stigmatized as dependency and proof of Black people’s lack of work ethic and social depravity. The image of the welfare mother quickly changed from the worthy white widow to the immoral Black welfare queen… Part of the reason that maternalist rhetoric can no longer justify public financial support is that the public views this support as benefiting primarily Black mothers. - Dorothy Roberts
Alternative: “Sister Citizen,” Melissa Harris Perry
“In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens,” Alice Walker
This collection of essays by the famed “The Color Purple” novelist is womanist literature that explores Walker’s views on family, motherhood, racism, civil rights, womanhood and love. Her deep love for Hilltop co-founder Zora Neale Hurston and her impact on her life and writing is nothing short of beautiful. This book is a continuous reference point for how womanism impacts every aspect of life and the true strength of black women writers.
“No person is your friend (or kin) who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow and be perceived as fully blossomed as you were intended. Or who belittles in any fashion the gifts you labor so to bring into the world.” -Alice Walker
Alternative: “Sister Outsider,” Audre Lorde
“Americanah,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel explores the African diasporic experience in America. The story explores love, the search for home and the politics of black hair. The book also touches on the psychological and emotional effects of immigration. The social criticism that is engulfed in this love story is punchy, timely and necessary.
In America, racism exists but racists are all gone. Racists belong to the past. Racists are the thin-lipped mean white people in the movies about the civil rights era. Here’s the thing: the manifestation of racism has changed but the language has not. So if you haven’t lynched somebody then you can’t be called a racist. If you’re not a bloodsucking monster, then you can’t be called a racist. Somebody has to be able to say that racists are not monsters. - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Alternative: “The Bluest Eye,” Toni Morrison
“Black Feminist Thought,” Patricia Hill Collins
In “Black Feminist Thought,” Collins explores the intersection of blacks’ unique sexual identity, race, oppression and class. Black Feminist Thought explores historical events, beliefs, attitudes and traditional identities through a black feminist lens. Think of this book as the framework for developing and exploring your own feminism. Collins clearly illustrates why black feminism is relevant and necessary through her refined scholarship.
NOTE: If you’re going to buy this book, purchase the updated edition where Collins further refines her points, and position.
Black political and social thought has been limited by both the reformist postures toward change assumed by many Black intellectuals and the secondary status afforded to the ideas and experiences of African-American. Adhering to a male-defined ethos that far too often equates racial progress with the acquisition of an ill-defined manhood has left Black thought with a prominent masculinist bias.” - Patricia Hill Collins
Alternative: “Black Sexual Politics,” Patricia Hill Collins