As African-American History Month draws to a close and Women’s History Month begins, celebrate both by discovering these turn-of-the-twentieth-century African-American women activists on your library’s shelves:
Journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931) first spoke out against the lynching of blacks in the South from the pages of her own Memphis, Tennessee newspaper. This act began her fierce campaign to end the injustice through her lectures and writings. On Lynchings collects three of her influential publications on the subject.
In her 1940 autobiography, A Colored Woman in a White World, Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954) describes her career as a speaker dedicated to advancing the causes of civil rights and women’s suffrage.
Historian Mary Frances Berry rescues Callie House (1861–1928) from obscurity in My Face is Black is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations. Founder of the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association, House began a grass-roots movement calling for Congress to compensate former slaves for the labor they performed during centuries of captivity.
Explore the lives of other remarkable African-American women with Biography in Context. This online database conveniently gathers information from reference works, academic publications, newspapers, magazines, radio broadcasts, websites, and other sources to create”media-rich” profiles of historical figures, writers, artists, celebrities, and other prominent individuals.
In 1958, the pacifist organization Fellowship of Reconciliation released a comic book to help promote the bus boycott and recruit new activists called Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. The comic book introduced potential protesters to the Montgomery Method, a method of resistance that was adapted from the peaceful protest methods of Mahatma Gandhi and focused on taking the moral and spiritual high ground in every encounter.
With this important comic book as inspiration, U.S. Congressman John Lewis, along with congressional aide Andrew Aydin and illustrator Nate Powell (The Silence of Our Friends), has produced a stunning and important introduction to the civil rights movement and the Montgomery method. March Book One is the first book in a three part series that highlights the remarkable life of a man that was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington.
Powell’s black and white pen illustrations are fluid, easy to follow, and highlight the importance in the text. Powell has a real talent in using light and shadow to convey mood, and his style feels modern while still hinting at the classic comic book style in Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. The comic book format lends itself to Lewis’ talent for oral storytelling, and would make a great introduction to a civil rights movement icon for young people and adults.
The neverending debate of “which is better, the book or the movie?” continues with the recent release of the movie The Help. Based on Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel, the movie has a lot to live up to.
Published in 2009, The Help received excellent reviews but started off fairly quietly. It soon became a sleeper hit – it’s been on the New York Times bestseller list for over 100 weeks and is easily the most requested title at the library these days.
The novel is told from the the point-of-view of three narrators relating the story of African-American maids working for white families in the Jackson, Mississippi in 1962. The characters are real and complex, their stories are heartbreaking and funny, and the dangers they face are life threatening. I read the book before it really took off and blogged about it here. It’s still one of my favorite books.
The movie opened just last week and stars Viola Davis, Emma Stone and Octavia Spencer. There has been a fair amount of controversy about the making of this movie – Stockett’s longtime best friend Tate Taylor adapted and directed the film, even though he has directed only a couple of small films previously; there was talk that he wouldn’t be able to handle a big, important movie. Never fear, the movie is beautifully done with several Oscar-worthy performances, and settings that transport you to the Deep South of the 1960s. Just like the book, you’ll laugh and cry and be inspired by these courageous women. (Although the movie is several months from coming out on DVD, you can be assured that the Davenport Library will purchase multiple copies when it’s available!)
My recommendation? Read the book AND see the movie.
Fresh from college with no prospects (marriage or job), Eugenia (“Skeeter”) Phelan returns to her parent’s comfortable home in Jackson, Mississippi. Skeeter desperately wants to break out of the roles that are expected of her – marriage, children, the country club – and become a writer.
Aibileen, a black maid, has had 17 children, that is, she’s raised 17 white babies for the families she’s worked for. The loss of her own son while his white bosses looked the other way has caused her to view the world she’s always taken for granted and unchangeable with new eyes.
Her best friend Minny is the best cook in the county but because she can’t hold her tongue and keeps mouthing off at her employers, she’s always looking for a new job. At home she struggles to raise her children and cope with an abusive husband.
On the advice of a New York book editor, Skeeter decides to write about black domestics and their relationships with their white employers by talking first to Aibileen, then Minny. This turns out to be a dangerous project – it’s 1962, Jim Crow laws are in full effect in the Deep South and the Civil Rights movement is stirring up strong emotions. Skeeter is ostracized by her friends and Aibileen and Minny fear for their safety (Medgar Evers was gunned down in their neighborhood during this time) These three women, with so little in common, find themselves sharing their stories, their fears and their hopes. Together they create a grassroots change in their own homes and neighborhoods.
The Help is an amazing book with characters that you care for, authentic dialogue and a real sense of time and place. The tension builds as each woman puts herself at risk and there is sadness and hardship, but there is also friendship and laughter and hope for a better world.
Today is a federal holiday, set aside to honor the Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Born in Atlanta, King was a Baptist minister that became active in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. His eloquent speaking ability inspired millions of people and he won the Nobel Prize in 1964 for leading nonviolent civil rights demonstrations. King was assassinated in April, 1968.
Try honoring the memory of King by participating todays Martin Luther King National Day of Service; President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden and their families are planning on helping with volunteer projects in Washington DC today. The National Day of Service encourages everyone to contribute to their community, big or small, today and every day. Check their website for a list of local projects, or create one yourself!
By the way, even though many state and city offices are closed today, the Davenport Library will be open our regular hours – 12pm-8pm at Main and 9:30am-5:30pm at Fairmount. Have a great day!