This is a quote from The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin.
Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!
The Fire Next Time – Summary
Here is the book summary from Goodreads:
At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin’s early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document from the iconic author of If Beale Street Could Talk and Go Tell It on the Mountain. It consists of two “letters,” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism. Described by The New York Times Book Review as “sermon, ultimatum, confession, deposition, testament, and chronicle…all presented in searing, brilliant prose,” The Fire Next Time stands as a classic of literature.
Storygraph Categories: fiction, classics, poetry, short stories, challenging, reflective, slow-paced
100 years since it’s been published!
Importance: From the Harlem Renaissance
Summary (from Goodreads):
A literary masterpiece of the Harlem Renaissance, Cane is a powerful work of innovative fiction evoking black life in the South. The sketches, poems, and stories of black rural and urban life that make up Cane are rich in imagery. Visions of smoke, sugarcane, dusk, and flame permeate the Southern landscape: the Northern world is pictured as a harsher reality of asphalt streets. Impressionistic, sometimes surrealistic, the pieces are redolent of nature and Africa, with sensuous appeals to eye and ear.
Importance: Focuses on mixed-race individuals and racial passing (such as passing as white)
Summary (edited from Goodreads):
Nella Larsen’s fascinating exploration of race and identity.
Irene Redfield is a Black woman living an affluent, comfortable life with her husband and children in the thriving neighborhood of Harlem in the 1920s. When she reconnects with her childhood friend Clare Kendry, who is similarly light-skinned, Irene discovers that Clare has been passing for a white woman after severing ties to her past–even hiding the truth from her racist husband.
Clare finds herself drawn to Irene’s sense of ease and security with her Black identity and longs for the community (and, increasingly, the woman) she lost. Irene is both riveted and repulsed by Clare and her dangerous secret, as Clare begins to insert herself–and her deception–into every part of Irene’s stable existence. First published in 1929, Larsen’s brilliant examination of the various ways in which we all seek to “pass,” is as timely as ever.
Fair and long-legged, independent and articulate, Janie Crawford sets out to be her own person—no mean feat for a black woman in the ’30s. Janie’s quest for identity takes her through three marriages and into a journey back to her roots.
Importance: The first novel by an Black American woman to sell more than a million copies
Summary (from Goodreads):
The Street tells the poignant, often heartbreaking story of Lutie Johnson, a young black woman, and her spirited struggle to raise her son amid the violence, poverty, and racial dissonance of Harlem in the late 1940s. Originally published in 1946 and hailed by critics as a masterwork, The Street was Ann Petry’s first novel, a beloved bestseller with more than a million copies in print. Its haunting tale still resonates today.
Importance: The first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway and won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award
Summary (from Storygraph):
First produced in 1959, A Raisin in the Sun was awarded the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and hailed as a watershed in American drama. Not only a pioneering work by an African-American playwright—Lorraine Hansberry’s play was also a radically new representation of black life, resolutely authentic, fiercely unsentimental, and unflinching in its vision of what happens to people whose dreams are constantly deferred.
In her portrait of an embattled Chicago family, Hansberry anticipated issues that range from generational clashes to the civil rights and women’s movements. She also posed the essential questions—about identity, justice, and moral responsibility—at the heart of these great struggles. The result is an American classic.
As cliche as it may be, Black History is not only for the month of February. I would encourage you to intentionally seek out authors from diverse backgrounds, including Black Americans and other Black individuals from around the world.
This is just a small list, but as you intentionally pursue a diverse reading list, you’ll find more and more books to read. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, so just start small by picking out a few books to incorporate throughout the year.
Personally, I think the most important part is to be intentional about who and what you’re reading. Take time to notice what you’ve read recently and see who the authors and characters are. Then start to incorporate other perspectives to broaden your reading experience.
Are you hoping to read more classics this year? Here are some suggestions for Black History month, specifically from women!
I wanted to highlight classics that we don’t hear about as much so that you can read from diverse perspectives. I think it’s important to read from a variety of sources.
These five classics are from Black American women and cover various genres, from memoirs/autobiographies to poetry and fiction. All of these are older classics, having been written before the year 1900.
Five classic books from Black American Women
This is a list of five older classics from Black American authors to read for Black History Month:
Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley (1773) First professional Black American woman poet in America
The Bondwoman’s Narrative by Hannah Crafts (written around 1853-1861) Only novel by a fugitive slave woman, however the manuscript was not published until 2002
Our Nig: Sketches from the Life of a Free Black by Harriet E. Wilson (1859) This was long considered the first novel published by a Black American woman in North America, but The Bondwoman’s Narrative may have been written a few years earlier.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs (1861) Autobiography of a fugitive slave
Iola Leroy by Frances Watkins Harper (1892) One of the first novels published by a Black American woman
I’ve listed them started from the oldest to the most recent. Keep reading to find out more about each one.
Importance: First professional Black American woman poet in America
Phillis Wheatley was born in West Africa, but was kidnapped and sold to the Wheatley family in Boston when she was seven or eight. In addition to her domestic obligations, the Wheatley family did provide her with an extensive education and encouraged her to pursue writing. However, she was not emancipated/manumitted (set free) from the family until after she published her book of poetry.
Phillis Wheatley was the first Black American woman to publish poetry, and considered the first to make a living from her writing. Despite having to be interviewed by 18 prominent men in Boston to prove that she wrote her own poetry, no one in the Americas was willing to publish her poetry. She was finally able to publish this collection of poetry in London in 1773.
Despite international recognition, she was unable to find anyone to publish any further volumes of poetry. She was able to publish some poetry in pamphlets and newspapers, but only in limited amounts. Unfortunately, she ended up dying in abject poverty, with many of her poems lost to history.
This moving collection of poems by Phillis Wheatley is intended to inspire Christians and tribute various believers who had recently been deceased. Published in 1773, this collection brings together many of Wheatley’s finest writings addressed to figures of the day. She writes evocative verse to academic establishments, military officers and even the King of England, with other verses discussing various subjects in verse form, offering condolences and verse commemorating recent events, or the death of a recent loved one.
Recognized as one of the first black poets to be widely appreciated in the Western world, Phillis Wheatley was a devoted Christian whose talent with the English language impressed and awed her peers. Wheatley took plenty of influence from past works of poetry, such as Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Several of the poems in this collection mention or allude to such masterpieces, the voracious absorption of which helped Phillis Wheatley to learn and hone her creative abilities.
Importance: Only novel by a fugitive slave woman, however the manuscript was not published until 2002
The Bondwoman’s Narrative wasn’t published until 2002. The manuscript was bought by Henry Louis Gates Jr. in 2001, who then researched, verified, and authenticated the source of the manuscript. Based on his research, he was able to confirm it was written by a Black woman (and fugitive slave) before 1861.
In order to identify the author of this manuscript, extensive efforts were needed by historians. They were finally able to identify Hannah Bond (Hannah Craft was her pen name) as the author. She was enslaved by the Wheeler family in North Carolina until she was able to escape in 1857 and settle in New Jersey.
Summary (from Storygraph):
Possibly the first novel written by a black woman slave, this work is both a historically important literary event and a gripping autobiographical story in its own right.
When her master is betrothed to a woman who conceals a tragic secret, Hannah Crafts, a young slave on a wealthy North Carolina plantation, runs away in a bid for her freedom up North. Pursued by slave hunters, imprisoned by a mysterious and cruel captor, held by sympathetic strangers, and forced to serve a demanding new mistress, she finally makes her way to freedom in New Jersey. Her compelling story provides a fascinating view of American life in the mid-1800s and the literary conventions of the time. Written in the 1850’s by a runaway slave, THE BONDSWOMAN’S NARRATIVE is a provocative literary landmark and a significant historical event that will captivate a diverse audience.
Importance: This was long considered the first novel published by a Black American woman in North America, but The Bondwoman’s Narrative may have been written a few years earlier.
An autobiographical novel written by a free person of colour in New Hampshire.
Harriet E. Wilson was the first Black American to publish a novel on the North American continent. It was published anonymously in Boston, Massachusetts in 1859.
Harriet was orphaned as a young child, and forced into indentured servitude until the age of 18. Indentured servitude was a common way to deal with orphans, as they were provided necessities (food, boarding, etc.) in return for their labour. After she turned 18, she worked as a seamstress, housekeeper, and even a lecturer for the Spiritualist circles. She often struggled to make a living, and there’s no evidence she wrote anything else for publication.
Some scholars believe that this novel didn’t get much support from abolitionists because it didn’t follow the typical slave narrative and showed that even in the free north Blacks were still oppressed and suffered from racism.
Summary (from Goodreads):
Our Nig is the tale of a mixed-race girl, Frado, abandoned by her white mother after the death of the child’s black father. Frado becomes the servant of the Bellmonts, a lower-middle-class white family in the free North, while slavery is still legal in the South, and suffers numerous abuses in their household. Frado’s story is a tragic one; having left the Bellmonts, she eventually marries a black fugitive slave, who later abandons her.
An autobiography by Harriet Jacobs, who was both a mother and a fugitive slave. Harriet published the autobiography under the pseudonym Linda Brent.
The book covers Harriet’s life both as a slave and how she gained freedom for herself and her children. Harriet discusses gender-related issues for women slaves, as they faced sexual abuse and tremendous obstacles when taking care of their children, including the constant threat of them being sold away.
Harriet also directly appealed to white women to truly comprehend the horrors of slavery and support all women based on a uniting sisterhood. The book is considered a feminist text as it highlights the sexual abuse that was used as a tool of the white patriarchy, shows women supporting other women despite a difference in race and class, and brought the topic of sexual abuse of slaves into public discussions of slavery.
Summary (from Storygraph & Goodreads):
The true story of an individual’s struggle for self-identity, self-preservation, and freedom, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl remains among the few extant slave narratives written by a woman. This autobiographical account chronicles the remarkable odyssey of Harriet Jacobs (1813-1897) whose dauntless spirit and faith carried her from a life of servitude and degradation in North Carolina to liberty and reunion with her children in the North.
Written and published in 1861 after Jacobs’ harrowing escape from a vile and predatory master, the memoir delivers a powerful and unflinching portrayal of the abuses and hypocrisy of the master-slave relationship. Jacobs writes frankly of the horrors she suffered as a slave, her eventual escape after several unsuccessful attempts, and her seven years in self-imposed exile, hiding in a coffin-like “garret” attached to her grandmother’s porch.
A rare firsthand account of a courageous woman’s determination and endurance, this inspirational story also represents a valuable historical record of the continuing battle for freedom and the preservation of family.
Importance: One of the first novels published by an Black American woman
Frances Watkins Harper was one of the first Black woman to publish a book in the USA. She also had significant literary success. Her second book of poems, “Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects” in 1854, was considered a commercial success. She also published a short story, “The Two Offers”, in the The Anglo-African Newspaper, making history as the first short story published by a Black woman.
She was born free in Baltimore, Maryland in 1825 when Maryland was still a slave state. Both her parents died when she was three, and she was raised by her maternal aunt and uncle. Her uncle was a civil rights activist and abolitionist, having a huge impact on Frances’ life and work.
In addition to her writing, Frances was an American abolitionist, suffragist, activist, and public lecturer. She took an intersectional approach to her activism, looking at both African American civil rights and women’s rights.
Iola Leroy was published in 1892 when Frances was 67. In the novel, Frances dealt with many of the serious social issues of the time, including women’s education, passing as a mixed-race individual, reconstruction, abolition and more.
Summary (from Goodreads):
A landmark account of the African American experience during the Civil War and its aftermath.
First published in 1892, this stirring novel by the great writer and activist Frances Harper tells the story of the young daughter of a wealthy Mississippi planter who travels to the North to attend school, only to be sold into slavery in the South when it is discovered that she has Negro blood. After she is freed by the Union army, she works to reunify her family and embrace her heritage, committing herself to improving the conditions for blacks in America.
Through her fascinating characters-including Iola’s brother, who fights at the front in a colored regiment-Harper weaves a vibrant and provocative chronicle of the Civil War and its consequences through African American eyes in this critical contribution to the nation’s literature.
I personally think it’s important to read from different time periods, just as it’s important to read from different countries. History is part of who we are as the human race, it has shaped us into who we are now.
But too often the literature promoted from those eras are only from certain perspectives (think old white men, and sometimes old white women). It makes sense that those were the individuals valued as literary contributors. They were typically the ones who were respected and resonated with individuals who held socioeconomic and political power (those of similar demographics).
Reading, writing, and literature were considered elite and superfluous for most individuals, and thus access was restricted. But the restricted access makes these works of art from other perspectives so much more valuable. These written works were produced against all odds and have still survived!
It makes me so sad to think of all the incredible works of art that were lost to history because people didn’t have access to time, resources, or education to develop and refine their skills. Or even just those that were written but never shared or preserved due to limited social or literary support, like the many poems of Phillis Wheatley that never got published.
Anyways, all that to say, these perspectives are incredibly valuable and I believe that reading classics should include a wide range of perspectives.
Have you ever wondered about who influenced Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin? The answer might not surprise you, their mom’s were all a huge influence on them.
In the book The Three Mothers by Anna Malaika Tubbs, she discusses how these three mothers each had an extraordinary influence on their sons, who then went on to impact the United States of America and the rest of the world. Anna gives these three women the recognition that they deserve and haven’t yet received.
These are the key points that stood out to me:
The mothers had a huge influence on their sons
Not really acknowledged (outside their family)
Their legacy lives on
Keep reading to find out more about each one.
I would encourage you to read the book to learn even more!
Mothers had a huge influence on their sons
The book specifically focuses on the mothers of three very influential men — Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin. The three mothers are:
Alberta King – mother of Martin Luther King Jr.
Louise Little – mother of Malcolm X
Berdis Baldwin – mother of James Baldwin
All three sons credit their mother with shaping who they became and encouraging their personal development. Since the three sons also had a huge impact on the USA and the rest of the world, it makes sense to understand who shaped them.
Without their mothers, they would not have become the people we learn about and wouldn’t have made the impact that they did.
Even though each mother was unique, they all shared some common areas of influence on their sons. They all taught their sons a sense of morality to live by and ensured that each son saw their own personal value (especially in a world that doesn’t value black men).
About the mothers
All three mothers were hugely influential in their sons’ lives. Each mother had a unique influence on their son:
Alberta: Alberta was a teacher and reinforced the importance of education. She encouraged Martin Luther King Jr. to pursue his PhD. She may have also affected who he respected and was attracted to, as he ended up marrying Coretta, a teacher who was also passionate about education.
Louise: Louise showed tremendous strength in the face of opposition. She was fearless and stood up for herself despite numerous threats to her family. She also encouraged her son to think critically and speak his mind.
Berdis: Berdis was artistic and a writer/poet. She strongly encouraged James to pursue his writing and education. She knew he was talented, and stood up to her abusive husband to make sure James got the experience and education he needed to pursue his writing and creative endeavours. She was also a source of inspiration for him through her eloquence and writing abilities.
Not really acknowledged (outside their family)
Like most women of colour, their contributions have largely gone unnoticed, despite the monumental achievements of their sons.
It’s interesting how these three men are some of the most talked about individuals from the civil rights movement era, but the most influential person in their lives is rarely mentioned.
Throughout all the content that has been made or written about these three men, their mothers have gotten rarely any recognition. The three mothers have barely been mentioned and almost no effort has been made to ensure the details about them were accurate.
As Anna was writing this book, she found very little information available on the mothers. When there was information about the mothers, it was typically in footnotes or as an aside, without any clear focus on who they were or what they had accomplished. She also found that the information on the mothers was often contradictory or when checked with the family was simply false. All of this shows a clear disregard for their importance and disrespect for them as individuals.
To be fair, they are acknowledged and loved within their family. But the problem is that those who admire the work of these three influential men don’t seem to consider how these men became so significant.
There’s so much focus on how much these men have influenced others, without any consideration for how they developed as individuals.
Their legacy lives on
All three mothers buried their sons and outlived them. Two of the sons were assassinated and one passed away from stomach cancer. All three outlived their sons.
Each of the mothers may have lived their life partially in the background, but all had a profound impact on their family and the entire world. All that their sons have accomplished speaks to their personal legacy.
Even though they’ve barely gotten any recognition, it’s clear that the mothers shaped their sons into the men they became. The mothers were instrumental in shaping both their sons lives and then the rest of the country’s. That legacy lives on through their sons.
Their personal legacy also lives through the rest of their family. They continue to be respected and their goodness is carried forth through the rest of their family.
One of the mothers made sure their entire extended family got together every other year. Even though she’s passed away now, they still make sure to gather every two years in her name. This ensures the familial ties remain strong and in tact.
Now through this book, they are getting some of the recognition they deserve.
What a brilliant book.
I loved hearing about the mothers of these influential people. I loved the fact that they were finally getting the respect and acknowledgement that they deserve. These men did have a profound impact on the world, but none of that would have been possible without their mothers. They would not have been themselves without the loving impact of their mothers, and no one develops in isolation.
I think far too often we (as the western world) have become so individualistic that we forget how much people are influenced by those around us, especially those who have raised us. We glorify individuals without considering how they came to be.
This erasure of people’s influences are even more extreme when we consider how black women have been historically treated, without any kind of consideration for their circumstances. We repeatedly stereotype the strong black woman who overcomes all odds to take care of their children (and possibly some others too), without giving them the support they need to avoid such a hard life.
People don’t want to be strong, but they can when they need to be. Just because they are capable of being strong in adverse situations, doesn’t mean they need to continue being strong. That’s not a goal in and of itself. The goal is to get to a point where they no longer need to be so strong.
Anyways, it was great to understand the mothers and more of these men’s lives along with how they were shaped into men that changed the world. These three mothers deserve to have their story told and for people to understand how much they contributed to the civil rights movement.
I would highly recommend this book. There is also so much more information available within the book, so much about the women and their lives both before and during their children’s lives. If you’re at all interested in this, please read this book.
And go call your mom, she probably wants to hear from you.