Black History Month 2022 Reading List: Black Resistance

As you may already now, February is Black History Month. The history of black people should be celebrated at all times, but in February, we shine an extra special light on it. Black History Month began as Negro History Week in February 1926, created by historian Carter G. Woodson. In 1976, the celebration was expanded to a month.

We’ll be publishing a Black History Month reading list with titles from Black authors each week this month, centering different topics in relation to Black life. Today’s reading list will focus on Black resistance. From the beginning of time, black people have stood up and fought against various forces that have tried to control us. The titles below will detail different experiences and identities that helped drive the force behind our ever evolving and powerful history of Black resistance.

If you’re interested in purchasing any of these books, don’t forget to use code 01DAH40 at checkout to get 40% off; this discount code applies to any other UNC Press book as well.


LIBERATED THREADS: BLACK WOMEN, STYLE AND GLOBAL POLITICS OF SOUL

BY TANISHA C. FORD

From the civil rights and Black Power era of the 1960s through antiapartheid activism in the 1980s and beyond, black women have used their clothing, hair, and style not simply as a fashion statement but as a powerful tool of resistance. Whether using stiletto heels as weapons to protect against police attacks or incorporating African-themed designs into everyday wear, these fashion-forward women celebrated their identities and pushed for equality.

In this thought-provoking book, Tanisha C. Ford explores how and why black women in places as far-flung as New York City, Atlanta, London, and Johannesburg incorporated style and beauty culture into their activism. Focusing on the emergence of the “soul style” movement—represented in clothing, jewelry, hairstyles, and more—Liberated Threads shows that black women’s fashion choices became galvanizing symbols of gender and political liberation.

DREAMING THE PRESENT: TIME, AESTHETICS, AND THE BLACK COOPERATIVE MOVEMENT

BY IRVIN J. HUNT

This is a story of art and movement building at the limits of imagination. In their darkest hours, W. E. B. Du Bois, Ella Baker, George Schuyler, and Fannie Lou Hamer gathered hundreds across the United States and beyond to build vast, but forgotten, networks of mutual aid: farms, shops, schools, banks, daycares, homes, health clinics, and burial grounds. They called these spaces “cooperatives,” local challenges to global capital, where people pooled all they had to meet their needs. By reading their activism as an artistic practice, Irvin Hunt argues that their primary need was to free their movement from the logic of progress. From a remarkably diverse archive, Hunt extrapolates three new ways to describe the time of the movement: a continual beginning, a deliberate falling apart, and a simultaneity, a kind of all-at-once-ness. These temporalities reflect how a people maneuvered the law, reappropriated property, built autonomous communities, and fundamentally reimagined what a movement can be. Their movement was not the dream of a brighter day; it was the making of today out of the stuff of dreams. Hunt offers both an original account of Black mutual aid and, in a world of diminishing of futures, a moving meditation on the possibilities of the present.

SHELTER IN A TIME OF STORM: HOW BLACK COLLEGES FOSTERED GENERATIONS OF LEADERSHIP AND ACTIVISM

BY JELANI M. FAVORS

For generations, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have been essential institutions for the African American community. Their nurturing environments not only provided educational advancement but also catalyzed the Black freedom struggle, forever altering the political destiny of the United States. In this book, Jelani M. Favors offers a history of HBCUs from the 1837 founding of Cheyney State University to the present, told through the lens of how they fostered student activism.

Favors chronicles the development and significance of HBCUs through stories from institutions such as Cheyney State University, Tougaloo College, Bennett College, Alabama State University, Jackson State University, Southern University, and North Carolina A&T. He demonstrates how HBCUs became a refuge during the oppression of the Jim Crow era and illustrates the central role their campus communities played during the civil rights and Black Power movements. 

A POLITICAL EDUCATION: BLACK POLITICS AND EDUCATION REFORM IN CHICAGO SINCE THE 1960s

BY ELIZABETH TODD-BRELAND

In 2012, Chicago’s school year began with the city’s first teachers’ strike in a quarter century and ended with the largest mass closure of public schools in U.S. history. On one side, a union leader and veteran black woman educator drew upon organizing strategies from black and Latinx communities to demand increased school resources. On the other side, the mayor, backed by the Obama administration, argued that only corporate-style education reform could set the struggling school system aright. The stark differences in positions resonated nationally, challenging the long-standing alliance between teachers’ unions and the Democratic Party.

Elizabeth Todd-Breland recovers the hidden history underlying this battle. She tells the story of black education reformers’ community-based strategies to improve education beginning during the 1960s, as support for desegregation transformed into community control, experimental schooling models that pre-dated charter schools, and black teachers’ challenges to a newly assertive teachers’ union. 

REMAKING BLACK POWER: HOW BLACK WOMEN TRANSFORMED AN ERA

BY ASHLEY D. FARMER

In this comprehensive history, Ashley D. Farmer examines black women’s political, social, and cultural engagement with Black Power ideals and organizations. Complicating the assumption that sexism relegated black women to the margins of the movement, Farmer demonstrates how female activists fought for more inclusive understandings of Black Power and social justice by developing new ideas about black womanhood. This compelling book shows how the new tropes of womanhood that they created–the “Militant Black Domestic,” the “Revolutionary Black Woman,” and the “Third World Woman,” for instance–spurred debate among activists over the importance of women and gender to Black Power organizing, causing many of the era’s organizations and leaders to critique patriarchy and support gender equality.

Making use of a vast and untapped array of black women’s artwork, political cartoons, manifestos, and political essays that they produced as members of groups such as the Black Panther Party and the Congress of African People, Farmer reveals how black women activists reimagined black womanhood, challenged sexism, and redefined the meaning of race, gender, and identity in American life.

MAY WE FOREVER STAND: A HISTORY OF THE BLACK NATIONAL ANTHEM

BY IMANI PERRY

The twin acts of singing and fighting for freedom have been inseparable in African American history. May We Forever Stand tells an essential part of that story. With lyrics penned by James Weldon Johnson and music composed by his brother Rosamond, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was embraced almost immediately as an anthem that captured the story and the aspirations of black Americans. Since the song’s creation, it has been adopted by the NAACP and performed by countless artists in times of both crisis and celebration, cementing its place in African American life up through the present day. 

In this rich, poignant, and readable work, Imani Perry tells the story of the Black National Anthem as it traveled from South to North, from civil rights to black power, and from countless family reunions to Carnegie Hall and the Oval Office. Drawing on a wide array of sources, Perry uses “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as a window on the powerful ways African Americans have used music and culture to organize, mourn, challenge, and celebrate for more than a century.

FREEDOM FARMERS: AGRICULTURAL RESISTANCE AND THE BLACK FREEDOM MOVEMENT

BY MONICA M. WHITE

In May 1967, internationally renowned activist Fannie Lou Hamer purchased forty acres of land in the Mississippi Delta, launching the Freedom Farms Cooperative (FFC). A community-based rural and economic development project, FFC would grow to over 600 acres, offering a means for local sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and domestic workers to pursue community wellness, self-reliance, and political resistance. Life on the cooperative farm presented an alternative to the second wave of northern migration by African Americans–an opportunity to stay in the South, live off the land, and create a healthy community based upon building an alternative food system as a cooperative and collective effort.

Freedom Farmers expands the historical narrative of the black freedom struggle to embrace the work, roles, and contributions of southern Black farmers and the organizations they formed. Whereas existing scholarship generally views agriculture as a site of oppression and exploitation of black people, this book reveals agriculture as a site of resistance and provides a historical foundation that adds meaning and context to current conversations around the resurgence of food justice/sovereignty movements in urban spaces like Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York City, and New Orleans.

BLACK MARXISM, REVISED AND UPDATED THIRD EDITION: THE MAKING OF THE BALCK RADICAL TRADITION

BY CEDRIC J. ROBINSON

In this ambitious work, first published in 1983, Cedric Robinson demonstrates that efforts to understand Black people’s history of resistance solely through the prism of Marxist theory are incomplete and inaccurate. Marxist analyses tend to presuppose European models of history and experience that downplay the significance of Black people and Black communities as agents of change and resistance. Black radicalism, Robinson argues, must be linked to the traditions of Africa and the unique experiences of Blacks on Western continents, and any analyses of African American history need to acknowledge this.

To illustrate his argument, Robinson traces the emergence of Marxist ideology in Europe, the resistance by Blacks in historically oppressive environments, and the influence of both of these traditions on such important twentieth-century Black radical thinkers as W. E. B. Du Bois, C. L. R. James, and Richard Wright. This revised and updated third edition includes a new preface by Tiffany Willoughby-Herard, and a new foreword by Robin D. G. Kelley.