By JAKE SEXTON
As Black History Month draws to a close, I hope it’s not too late to recommend some great titles celebrating the amazing contributions of African Americans to our society and culture.
I’m excited about two recent biographies about two very different musicians with impressive cultural contributions and complicated lives. Howie Abrams’ “Finding Joseph I: An Oral History of H.R. from Bad Brains,” tells the story of enigmatic punk rock icon Paul “H.R.” Hudson, his influential time in the hardcore scene, and his personal battles with mental illness. The book combines his own words and views with interviews with his friends, family, and musical compatriots.
In a completely differently musical genre, we have “The Beautiful Ones” by Prince. The revolutionary musician had begun writing his memoirs at the time of his death, and this book is a combination of that unfinished work, a long intro from his collaborator Dan Piepenbring, a scrapbook of photos and other writings, and a handwritten draft of Prince’s script for “Purple Rain.”
Abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ autobiography is one of the most famous works of American memoir, but a new interpretation helps bring his story to life for modern generations. “The Life of Frederick Douglass: A graphic narrative of a slave’s journey from bondage to freedom” takes Douglass’ life story and turns it into a graphic novel. Writer David F. Walker and artists Damon Smyth and Marissa Louise combine Douglass’ words with dramatic artwork to depict Douglass’ harsh upbringing in the grips of slavery, escape to freedom, and powerful impact as an activist and orator.
One of the gratifying stories of this year’s Academy Awards was the success of the short, animated film “Hair Love.” The movie is a humorous yet surprisingly emotional story about a black father and daughter, attempting to style the young girl’s hair before a special visit to Mom. Former NFL player Mathew A. Cherry raised money online to produce the film, only to have it meet critical acclaim and popularity after years of hard work. Cherry and illustrator Vashti Harrison have created an accompanying “Hair Love” children’s book, telling the same story of Dad, Zuri, and Zuri’s beautiful hair.
While Black History Month is primarily about highlighting the accomplishments of black Americans, there are several important new books about broad historical patterns of African Americans in the 20th century. The first is the powerful and award-winning “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America,” by Richard Rothstein. It is an unrelenting look at how the past and present geographic segregation of black people in America didn’t happen because of a coincidental confluence of individual choices but was caused by explicit government policies. The book details dozens of examples of redlining, discriminatory loan policies, racist housing covenants, and many other tactics designed to exclude African Americans, but thankfully does conclude with some ideas of how to rectify this damage.
Another exciting new title is Blair Imani’s new “Making Our Way Home: The Great Migration and the Black American Dream.” This book reflects on the decades of migration of black Americans from the South to all regions of the country, and their impact on the culture and politics of the entire nation. The historical facts are accompanied by tales from the famed lives of people like James Baldwin and Ella Fitzgerald, and are even more compelling thanks to the artwork of Rachelle Baker.
On March 7 at the library, writer and humorist Richard Lederer will give a presentation about a different kind of history, the history of names. Starts at 1 p.m., come early because it will be crowded!
— Jake Sexton is a librarian at the La Mesa Branch Library.