Today in black history: Malcolm X assassinated, John Lewis, Barbara Jordan and Nina Simone are born The Undefeated edition’s black facts for Feb. 21

1936 — Happy birthday, Barbara Jordan. A lawyer and educator and one of the leaders of the civil rights movement, Jordan became the first African-American woman from the South elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. She is known for her opening statement at the House Judiciary Committee hearings during the impeachment process against then-President Richard Nixon. She was also the first black woman to deliver a keynote address at a Democratic National Convention. Jordan died in 1996 at age 59.

1933 — Happy birthday, Nina Simone. Born Eunice Waymon, Simone was a singer, songwriter and musician who became a civil rights activist. She owned a broad catalog of music, as her talents represent styles in jazz, classical, gospel, folk, and rhythm and blues. She was born in North Carolina and enrolled in Juilliard School of Music in New York. She recorded influential records such as “Mississippi Goddam,” “I Loves You, Porgy” and “I Put a Spell on You.” She died in 2003.

1940 — Happy birthday, John Lewis, a civil rights leader and political activist who was an early member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He has served as the U.S. representative for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District since 1987 and is the dean of the Georgia congressional delegation. While chairman of the SNCC, he was one of the “Big Six” leaders of groups who organized the 1963 March on Washington. He was a key contributor to the civil rights movement and still moves the needle for equality today. Lewis has received a number of awards, including the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

1961 — Otis Boykin patents the electrical resistor. Boykin invented the electrical resistor, U.S. patent No. 2,972,726, the electrical device used in all guided missiles and IBM computers. Boykin’s noteworthy inventions include a wire precision resistor and a control unit for the pacemaker. He graduated from Fisk College in 1941 and took a job with the Majestic Radio and TV Corp. When he died in 1982 of heart failure, he had 26 patents in his name.

1965 Malcolm X (1925-65) is assassinated in Audubon Ballroom. Born Malcolm Little, the minister and human rights activist was shot in New York just before delivering a speech to his newly founded Organization of Afro-American Unity. After becoming El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, Malcolm X was known as a prolific orator and one of the most influential people in history. His life was chronicled in The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to by Alex Haley, and in the movie Malcolm X, directed by Spike Lee.

New Montgomery, Alabama, memorial recognizes black victims of lynchings It also highlights the trauma and toll that white supremacy has taken on America

Decades after black people were subjected to enslavement, lynchings and beatings by white mobs, a memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, is recognizing the victims and forcing America to acknowledge its ugly past.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, opening today, is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to enslaved black people, victims of lynchings, and those who endured police brutality and injustice. The memorial is, in part, a display of the trauma that white supremacy has caused in America.

The memorial sits on 6 acres near the Alabama State Capitol. Within the bright greenery of trees and shrubs surrounding the site lie sculptures, art and various designs to drive the messages home. A memorial square in the inner yard contains 800 6-foot monuments; inscribed on the long corten steel columns are the names of those who suffered a grim fate, followed by a death date. Although many names line the columns, just as many are simply listed as “unknown.” The design was inspired by the Memorial to Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin and the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg.

Between 1877 and 1950, more than 4,400 black men, women and children were lynched, shot and beaten to death, according to the website. While many families were left to grieve over unrecognizable bodies, some loved ones remained missing and unable to receive a proper burial. The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) took an interest in these findings eight years ago and began extensive research on the history of lynchings in America. In their findings, the crew gained a better understanding of the true nature of the crimes that had taken place. Because of the terrorization and trauma being endured in the South, 6 million black people fled the area in search of refuge elsewhere.

Having gathered enough information, the crew created a report, Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror, that documented lynchings in 12 states.

“I’m not interested in talking about America’s history because I want to punish America,” EJI founder Bryan Stevenson told The New York Times. “I want to liberate America. And I think it’s important for us to do this as an organization that has created an identity that is as disassociated from punishment as possible.”

The memorial’s grand opening week will host several events. After the opening ceremony, which will feature civil rights activist John Lewis, other national leaders and a performance by BeBe Winans, there will be “justice summits” and guest speakers including journalist Jelani Cobb, writer and activist Gloria Steinem, and film director and producer Ava DuVernay. Topic discussions include race and implicit bias in education, climate change and environmental justice, reforming criminal justice and activism.

A full schedule of opening week events can be found here.

Bernard Lafayette Jr. was with King in Memphis just hours before he was killed The two men met at the Lorraine Motel to discuss the start of the Poor People’s Campaign

It was about 9 in the morning on April 4, 1968. Bernard Lafayette Jr. had gotten the final details of his mission from Martin Luther King Jr.

Later on that fateful day in Memphis, Tennessee, Lafayette would pack his luggage at the Lorraine Motel and head to the airport for a flight to Washington, D.C., the site of his assignment.

Eight years earlier, Lafayette had been a classmate of civil rights pioneer John Lewis at the American Baptist Theological Seminary, a predominantly black institution in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1968, he was the national program administrator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the guiding light of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

The charismatic and magnetic King was not only the president of the SCLC but also its spiritual force and moral conscience. King and Lafayette met alone in Room 306 that morning to discuss media relations for the Poor People’s Campaign, a monumental undertaking designed to bring national attention to U.S. poverty as the SCLC pivoted toward economic rights. That’s why King and the SCLC were in Memphis in the first place: to help the city’s sanitation workers, mostly black men, address their concerns regarding low pay and dangerous working conditions.

Lafayette, the national coordinator for the Poor People’s Campaign, was to conduct a news conference on April 5 at campaign headquarters in Washington. And the media-savvy King wanted the message to be clear.

“He wanted to make sure I mentioned the inclusiveness of the Poor People’s Campaign,” Lafayette told The Undefeated. “He wanted everyone to know that this was about more than black people. It also was about helping poor whites, Native Americans and Mexican-Americans.”

In this Jan. 16, 1968, file photo, Martin Luther King (left), accompanied by Rev. Bernard Lafayette, talks about a planned march on Washington, D.C., during a news conference in Atlanta.

AP Photo/Charles Kelly

At the end of the conversation, King told Lafayette, “We are going to institutionalize and internationalize nonviolence.”

By sunset, those words proved eerily ironic.

When Lafayette arrived in Washington, Walter Fauntroy, the D.C. city councilman and Washington point person for the SCLC, wasn’t there to pick him up at the airport. That’s when Lafayette had an inkling that something was awry.

He called the headquarters of the Poor People’s Campaign, at 14th and U streets in Northwest Washington. That’s when Lafayette found out King had been shot on the motel balcony in Memphis.

Later, Lafayette called The Associated Press and United Press International wire services. Two pay telephones at once — with the AP in his left ear and the UPI in his right.

“Then, the UPI reporter started crying on the phone,” Lafayette said.

That’s when he first learned King had died. Moments later, Lafayette hopped in a cab to 14th and U.

There, he called the Lorraine Motel. Andrew Young, the executive vice president of the SCLC, told Lafayette not to return to Memphis. Fly to the SCLC headquarters in Atlanta instead, he said.

Lafayette then canceled the D.C. news conference scheduled for the next day.

a funeral for which to prepare

In 1968, Lafayette, at 28 years old, was a veteran of the civil rights movement. In 1960, he had participated in the sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters in Nashville, along with Lewis, Diane Nash and James Bevel. In 1961, Lafayette was one of the original Freedom Riders, along with Lewis, Jim Zwerg and William Barbee, as they tried to desegregate public interstate travel in the South amid physical attacks from angry white mobs.

Lafayette also was one of The Children, a book written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Halberstam 20 years ago that focused on eight college students, all of whom attended historically black colleges or universities (HBCUs), in Nashville who vaulted to the forefront of the civil rights movement.

Lafayette’s alma mater of barely 100 students, the American Baptist Theological Seminary, is now called American Baptist College and was granted an HBCU designation in 2013.

In 2018, Lafayette, now a 78-year-old minister, makes the 22-mile drive from his home in Tuskegee, Alabama, to Auburn University on Monday afternoons to teach the principles of global leadership for nonviolence, employing the teachings of King and Gandhi. Lafayette’s Alternatives to Violence Project, started in 1975, engages prison populations in conflict reconciliation and is used in 60 nations.

In the 1960s, Lafayette even wrote songs and sang with the Freedom Singers and Nashville Quartet. They sang freedom songs at such venues as New York’s Carnegie Hall, including the “Dog Song,” which was about the irony of dogs from black and white families playing together in rural Southern areas while the children of those same families couldn’t mingle because of segregation. That history has been preserved in more than one Smithsonian museum.

Another singer exhibited his reverence for King and the movement. King’s funeral was scheduled for April 9, 1968; the Academy Awards were set for April 8. Entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. and other stars threatened to boycott if the ceremony wasn’t rescheduled, according to the book Inside Oscar.

Davis, during an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on April 5, declared, “I certainly think any black man should not appear. I find it morally incongruous to sing ‘Talk To The Animals’ [from the Oscar-nominated movie Doctor Dolittle] while the man who could make a better world for my children is lying in state.”

Yes, Hollywood stopped for King; the Academy Awards were rescheduled for April 10.

“Sammy and several other movie stars came to the funeral,” Lafayette said. “They viewed Dr. King as a star, just like themselves. That’s why they came.”

Some SCLC members bandied about the idea of treating King’s funeral like the royals of Buckingham Palace in England, as in the splendor of men wearing top hats and coats with tails.

“Some of them wanted to treat him like royalty,” Lafayette recalled.

But they ultimately thought better of it, instead opting for the images of King’s legacy.

As King had said, in part, in his previous “Drum Major” address from Feb. 4, 1968, “I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. I just want to leave a committed life behind …”

Martin Luther King Jr. (seated, center), Andrew Young (far left, back row) and Bernard Lafayette Jr. (far right, back row) with a group of people in 1967.

Courtesy of Bernard Lafayette Jr.

Keep it simple, the SCLC decided. Hence regular men’s attire. And a mule-drawn, wooden farmer’s wagon to carry King’s casket, symbolic signs of poverty.

The “Drum Major” sermon served as King’s eulogy, per widow Coretta Scott King’s request.

The next two months were both utterly miserable and marginally productive for the SCLC. King’s successor, the solid but less magnetic Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, was determined to launch the Poor People’s Campaign, undoubtedly one of King’s most ambitious projects, which originally was scheduled for April 22.

King’s master plan: put issues such as jobs, unemployment insurance, a reasonable minimum wage and education for the poor on the national front burner.

The day after Coretta King led a women’s march on Mother’s Day on May 12, a collection of plywood tents and shacks were constructed on Washington’s National Mall. It was called Resurrection City, with a population of about 3,000. Rev. Jesse Jackson was named its mayor.

Then came the rain. “It seemed like for 40 days and 40 nights,” Lafayette remembered. “And, man, it was muddy.”

His post-campaign analysis: “It was very challenging and difficult. It was Dr. King’s idea, but he wasn’t with us. So we had to glean from him what we thought was his interpretation of the campaign.”

Lafayette spoke of a bizarre backstory to the campaign: For many of the nation’s poor, especially in the rural South, their only mode of travel was by mule. Therefore, some of the campaign participants wound their way to the nation’s capital by mule-drawn wagons. The federal government authorized some staff members, Lafayette said, to make sure the mules were equipped with special shoes for travel on pavement and soil as well as the correct food.

What about special precautions for the impoverished human beings making the journey? “No, the people had to care for themselves,” Lafayette answered.

The campaign did result in a few lesser victories, such as the federal government allocating free surplus food for distribution in hundreds of U.S. counties in need and agreements with government agencies to hire the poor to lead programs for the poor.

Abernathy, of course, desired more impactful actions, but he had to settle for the pocket-sized ones.

A half-century after the assassination of King, the implementation of the Poor People’s Campaign and the prophetic “Drum Major” speech, a part of King’s legacy was displayed on March 24 in Washington.

His granddaughter, 9-year-old Yolanda Renee King, spoke in Washington at the March for Our Lives rally against gun violence. She told an international audience: “My grandfather had a dream that his four little children will not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character. I have a dream that enough is enough. And that this should be a gun-free world, period.”

She was part of a remarkable scene mixing the past and the present before our very eyes. And it was a gun that killed her grandfather, a horrific murder by a white man that triggered race riots and street violence in at least 100 cities nationwide.

Said Lafayette: “That’s why I have great hope for the future. These young people are making sense, and they seem very determined. You call it passing the torch.”

For Lafayette, Yolanda Renee brought back memories of his last conversation with her grandfather at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

On that fateful day, 50 years ago.

Even now, King can still be heard saying, ‘The time is always right to do what’s right’ MLK’s spirit still lives in Obama, Black Lives Matter and all of us who have overcome

In the hours before an assassin’s bullet claimed his life in Memphis, Tennessee, Martin Luther King Jr. appeared to embrace the specter of his own death as he talked to those gathered at the Mason Temple church:

“Like anybody, I would like to live — a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”

On Wednesday, the nation will mark the 50th anniversary of Martin’s death in 1968. Since then, scores of streets and schools have been named for the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner, reminding us of the path to racial and economic equality he sought to show us, the lessons of national unity and generosity, international cooperation and peace, he sought to teach us through his opposition to the war in Vietnam.

Consequently, Martin, like countless leaders and followers before him, stands with African-Americans and their country, in spirit. The elders and ancestors — some celebrated, as Martin has been, others unsung — stand as bold explorers and pioneers. They surveyed the land promised to them in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Martin’s spirit stood with President-elect Barack Obama in Chicago’s Grant Park in 2008, and Obama paid homage: “… and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that ‘We Shall Overcome.’ Yes, we can.”

In 2015, Obama led a re-enactment of the 1965 civil rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Martin led the original march. He was bulwarked by his wife, Coretta, and young activists like John Lewis.

Fifty years later, Obama and his throng crossed that Alabama bridge, locking arms with civil rights heroes such as Rep. John Lewis from Georgia and the spirits of Martin, Coretta Scott King and activist Daisy Bates.

And last month, Martin’s spirit was present in the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., to end gun violence, a march in which King’s granddaughter Yolanda was one of the speakers. In brief remarks, she made reference to her grandfather’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech and then talked about a dream of her own: “A gun-free world. Period.”

During his 39 years, Martin went from Morehouse College to leading a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, to a March on Washington. In his public life, he melded the poetic cadences of the black preacher with the intellectual reach and exploration of the black intellectual and jazz musician.

As we approach the anniversary of his death, we’re reminded anew that Martin’s spirit lives, his influence endures. His timeless wisdom thunders, as if he were responding to today’s headlines and tweets: “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”

At 26, Martin accepted the call to lead the Montgomery bus boycott, which had begun with Rosa Parks refusing to surrender her bus seat or her dignity to racial segregation and humiliation.

Today, Martin’s spirit, memory and example stand with everyone who responds to his call to action: “The time is always right to do what’s right.”

Who stands ready to heed the call?

HBO’s ‘King in the Wilderness’ reveals the loneliness of his last years Interviews with Martin Luther King’s closest friends reveal the personal cost of his focus on poverty and Vietnam

It’s a popular rallying cry for activists: We have nothing to lose but our chains!

But a new documentary on Martin Luther King Jr. illustrates the costs of calling out the shortcomings of your country, and one of them is loneliness.

In King in the Wilderness, which airs Monday night on HBO, Emmy-winning director Peter Kunhardt (The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates Jr., Gloria: In Her Own Words, Jim: The James Foley Story) traces the final three years of King’s life through interviews with 19 of his friends and colleagues, including Jesse Jackson, Harry Belafonte, Joan Baez, John Lewis, Andrew Young, Diane Nash and Xernona Clayton. What emerges is a deeply personal portrait of King as human and vulnerable, someone who was not impervious to the criticism directed his way. HBO is making the full-length interviews, about 35 hours’ worth of footage, available on its website the same day.

King in the Wilderness charts the intellectual path that led King to Beyond Vietnam, the controversial speech he delivered at Riverside Church in Harlem, New York, exactly one year before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee. By 1967, King had identified a triad of oppression, consisting of racism, poverty and militarism. He was trying to convince his followers the three were inextricably linked and that it was impossible to remedy one without addressing the other two.

But as King’s understanding of the world grew more complex and his critique went beyond the barbarism of Jim Crow, it became more difficult to marshal supporters. History is filled with martyrs who eventually find themselves in the wilderness for daring to speak openly about injustice, from Nina Simone to Muhammad Ali to present-day wanderers such as Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid. We want our heroes to shut up and sing, or shut up and grab a gun when your country tells you to, or shut up and play ball, or simply shut up. And when they don’t, we take away the pedestal that allowed them to command our attention in the first place, in the form of album sales, or boxing licenses, or NFL contracts.

When King spoke out publicly against the Vietnam War, friends stopped calling, movement supporters stopped donating and his invitations to speak as a guest preacher began to dwindle. He earned the ire of those who were reluctant to criticize President Lyndon B. Johnson, the man who’d signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And there wasn’t necessarily a natural home for King in the anti-war movement, which featured young, white draft dodgers who had the luxury of burning the American flag in the street in a way that King and his black cohorts did not.

When you lose the adrenaline rush of dancing in the ring, or captivating an audience from your perch at a piano, or evading a sack, or nourishing souls around the country every Sunday, what’s left? That is the revelation of King in the Wilderness: that a man with a deep faith in the power of love could fall victim to something as common as depression.

Kunhardt presents King as more than an amalgamation of factoids, quotations and important dates. He explores King’s relationship with his father, Martin Luther King Sr., and it’s eye-opening to think of King Jr. as a young man bumping up against the authority of his father, who cast a long shadow as a community leader and patriarch. King, for example, was interested in folding the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche into his sermons, while his father, a preacher steeped in black Southern tradition, was not so keen on it.

King didn’t have a natural home in the anti-war movement, which featured young, white draft dodgers who had the luxury of burning the American flag in the street in a way that he and his black cohorts did not.

It’s easy enough to recognize that King paid for the country’s freedom with his life. But there was an earlier price, as King’s vision left his contemporaries feeling betrayed, angry and willing to withdraw the status they had conferred upon him. In the documentary, Clayton recounts how King’s close friends simply wanted to see him smile and laugh again after a year in which he’d done so little of either. She recounted presenting him with a couple of gag gifts at a birthday party in January 1968 in hopes of pulling King into the sun.

If Eyes on the Prize is required viewing for eighth-grade social studies classes, King in the Wilderness feels like an apt follow-up for older students who can identify with feelings of isolation and uncertainty about one’s place in the world. It broadens him beyond the two-dimensional rendering so many schoolchildren are presented with every year in advance of the King holiday. That seems especially valuable now as a generation of young people (including King’s own granddaughter) mobilize and agitate for a country with less gun violence and more compassion.

“I believe he died a happy man,” Clayton told an audience at Riverside Church after a recent screening of King in the Wilderness. “I really do.” She kept nodding as she repeated the words, and it was as though, 50 years later, she wasn’t just saying it to soothe those gathered in the pews, but to remind herself too.

Ava DuVernay to be honored by Gordon Parks Foundation The group also will fete Ronald O. Perelman, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Sherrilyn Ifill

Ava DuVernay will soon be toasted by the Gordon Parks Foundation in late May, the group announced on Tuesday. The group’s annual dinner happens May 22 and it honors individuals who make strides in performing and visual arts as well as humanitarianism.

The A Wrinkle In Time filmmaker will be joined by businessman and philanthropist Ronald O. Perelman, author Ta-Nehisi Coates, civil rights attorney Sherrilyn Ifill, photographer Sally Mann and documentary photographer Jamel Shabazz, all who also will be honored at New York staple Cipriani 42nd Street. The night will be co-chaired by Karl Lagerfeld, Kendrick Lamar, Valerie Jarrett, Alicia Keys, Kasseem Dean (megaproducer Swizz Beatz), Usher Raymond, Janelle Monáe, Common, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Kenneth and Kathryn Chenault, Judy and Leonard Lauder, and Alexander Soros.

Previous honorees include: U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, entertainer Janelle Monáe and photographer Annie Leibovitz.

DuVernay’s honor comes on the heels of good recent news: last week it was announced that DC Comics tapped her to direct the superhero film The New Gods for Warner Bros., which makes her the first woman of color to tackle a DC Comics film.

24 books for white people to read beyond Black History Month These great reads will help any reader discover the rich range of the African-American experience

For many years I was a clueless white guy. I suffered from one-ness. What I really needed was two-ness, and maybe three-ness and four-ness. I came to see my whiteness not as privilege but as insufficiency, thanks to W. E. B. Du Bois and his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk.

In a remarkable passage, the great scholar, author and activist described the Negro as “a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, — a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eye of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideas in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

Here is the good news. I am not there yet, but I am gaining on two-ness. My white skin is no longer a prison of cluelessness. With the help of African-American friends and colleagues, I am beginning to see America through the eyes of not the Other but others. Through their generosity, I have been invited to ask questions. I heard or saw things I didn’t understand. I did not yet know how to learn, nor did I have the courage to ask a question that might come off as racist. My fear was met by encouragement from the likes of Rev. Kenny Irby, DeWayne Wickham, Dr. Karen Dunlap, Keith Woods, Dr. Lillian Dunlap. “Don’t worry,” they indicated by one means or another. “Ask away. No one is going to leave the room or show you the door.”

Some of my clueless questions:

“When I see a police car, unless I am speeding, I think protection. Tell me why when you see a cop car you may think oppression?”

“I don’t get the absence of so many black fathers in the lives of their children. What is up with that?”

“I have learned to hate the N-word. When I hear it from black rappers, should I be offended?”

“I keep running into this idea of ‘good hair’ vs. ‘bad hair.’ As someone with very bad hair, I think that anyone with any kind of hair has good hair. What am I missing?”

There came a time during these interrogations when I felt a little fatigue setting in from my colleagues. And then Karen Dunlap, my boss and president of the Poynter Institute, made it explicit. It gets tiring, she explained, bearing the burden of white people’s ignorance about black people and African-American culture. “You know,” she gave me a Sunday school teacher look, “you could read something.”

Read something. Yes, read something!

And so I have. Over the past two decades I have developed quite a nice collection of what I might generally describe as African-American literature, some of it written by white journalists or scholars but most of it created by black poets, playwrights, scholars, novelists, essayists and critics. My collection is now large enough to be displayed, and I recently did just that in the library of the Poynter Institute.

I am not claiming this to be an expert collection of works, and certainly not a model one. But it is my collection, and I believe it has made me a better friend, colleague, parent, citizen and human being. I offer this list, with brief annotations, at the END of Black History Month to encourage readers not to limit their learning to the shortest month of the year.

So please learn, grow — and enjoy.


  • My Soul Is Rested: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement in the Deep South, by Howell Raines. A superb oral history of the key moments and key figures of the struggle.
  • The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, by James McBride. “What color is God?” a dark-skinned boy asks his light-skinned mother. “God is the color of water.”
  • Reporting Civil Rights (Parts One and Two) Library of America edition of great American journalism on race and social justice, 1941-1973.
  • The Authentic Voice: The Best Reporting on Race and Ethnicity, edited by Arlene Morgan, Alice Pifer and Keith Woods. Rich examples reveal the power of inclusiveness in all the stories we tell.
  • The Sound of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Concert That Awakened America, by Raymond Arsenault. A great biography of a great American artist by the historian who also gave us Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice.
  • Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, by Phillip Hoose. Before Rosa Parks became an American icon, a young teenage girl, Claudette Colvin, refused to give up her seat on a bus. Written for young readers, but important for all.
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. First came slavery, then came segregation, then came mass incarceration.
  • Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Framed as a letter to his adolescent son, the author digs down to consequences of the continuing exploitation of black people in America. By the author who has made the most eloquent case in favor of reparations for continuing effects of slavery.
  • Beloved, by Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. “Stares unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery.” Another must-read is The Bluest Eye, a terrifying novel about cultural definitions of beauty and the tragedy of self-hatred.
  • Fences, by August Wilson. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for drama, this play depicts what it means for a father to love his son — even at times when he doesn’t like him.
  • Woodholme: A Black Man’s Story of Growing Up Alone, by DeWayne Wickham. An orphan, black and poor, grows up to be one of America’s most prominent newspaper columnists.
  • Crossing the Danger Water: Three Hundred Years of African-American Writing, edited by Deirdre Mullane. If I had to recommend a single volume, this anthology would be it: more than 700 pages of history, literature and insight.
  • In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, by Alice Walker. Glowing essays expressed in what the author of The Color Purple calls “Womanist Prose.”
  • March (Books One, Two and Three), a trilogy, graphic-novel style, on the life and times of congressman John Lewis, with Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. A work for adults and young readers.
  • Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family, by Condoleezza Rice. This family memoir by the former U.S. secretary of state carries us back to when she was 8 years old and her young friends were murdered in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
  • Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63, by Taylor Branch. Widely hailed by critics of all races as “a vivid tapestry of America.”
  • Race Matters, by Cornel West. From W. E. B. Du Bois to Cornel West, African-American intellectuals have helped Americans of all colors understand the sources of racism and the need for change.
  • The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, James Weldon Johnson. The 1912 short novel narrates what it means for a person of mixed race to “pass for white” within the system of American apartheid.
  • The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation, by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff. Winner of a Pulitzer Prize. The stories behind the stories of civil rights, including the inspirational courage and leadership of African-American journalists and publishers.
  • On the Bus with Rosa Parks, by Rita Dove. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, her poetry captures a unique vision of the love and spirit of those who struggled against segregation.
  • Soul on Ice, by Eldridge Cleaver. Bought this as a college student in 1968 along with Look Out, Whitey! Black Power’s Gon’ Get Your Mama! by Julius Lester. Written from a California state prison by a key figure in the Black Panther movement.
  • Black and White Styles in Conflict, by Thomas Kochman. Are black people and white people the same — or different? Turns out, the answer is “both,” according to the white sociologist who drills down into American culture to reveal the sources of our misunderstanding.
  • The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin. Framed as a letter to his young nephew on the 100th anniversary of emancipation. A searing call for justice.
  • The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. The poet was black a black man in a white world, a gay man in a straight world. His experience of two-ness created, I would argue, one of the most impressive bodies of poetry in American history. Were there not an unofficial color line in the Pulitzer Prize judging, he would have won — and more than once.

In building this list, I emphasize again that it is only special in that it is mine, and in that it has led me to a place I wanted and needed to be. There are countless worthy works not on my list, and countless more that are soon to be written. If I may borrow a phrase from the late Julius Lester: Look out, Whitey! Read some of these books and, who knows, you may get a clue. May there be two-ness in your future — and more.

Simeon Booker’s life and legacy cannot be overstated ‘Every black journalist working today should pause for a moment and thank Simeon Booker’

The life of Simeon Booker was celebrated Monday at Washington National Cathedral, a beautiful memorial service for an extraordinary journalist. Mr. Booker — and I feel compelled to call him mister — was a capital pioneer, admired by everyone who knew that he played a role in helping to better this nation.

In 1952, he became the first black reporter to work at The Washington Post. “He integrated a whole industry,” said Don Graham, former publisher of the Post whose dad, Philip, was the only white newspaper leader in America who would give Mr. Booker a chance. But that was just one milestone. Simeon Booker went on to brilliantly chronicle the civil rights movement as a reporter for Jet and Ebony magazines, covering protests and murders and otherwise bringing bright light to the struggle for freedom and equality. He smoked Kent cigarettes and wore bow ties. He became famous for his reporting on Emmett Till’s 1955 murder and trial, and it was Mr. Booker’s Jet that published the provocative photos of the 14-year-old’s mutilated body in an open casket.

Every black journalist working today should pause for a moment and thank Simeon Booker. Thank him as an exemplar of the brave black journalists who confronted danger and evaded it while unearthing essential stories in the segregated Deep South of the 1950s and ’60s. A bunch of us came to the National Cathedral just to be there for him, to salute what he meant and to hug each other. Jeff Ballou, Bryan Monroe, Mike Fletcher, Wes Lowery, Courtland Milloy, Paul Delaney, Sarah Glover, Betty Anne Williams, Fred Sweets, Bernie Shaw, Reggie Stuart. Just to name a few. We all owe him something.

Congressman John Lewis, who knows too much about danger, said of Mr. Booker at the memorial service: “He never shied away, ran away from a story.” Lewis saw him during the 1961 Freedom Rides. Saw him in Selma, Alabama. Saw him everywhere. “He did the hard, necessary work to get the story,” Lewis said, noting that without Simeon Booker “the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings.”

Back in Mr. Booker’s heyday, Lewis noted, black reporters could be beaten just for holding a camera and a pen. They sometimes wore disguises, dressed as sharecroppers to blend in. They were intrepid and fearless. Today, we have journalists enraged just because they were trolled on Twitter. Mr. Booker died at age 99, cheered for the magnificent life he led and the example he set. I don’t think he was worried about trolls.

Daily Dose: 12/8/17 John Lewis will not attend civil rights museum opening

What’s up, gang? The week’s finally coming to an end, and it’s been a doozy on the news front. This is going to be a serious weekend of self-care for quite a few of us. Also, it’s snowing across a lot of America, so that’s fun too.

I used to work in local news. It’s a cutthroat business that involves sometimes covering the most mundane of topics that just might interest a small pocket of people. But there are some staples in the industry that never change. Car accidents, store openings and, of course, house fires. That’s where we catch up with Rhoda Young. She’s apparently a citizen reporter in Norfolk, Virginia. And when she came upon one such blaze, she covered it the way she knows how. This is genuinely the best fire coverage you’re going to see all year.

So, not only is Roy Moore allegedly a sexual miscreant, he’s also apparently a racist. The guy running for Senate in Alabama has had numerous women go public with the fact that he tried to or did date them when he was an adult and they were in high school. He was banned from a local shopping mall back in the day for this. His campaign has been a pretty slimy one, and now it’s come to light that he’s got some pretty wild views on slavery. Views like, America was better when we had it.

John Lewis is not here for the nonsense. The civil rights icon and Georgia congressman is not planning on attending the opening of a civil rights museum in Jackson, Mississippi, because President Donald Trump will be there. I can’t imagine how Lewis feels about this in his heart of hearts. He worked his whole life to make sure that black folks have had the same rights as the rest of America, and here comes this guy trying to swoop in late — in Jackson, of all places. That’s got to hurt.

Shohei Ohtani is yet to set foot in a big-league batter’s box, but his presence is already making waves around the majors. If you don’t know who he is, he’s a two-way guy who some scouts think could both pitch and play the field if any franchise would let him. That’s unlikely, as the novelty of said deal would probably not be worth the risk from an injury/wear-and-tear standpoint, but it still could prove to be an interesting situation. Anyway, the negotiations for his bidding have been hotly intense, and MLB is definitely watching closely.

Free Food

Coffee Break: I’ve never been to Boston. Not because I’ve avoided it for any particular reason, but I’m also in no rush to go. Haven’t ever really heard anything good about it, whatsoever, particularly when it comes to black folks. Now, the Boston Globe is taking a look at racism in the city.

Snack Time: If you ever find yourself in a situation with an armed robber and you could keep your composure the way this dude working at Walgreens did, then more power to you. Icy.

Dessert: Need new music? Big Sean and Metro Boomin got you covered.

James Baldwin’s essential ‘The Fire Next Time’ gets an arty and brilliant makeover With over 100 photos of the early civil rights movement and an introduction from Congressman John Lewis, this book is a collectors’ item

Fifty-four years after James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time revolutionized the way we talk about race, it still feels eerily present. Taken out of historical context, Baldwin’s words read like they were written yesterday, not published in The New Yorker more than five decades ago. At the time, Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in My Mind was so impactful that after the essay was published, photojournalist Steve Schapiro, who often shot for Life magazine, persuaded his employer to run a full profile of Baldwin. The assignment led to Schapiro shooting some of the most iconic images of his long and legendary career, including one of a young, then relatively unknown Martin Luther King Jr. These images, many of them never before published, are featured alongside Baldwin’s words in a new limited edition letterpress edition of The Fire Next Time, released by art book publisher Taschen.

There are 1,963 first-edition volumes — a nod to the original publication year — and this rerelease of The Fire Next Time is the third in a literary letterpress series that combines iconic works of nonfiction with the work of acclaimed image-makers. Nina Wiener, Taschen managing editor and lead on the Baldwin project, noted that the series is ongoing.

“It features work of great nonfiction writers in the second half of the 20th century in English,” she said, “with a focus, at this point, on New Journalism.”

The two other books in the series reimagine Gay Talese’s 1966 Esquire story Frank Sinatra Has A Cold coupled with photographs by Phil Stern, and Tom Wolfe’s 1968 The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test alongside photo-essays by Lawrence Schiller (who conceived the idea to include Baldwin in this series) and Ted Streshinsky. The Baldwin volume is a silk screen hardcover with an embossed case and is letterpress printed on two different stocks of natural uncoated paper. It’s 272 pages and retails for $200.

The previous two books in the series, said Wiener, are “very large, very heavy and very expensive,” but Wiener’s team — composed of Lawrence Schiller, art director Josh Baker, designer Jessica Sappenfield and captioner Marcia Davis — decided to create The Fire Next Time on a more intimate scale. It’s smaller and designed in such a way to encourage the reader to actually, well, read.

“We thought it was extremely important,” said Wiener, “that we had the captions written by someone with a strong knowledge of the history of the civil rights movement — but who could also connect it to the events of today. Marcia Davis, a longtime editor with The Washington Post, worked with us on the captions. She’s the main reporter there who’s been covering Ferguson and had been covering social justice issues … for the last 20-plus years. She’s just fantastic … and she managed some pretty relevant stories in very short word count that the captions allowed for — an art unto itself. She was a critical part of making this book work.” This is not your average coffee-table book.

According to Wiener, Baldwin was Schapiro’s entrée into covering the civil rights movement. “It was through him that he met activist Jerome Smith, and one thing led to another. … He was meeting a lot of the Freedom Riders and SNCC members, and eventually [he] photographed Martin Luther King,” she said. “[In] the first picture that he took of King, Ralph Abernathy is in the foreground talking to a couple of children, and [King] was in the background, totally out of focus. Steve didn’t even know who King was at that time.”

Because of Schapiro’s desire to cover Baldwin in his element, he traveled to the South with him and ended up documenting, although Schapiro didn’t quite grasp the magnitude of it at the time, the beginnings of the civil rights movement. John Lewis, Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, Alabama Gov. George Wallace, the Freedom Riders and members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, key players in the battle for civil rights, were captured in Schapiro’s resolute search for authenticity.

Besides Baldwin’s words and Schapiro’s photographs, this new edition features an introduction by activist U.S. Rep. John Lewis and a note from Baldwin’s sister (and executor of his estate) Gloria Karefa-Smart.

“We spent a lot of time working on how to organize the book,” said Wiener. “Initially we anticipated organizing pictures chronologically, but we felt that the visual story was not as interesting that way, and we ended up going with more of a thematic organization.”

Because of its intimacy, this is a book that we can open to learn from, and to find glimmers of hope in, for a long time to come.