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In Chasing Me to My Grave (2021), a unique and powerful memoir in words and paintings and a Booklist Top of the List winner, Winfred Rembert tells the galvanizing story of his surviving racial tyranny and violence in Georgia to become an artist. In his foreword, prominent social-justice lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson praises Rembert as a “gifted” and “brutally honest” storyteller and “one of the finest and most original vernacular artists in America.” The books below address various aspects of Rembert’s experiences and showcase the work of other seminal African American artists.
American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment. By Shane Bauer. 2018. Penguin Press.
Bauer examines one of slavery’s toxic legacies, private companies making profits from the labor of incarcerated people, through a historical inquiry and an account of his discoveries working as a correctional officer in a for-profit Louisiana prison.
An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden. By Mary Schmidt Campbell. 2018. Oxford.
Romare Bearden is known best for his jazzy collages, in which clipped magazine images are layered into depictions of African American lives, creating a dialogue of stereotyping and its dismantling.
Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America. By Patrick Phillips. 2016. Norton.
Phillips presents a harrowing chronicle of racial cleansing (police brutality, lynchings, arson, and bombings) in Forsyth County, Georgia, beginning in 1912, and its long cover-up.
By Hands Now Known: Jim Crow’s Legal Executioners. By Margaret A. Burnham. 2022. Norton.
Burnham, director of Northeastern University’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, presents a meticulously researched documentation of devastating stories of Black Americans who suffered racial violence, particularly in the American South in the mid-twentieth century, including accounts of murders committed by members of the Ku Klux Klan and police officers.
Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad. By Matthew F. Delmont. 2022. Viking.
Historian Delmont documents the African American experience in WWII when soldiers often fought racists in the U.S. military as much as they waged war against overseas enemies, recounting the saga of the Tuskegee Airmen and the mutiny court martial of Black sailors at Port Chicago off San Francisco Bay. Now largely forgotten, this cause célèbre for civil-rights activists led to desegregation of the Navy.
Just Mercy. By Bryan Stevenson. 2014. Spiegel & Grau.
In this celebrated account, Stevenson tells the story of how as a Harvard law student he visited death-row inmates in Georgia, witnessed injustices suffered by marginalized Americans, and founded the Equal Justice Initiative.
Kerry James Marshall: Mastry. By Ian Alteveer and others. 2016. Skira Rizzoli.
A defining showcase for the work of Kerry James Marshall, who creates masterful and enthralling paintings depicting Black people in everyday settings on a monumental scale with deeply historical and corrective intent.
Solitary. By Albert Woodfox and Leslie George. 2019. Grove.
Growing up in Jim Crow New Orleans, Woodfox helps his family by committing petty crimes. He ends up in prison, gets involved in a protest against the inhumane treatment of inmates, and is framed for the 1972 murder of a correctional officer and subjected to decades-long solitary confinement. Woodfox’s resounding memoir calls for justice-system reform.
Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow. By Henry Louis Gates Jr. 2019. Penguin Press.
Gates tracks the vicious backlash by white southerners against the post–Civil War constitutional amendments that abolished slavery, established citizenship for African Americans, and ensured Black men the right to vote, from white-supremacist propaganda to lynchings and the establishment of Jim Crow segregation laws.
Street Poison: The Biography of Iceberg Slim. By Justin Gifford. 2015. Doubleday.
Like Rembert, Robert “Iceberg Slim” Beck wrote a no-holds-barred memoir about his struggles with racism on the street and in prison, Pimp: The Story of My Life (1967). Gifford tells the full story behind that incendiary book and how Beck went on to write popular crime novels and speak out against racism, violence, and the exploitation of women.
White Lies: The Double Life of Walter F. White and America’s Darkest Secret. By A. J. Baime. 2022. HMH/Mariner.
Walter Francis White, a leading civil-rights advocate, passed as white to infiltrate Klan groups in the South and expose perpetrators of lynchings. Although his undercover investigations put him at great risk, White continued to fight against white supremacy and racial injustices. Now Baime brings forward the story of one the most significant yet overlooked figures in American history.
You Don’t Know Us Negroes And Other Essays. By Zora Neale Hurston. Edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Genevieve West. 2022. Amistad.
Hurston’s wit, literary power, and anthropological expertise shaped these inquiries into Jim Crow, white supremacy, civil rights actions, and Black creativity.
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