Several books of Black History, a discipline barely known until the 1960s, have helped me, as I visit historic sites, to better understand the causes and effects of the Civil War and the challenges Blacks face today:
- The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed, a well-researched book portraying slavery in Virginia since the Revolutionary War.
- The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson, discussed by my morning book group, tells how Jim Crow laws drove hundreds of thousands of Blacks from the South, 1915-1970. I heard Wilkerson speak at the National Book Festival, September 2012.
- The Great Migration: an American Story, a children’s book with paintings by the artist Jacob Lawrence. I bought it at the Phillips Collection to take to the discussion of Wilkerson’s book.
- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass. Judith and I visited the Douglass National Historical Site in Anacostia a few years ago.
- John Brown’s Body (1928) by Stephen Vincent Benét, an epic poem that covers the history of the Civil War, read and discussed by my morning book group in 2009.
- This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (2008) by Drew Gilpin Faust, Historian and President of Harvard University. Steve and I heard her speak on this subject at the Kennedy Center in 2010. Watch a preview of the 2012 PBS documentary here.
- The Life and Legacy of Robert Smalls of South Carolina’s Sea Islands by Lu Ann Jones and Robert K. Sutton, National Park Service historians. Steve and I viewed a Smalls exhibit last April in Beaufort SC and learned how this slave managed to turn a Confederate gunboat over to the Union in Charleston Harbor.
- The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr. selected by Coretta Scott King. I used this book when teaching English as a Second Language, 2001-09.
- Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War, Tony Horwitz, 1999
- The Known World by Edward P. Jones, 2003. Set in antebellum Virginia, it examines the issues regarding the ownership of black slaves by both white and black Americans.
- The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron, 1979 Pulitzer prize winner
- The Civil War and American Art by Eleanor Jones Harvey, accompanied the exhibit we saw in November 2012 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, with such chapters as “The Art of Wartime Photography” and “Abolition and Emancipation.”
- Twelve Years a Slave (1841-1853), an autobiography by Solomon Northup. Saw the movie, then had to buy the book.
In June 2011, Karen, Joe and I saw a terrific one-man play at the Kennedy Center, starring Laurence Fishburne as Thurgood Marshall. Here’s the trailer for the HBO movie version of Thurgood:
Thanks to reading friends, I now have more titles to explore:
- Lanterns on the Levee: Recollections of a Planter’s Son by Walker Percy, 1941
- The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin
- Black Boy and Invisible Man, Richard Wright
- The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832, Alan Taylor, 2013
- The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross a PBS series by Henry Louis Gates
- The Good Lord Bird, a novel by James McBride, 2013, that won the 2013 National Book Award
…and movies to see
Please let me know of other books to read and movies I should watch. I’d love to discuss this subject with my readers.