By Leslye Joy Allen Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Ph.D. Candidate
Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.
When Erich McMillan-McCall, founder of Project1Voice said, “We need a bibliography,” I knew I was about to be called upon to begin pulling together books that focused on the lives and accomplishments of Black women. I almost declined because there really is no shortage of books written by or about or which target Black women and girls as a reading audience. The real task was not finding books, but rather which ones should be on the list. Erich (pronounced “Eh-rish”) asked me to do this as part of his overall focus on Black women, but also in some ways as a response to the reading of the Christina Ham play “Four Little Girls” that streamed live online at the Kennedy-Center’s website at 6:00 PM EST on Sunday, September 15, 2013.
Although Diane McWhorter’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book Carry Me Home gives a detailed account of that fateful Sunday morning when Cynthia, Addie Mae, Carole, and Denise were killed, there is no book written exclusively about these four little girls who died in that church bombing on September 15, 1963. Indeed, it can be debated that the White racist terrorists that bombed Birmingham, Alabama’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that ended the lives of these girls did not specifically set out to kill young Black females. Often the targets of racial violence were and tend to be Black males, or at least many folks think the targets are always Black males. After all, two Black boys, 16-year-old Johnny Robinson and 13-year-old Virgil Ware were shot and killed the same day in the immediate aftermath of the church bombing. Yet, Black women and girls were not only routine victims of sexual violence, but were often beaten or killed with impunity during slavery, the era of Jim Crow, and well into and beyond the Civil Rights era. Black female martyrdom and valor in the struggle for human and civil rights is often muted in favor of other types of narratives. A perfect example of this is how most people view Rosa Parks.
Too often the public (and a few historians) mistakes Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a White person in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 as just an example of what happens when a Black woman simply gets tired of racial injustice. But it was much, much more than that. Historian Danielle L. McGuire aptly noted that Parks had a long career of dangerous work as an NAACP investigator in the decades before her fateful act in 1955. McGuire also reported that the very first question Rosa Parks’ mother asked her after Parks was released from jail for her now-famous refusal to give up her seat to a white bus passenger was: “Did they beat you?” That kind of question was, at one time, almost as typical for Black women as the sun coming up.
One way to dispel myths and increase our understanding of our lives and the world we live in is to read and do our own research. One way to honor those four little girls tragically killed on that fateful Sunday in 1963 (and all of our Black heroines) is to examine and celebrate our resilient and diverse and often brilliant Black womanhood, a womanhood denied to them. So here goes…
The books contained in the .pdf attachment at the end of this blog were my favorites and the first books that came to mind, along with a few marvelous book suggestions about Black female musicians courtesy of my good friend and alumna sister from Agnes Scott College, ethnomusicologist Dr. Birgitta Johnson.
Some books are old and some relatively new. There are no separate sections where fiction is separated from nonfiction. The only separate section in this bibliography is a section of books devoted exclusively to and for Black girls from preschool to middle school. A few parents might find this useful. I am also happy to report that books for and about Black girls is a growing industry.
My book list is not comprehensive. For some of you who read all the time, you might find some glaring omissions. I make no apologies. I never choose a book simply because it was or is popular, and neither should you. I also have not been fond of everything on the bestseller list now or in the past. This list is MY LIST and it is hardly an exhaustive list of all the books I have read about Black women and/or any other subject. Yet it is a beginning. For those of you who read occasionally, you might find this list particularly useful so that you can begin that journey where you read and discover new things, new ideas, and new writers.
Now, for those of you who might be tempted to send me some remark about how I left out what you consider to be the “best book ever,” do not despair and save your energy. The attached bibliography has an important page with a header that reads: “Add Your Favorite Books Here.” THIS IS YOUR PAGE. This is where I hope you will begin to write down the authors and titles of those books that have mattered the most to you. I hope you will create your own bibliography, because if you do, we can begin to shape a real dialogue that is truly about ALL OF US. I invite you to start one part of your/our journey by clicking here: **By, About, and For Black Women, a Personal Bibliography by Leslye Joy Allen.pdf**
Portable Document Files (.pdf ) have to be opened with an Adobe Reader. If you have a problem opening the file above, please visit http://www.adobe.com, click on the section near the top of the page that is marked “Download,” then highlight and click “Adobe Reader” and download the Adobe Reader free of charge.
Also be sure to visit the Gist of Freedom, free podcasts devoted to preserving our rich African American History at: http://www.blackhistoryuniversity.com