Certain books have been credited with helping to awaken the political and cultural consciousness of African Americans in the 1990s.
These 10 books are some of the best reads for Black people seeking a knowledge of self in the modern-day U.S.
Their authors rewrote the history of Black people that was being taught in schools and opened up new perspectives on how Black men and women viewed love, family, religion and politics in America.
Written by Nathan McCall, “Makes Me Wanna Holler: A Young Black Man in America” (1994) was an instant classic on race in America. It details McCall’s middle-class upbringing and his slide into crime, jail, and later to the The Washington Post newsroom and the faculty of Emory University.
While in jail serving a three-year sentence for armed robbery, McCall was enlightened by an older inmate. They played chess together and discussed the ways of proper survival for a Black man in modern society. McCall’s entry into the middle-class white mainstream was not easy. He details in the book his difficulties and tensions with white newsroom colleagues, struggles with marriage and fatherhood, and painful visits back to his decimated Portsmouth neighborhood. Keenly aware of the tragedy of lost boyhood buddies, McCall offers no formulas but warns that the new generation is even more alienated than he was.
McCall later sold the film rights of his book to Columbia Pictures.
The first edition of this book was published in 1988 and it focused on the cultural and historical issues of the Black race from as far back as biblical times. It details the history, from earliest recorded times, of the Black races of the Middle East and Africa with historic knowledge that is valuable particularly to Black people.
Rudolph R. Windsor used the Bible coupled with historical research to place African people in various biblical cities and events. He breaks down the book of Genesis as a representation of various people around the world. Then he tells the history of various kingdoms throughout Africa and how the African people were affected by the Hebrew faith before being invaded by the people of the Islamic faith.
The chronological description goes further to the rise of Timbuktu, education centers such as Kemet and Cush, and how slavery affected every kingdom. It also speaks about how African kingdoms were educated in medicine, science, economics, trading and politics, and how this knowledge was spread throughout the world through invasions by the Greeks and Romans and later with Moors invading Spain and Portugal.
The first copy of this book dropped in 1964 and it is based on a series of interviews with Malcom X by author Alex Haley, who later wrote the 1976 book “Roots”. It tells the extraordinary story of Malcom X, the U.S. Muslim leader, Black movement icon and anti-integrationist. It stands as a great biography of a man whose work was never completed but whose message remains timeless in the consciousness of African Americans.
Haley recounts Malcom X’s transformation from a self-destructive petty criminal into a political activist. He talks about the continued relevance of X’s militant analysis of white racism, and his emphasis on self-respect and self-help for African Americans. In essence, it reads as a journey from ignorance and despair to knowledge and spiritual awakening for one of the greatest African-American leaders.
The book became even more famous after it was made into the 1992 movie “Malcom X” starring Denzel Washington.
“Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member” is Kody Scott’s memoir, written while he was in solitary confinement, of how he joined and left the gang life. Growing up in a violent community, he joined the L.A. gang the Crips at 11 years old and stayed in it for 13 years under the street name, “Monster.” He left it all behind after a conscious awakening of how his actions were causing problems to African Americans and society. Kody describes his transformation from a young boy to Monster Kody and then to Sanyika Shakur — Black nationalist, member of the New Afrikan Independence Movement, and crusader against gangsterism. The book was first published in 1994.
Cornel West’s “Race Matters” (1994) is a collection of essays, most of which have appeared in journals. The book addresses issues of concern to black Americans such as the Rodney King verdict and L.A. riots that followed, Malcolm X, Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill; and Black street life. The title represents the continuing struggle for inclusion by African Americans into mainstream political, economic and social life while still keeping the unique culture intact. It gives a new way of looking at old problems conscious Black Americans have struggled with over the years. West argues that racism is so much a part of U.S. history and culture that it can only be addressed and confronted if that reality is confronted.
“Visions for Black Men” (1991) is a 90-page book written by Na’im Akbar and raises issues that are important to Black men and how they can restore their position in a society that has not viewed them as the chosen people. The book explores a prediction of the mystical tradition of Ancient Africa that the descendants of a once-great nation will rise again. It exemplifies the everyday identity struggle for Black men (and every other man) in modern-day America and tries to identify ways of coping with the ever-changing dynamics of the silent yet loud social maturity squabble for Black people.
The book, written by Dr. Yosef A.A. Ben-Jochannan (1996), takes a crack at the myth of a “white Jewish race” and the bigotry that has denied the existence of an African Jewish culture. Dr. Ben-Jochannan establishes the legitimacy of contemporary Black Jewish culture in Africa and the diaspora and predates its origin before ancient Nile Valley civilizations. He puts into perspective the science technologies, history and languages – written and spoken – that emerged from the Black Israelites from Ethiopia and Egypt. He concludes that the former Europeans currently occupying Israel may not be God’s chosen people.
Sister Souljah, an activist and hip-hop artist, penned “No Disrespect” (1996), a bestselling autobiography and survival manual for Black women trying to navigate modern-day America. She wrote in this book about how love, family and racism affect the way Black women see themselves and treat others.
This was a book, written by Anthony T. Browder and John Henrik Clarke in 1992, sought to correct misconceptions about Nile Valley civilizations in order to help readers understand its role as the parent of future civilizations. It takes a swipe at Black history, Africa and religion, and fills a gap that has not been filled by history books (and even the Bible) written by mostly white scholars.
In his book, “The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-Consciousness” (1993) Paul Gilroy laid out his concept of the idea that Black culture is essentially a hybrid, a product of centuries of exchange, slavery and movement across the Atlantic. Exploring everything from the lives and work of African American philosophers such as WEB Du Bios, to Black popular music, Gilroy demonstrates that Black culture is both “local” and “global”, and cannot be constrained within any single national culture. It flows across the Black Atlantic of the book’s title. The influence of Gilroy’s work can be felt not only in modern scholarship but also in the work of visual artists such as John Akomfrah.
“Gilroy uses the Atlantic Ocean as an abstraction to argue that the world-shattering displacement of the transatlantic slave trade produced a distinct but diverse African diasporic culture,” Tiana Reid wrote in the Paris Review.
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