ARJ Picks: Important New Books and Films on the African American Experience

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I want to call your attention to vital contributions to the understanding of the African American experience in the nation and particularly the American West from the past for the present and future occurring in the last year. Important new books by Marne L. Campbell (Making Black Los Angeles, Class, Gender, and Community 1850–1917), Karl Jacoby (The Strange Career of William Ellis, The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire) and Amina Hassan (Loren Miller: Civil Rights Attorney and Journalist), offer broader and refreshing perspectives that make historians and general readers rethink the challenges, complexity and complexion of the history of borderlands, racial identity, freedom rights struggles, socio-economic success, migration and urban community formation in the American West. Ibram X. Kendi’s new book (Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America) which won the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction is another important read for understanding the history of the United States for contemporary times. You can purchase these books at your favorite booksellers.

Other vital contributions to the understanding of the African American experience in the United States arrived in 2016 and early 2017 in the form of popular culture must-see films based on untold true stories included: “Hidden Figures” (based on the book Hidden Figures by Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly about African American women mathematicians who contributed to early U.S. space exploration), “Birth of a Nation” based on the 1831 Nat Turner slave rebellion (Nate Parker) and “Moonlight about an African American youth’s navigation of identity, gender and growing up in Florida (Barry Jenkins).

“I Am Not Your Negro” (Raoul Peck) is a potent documentary film that will introduce many to the work of writer and social critic James Baldwin. The film is a collaboration with the deceased intellectual, and his 1970s unfinished work about Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the context of

the U.S.’s “persistent, racially tense sociological climate” that set off centuries of division we live with even in 2017. Another must-see film for its illumination of the impact on U.S. society of particular contemporary racial issues is the evocative documentary “13th“ which explores the view that racism from the days of slavery has led to today’s mass incarceration across the nation (Ava DuVernay).

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