In my last post I said that I wanted to commit to reading historical, cultural, or biographical works written by and from the perspective of Black women. Or works that center around Black women. And it’s like the moment I said I wanted to do this, I found one source after another-or more like, the sources found me- to point me in the right direction. So, here is a reading list of the books I want to read to help me on this journey (I’ll be adding to it as needed):
Mami Wata: Africa’s Ancient God/dess Unveiled Volume I & II by Mama Zogbe.
Black women in religion. This is one of many works by Mama Zogbe on the untold history of Black women in ancient religion/spirituality and their connection to ancient cultures. I’ve just started on this book and it will be the second book by Mama Zogbe that I’ve read. Two words: Eye. Opener.
Color Me Flo: My Hard Life and Good Times by Flo Kennedy.
Black women in law. Kennedy graduated from Columbia Law School, represented high profile clients, was a well-known feminist, active in the Black Power movement, organized numerous protests and pretty much stayed in the thick of controversy. She was labeled “mouthy” and has quite a few memorable quotes, including: “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be sacrament” and on the topic of marriage said “Why would you lock yourself in the bathroom just because you have to go three times a day?”
Wonderful Ethiopians of the Ancient Cushite Empire by Drusilla Dunjee Houston.
Black women in scholarship/historical studies. Houston’s book, which was written in 1926, is considered the only multi-volume study of ancient Africa written by an African-American woman. In the book, she declared an African origin of civilization and culture.
Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones by Carol Boyce Davies.
Black women in politics & journalism. Jones was a Trinidadian-born journalist, communist, feminist, and a Black nationalist. Because of her communist party membership, she was arrested and eventually deported. She was denied entry into her home country of Trinidad but was offered residency in the U.K. She founded The West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News and the annual Notting Hill Caribbean Carnival in London.
Daughters of Anowa: African Women and Patriarchy by Mercy Amba Oduyoye.
Black women on Black women. Ghanaian author shares an African woman’s perspective on how religion and culture influence the lives of African women.
Black Women in Antiquity by Ivan Van Sertima.
Black women in religion. Here’s the blurb from Amazon.com:
This unique volume provides an overview of the black queens, madonnas, and goddesses who dominated the history and imagination of ancient times. The authors have concentrated on Ethiopia and Egypt because the documents of the Nile Valley are voluminous compared to the sketchier records in other parts of Africa, but also because the imagination of the world, not just that of Africa, was haunted by these women. They are just as prominent a feature of European mythology as of African reality. The book is divided into three parts: Ethiopia and Egyptian Queens and Goddesses; Black Women in Ancient Art; and Conquerors and Courtesans. This second edition contains two new chapters, one on Hypatia and women’s rights in ancient Egypt, and the other on the diffusion into Europe of Isis, the African goddess of Nile Valley civilizations.
Force of a Feather by DeEtta Demaratus
Black women in business. This book is about Bridget “Biddy” Mason. She was born enslaved and used the L.A. court system to gain her freedom, before the Dred Scott case. She then became a nurse/midwife and a wealthy California real-estate entrepreneur.
A Right Worthy Grand Mission: Maggie Lena Walker and the Quest for Black Economic Empowerment by Gertrude Woodruff Marlowe.
Black women in business/finance. The first Black woman to charter a bank, the St. Luke Penny Saving Bank/First woman bank president in U.S.
On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker by A’Lelia Bundles.
Black women in business. Amazon description:
On Her Own Ground is the first full-scale, definitive biography of Madam C. J. Walker — the legendary African American entrepreneur and philanthropist — by her great-great-granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles. The daughter of slaves, Madam C. J. Walker was orphaned at seven, married at fourteen and widowed at twenty. She spent the better part of the next two decades laboring as a washerwoman for $1.50 a week. Then — with the discovery of a revolutionary hair care formula for black women — everything changed. By her death in 1919, Walker managed to overcome astonishing odds: building a storied beauty empire from the ground up, amassing wealth unprecedented among black women and devoting her life to philanthropy and social activism. Along the way, she formed friendships with great early-twentieth-century political figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington.
On Her Own Ground is not only the first comprehensive biography of one of recent history’s most amazing entrepreneurs and philanthropists, it is about a woman who is truly an African American icon. Drawn from more than two decades of exhaustive research, the book is enriched by the author’s exclusive access to personal letters, records and never-before-seen photographs from the family collection. Bundles also showcases Walker’s complex relationship with her daughter, A’Lelia Walker, a celebrated hostess of the Harlem Renaissance and renowned friend to both Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. In chapters such as “Freedom Baby,” “Motherless Child,” “Bold Moves” and “Black Metropolis,” Bundles traces her ancestor’s improbable rise to the top of an international hair care empire that would be run by four generations of Walker women until its sale in 1985. Along the way, On Her Own Ground reveals surprising insights, tells fascinating stories and dispels many misconceptions.
Amy Ashwood Garvey: Pan-Africanist, Feminist and Mrs. Marcus Garvey No.1 or a Tale of Two Amies by Tony Martin.
Black women in politics. Pan-Africanist, feminist, and wife of Marcus Garvey. Today, the politics of Pan-Africanism/Black Nationalism and Black feminism bump heads constantly. So to find out that the wife of one of the greatest Pan-African leaders was a feminist is like, “wtf? how did that happen?” I want to know if she felt that tension and if she was able to reconcile being a feminist with being a Pan-Africanist.
Isle of Canes by Elizabeth Shone Mills.
Black women in medicine, religion, business. And a history on the politics of sex for Black women. The book is about the family lineage of Marie Thérèse dite Coincoin Metoyer in Louisiana. This is a blurb from wikipedia about her:
Marie Thérèse dite Coincoin (August 1742 – 1816) was notable as a free médecine, planter, and businesswoman at the colonial Louisiana outpost of Natchitoches (later Natchitoches Parish). Her freedom was purchased in 1778 by Claude Thomas Pierre Métoyer, with whom she had a long liaison and ten children. She and her descendants established a historical community of Créoles of color along the Cane River, including what is said to be the first church founded by free people of color for their own use, St. Augustine Parish (Isle Brevelle) Church,Natchez, Louisiana. It is included as a site on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail.
And here is the description about the book on Amazon.com:
Isle of Canes is the epic account of an African-American family in Louisiana that, over four generations and more than 150 years, rose from the chains of slavery to rule the Isle of Canes. Historically accurate and genealogically significant, this first novel by eminent genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills is a gripping tale of racial bias, human conflict, and economic ruin told against the backdrop of colonial Louisiana. This novel is the result of more than thirty years of research. To fuel the story, as well as to maintain historical accuracy, the author found and referenced actual family history documents such as baptism records, manumission papers, probate records, land records, book extracts, and more to reconstruct the lives and times of Francois, Fanny, Coincoin, Augustin, and countless other unforgettable characters. But it takes more than documents on paper and microfilm to bring such an epic story to life. Mills’ engaging prose puts flesh on the bones and pulls you into the lives and lifestyle of long-ago Louisiana.
Mary McLeod Bethune: Building a Better World- Essays and Selected Documents edited by Audrey Thomas McCluskey & Elaine E. Smith.
Black women in education and politics. Bethune started a private school for Black children in Daytona Beach, Florida. She raised enough funds to turn the school into a college, Bethune-Cookman University. That’s boss. This book has over 70 documents that include essays, interviews, newspaper columns, and other great primary and original sources. I can get with that.
Homegirls and Handgrenades by Sonia Sanchez
Black women in poetry and arts. Sonia Sanchez was active in the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Arts Movement. According to wikipedia, “Sanchez was the first to create and teach a course based on Black Women and literature in the United States.” She was about that life. Definitely looking forward to reading her poetry.
Ready From Within: Septima Clark and the Civil Rights Movement by Septima Pointsette Clark, edited by Cynthia Stokes Brown
Black women in politics and education. Clark is considered “The Mother of the Movement”, the Civil Rights Movement that is. Yet, we rarely hear about her. This book is her story in her own words. Hopefully, I’ll get to learn about Septima Clark the woman and not just her political activism.
A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story by Elaine Brown
Black women in politics/activism and the arts.The Black Panther party was well-known and respected for many of the programs they implemented in Black communities but many Black women who joined the party looking to make a difference left because the sexism was ridiculous-including a professor who taught at my college. I want to read Brown’s story to finally get a Black woman’s perspective on what the experience was like. Here’s the short and sweet Amazon description:
Brown’s account of her life at the highest levels of the Black Panther party’s hierarchy. More than a journey through a turbulent time in American history, this is the story of a black woman’s battle to define herself. http://www.amazon.com/Taste-Power-Black-Womans-Story/dp/0385471076
But Some of Us Are Brave: All the Women are White, All the Blacks Are Men: Black Women’s Studies edited by Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith
Black women in academia/politics. I don’t remember the first time I heard the title of the book but when I did, it hit me like a thunderbolt because it so perfectly stated exactly how gender and race are framed in this society: Women = White and Black = Male. That bullshit formula seemed to permeate just about every discussion, every classroom lesson, every movie, etc. So when I heard the title of this book I was like “Damn it, yes! That’s exactly it”. The book is apparently written to help the reader create a course on Black women. I’m not entirely sure who the intended audience is- Black readers or non-Black readers- but when I find out, even that fact in itself will be telling and noteworthy for me.