Black History Month Reading and Viewing Recommendations
What to read or watch, Black History Month 2023
February is Black History Month, a time to reflect on the struggles and achievements of Black Americans, and their centrality to U.S. history. We asked several faculty and staff members for reading and viewing recommendations that explore race, identity, history, and memory. The recommendations range from an analysis of 500 years of Black history to a memoir by acclaimed actress Viola Davis.
By Octavia Butler, Doubleday & Company (1979). Television adaptation available on FX/Hulu.
“Remember Marty McFly’s fading photograph, his future existence dependent on his parents’ romance in Zemeckis’s 1985 Back to the Future? Now imagine a more terrifying parallel: A fierce Black heroine is mysteriously, repeatedly catapulted from her 1976 California home to an 1815 Maryland plantation, where, as a suddenly enslaved non-person, she must save her white ancestor to ensure her own future existence. Adapted as a 2017 graphic novel by Kevin Duffy and John Jennings, and now for FX/Hulu by playwright and showrunner Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Octavia Butler’s 1979 Kindred is an ever-relevant, masterful reminder that a reckoning with history is always about our present, and that our future always depends on it.”
—Nihad Farooq, associate professor, School of Literature, Media, and Communication
The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross
By Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Donald Yacovone, Smiley Books (2013)
“I remember watching the six-hour documentary series on TV about 10 years ago, and it has stuck with me ever since. This book is the companion piece.
It provides a comprehensive analysis of 500 years of Black history, beginning with the journey of Black people before they were enslaved in Africa and brought to the U.S. and other countries. The book explains how Africans were thriving and that Black women were strong leaders both in their respective tribes in Africa and when they were enslaved in America. It also highlights the ingenuity, resilience, and creativity of enslaved people as they fought with every weapon they had for their freedom.
The book also talks about the critical role of white allies, who wanted freedom for the enslaved Africans as much as they did. Many suffered the same fate as disobedient enslaved Africans.
I went back to watch the series after reading the book, which concludes with the election of the first Black president, Barack Obama. It was a totally new viewing experience because of what I learned and read. If you’ve never seen the documentary, start with the book. Like me, you’ll learn so much.”
—Raheem Beyah, dean and Southern Company Chair, College of Engineering
Finding Me: A Memoir
By Viola Davis, HarperOne (2022)
“Most know Viola Davis is an actress and producer, notably from the award-winning television series How to Get Away With Murder. Davis is the recipient of various accolades, including an Academy Award, a Primetime Emmy Award, and two Tony Awards; she is the sole African American to achieve the triple crown of acting. Her autobiography is an intriguing account of a life well lived, detailing her journey to shape herself into the woman we experience through her work today. She tells her story honestly and authentically. There are moments that everyone can relate to. This book is a fantastic read (and listen, as she narrates the audiobook version). Davis draws us in with her realness. I related to her frankness, which she set the stage with from the opening sentences. Finding Me is juicy, as she tells her intriguing life story. She holds nothing back. You can feel her passion on every page.”
—LaTrese Ferguson, director, Workplace Learning and Professional Development, Georgia Tech Professional Education – Academic Services
National Education Television (forerunner of PBS) hosts a live conversation with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and four other civil rights leaders before the historic March on Washington (1963). Available on YouTube.
“This live television broadcast is a discussion focusing on the planned March on Washington, but much more is expounded on throughout the conversation. The discussion includes major issues concerning civil rights and equality, most of which are still an issue today. The content shows the progress that has not completely been reached. The question is why we are still fighting the battle for equality. Quite possibly the answer is best described in a comment by Martin Luther King Jr. during the program: ‘Well, isn’t it true we’re grappling with a problem that constantly emerges in history that you have a few people who are crusaders in the right direction … and the vast majority are out there in the middle somewhere with a great deal of apathy and complacency?” We owe it to these men, who put forth great effort to extinguish racial inequality, to be vigilant on our own toward the struggle for equality.”
—Valerie Edward, stationary engineer, Infrastructure and Sustainability
High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America
Docuseries by Netflix, released in 2021. Available on Netflix.
“This docuseries is full of rich insights about African American culture and history (thus American culture and history) — all through the lens of food. It follows Stephen Satterfield, a chef and writer, as he explores food traditions from African countries such as Benin to states such as the Carolinas, Virginia, and Texas in the U.S. Through powerful images, stories, and interviews, this four-episode series details a history of innovation, joy, resilience, and community.”
—Tiffany D. Johnson, assistant professor, Scheller College of Business
Dawn (Book 1 in the trilogy, Lilith’s Brood)
By Octavia Butler, Warner Books (1987)
“Dawn is the strange, gorgeous invitation into Butler’s speculative fiction masterwork, Lilith’s Brood. Lesser known than later novels like Kindred, Dawn and the two books that follow it showcase Butler’s genius for exposing the exquisite foibles of humankind. Race and the experience of Black womanhood is critical to the epic trilogy and the interplay of power, reproduction, and survival, but Lilith, the Black protagonist, and her choices are never reducible to a moral or agenda. In Dawn, readers will find world-building and tropes that have shaped so much of contemporary dystopian fiction, but Dawn is weirder and more beautiful — in my accounting — than any of its ‘offspring.’”
—Ruthie Yow, service learning and partnerships specialist, Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain