APU Recommends: 7 Books to Read During Black History Month

by Allison Oster

In recognition of Black History Month, Azusa Pacific University celebrates Black literature and the opportunity to deepen our knowledge of the heritage, culture, contributions, lived experiences, and history of Black people. By exploring diverse voices through literature, we enrich our understanding of history and events that continue to influence our world today.

“Remembering and understanding history is important,” said Keith Hall, EdD, vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion at Azusa Pacific. “At times, consulting history can evoke many feelings including joy, pain, and sometimes grief, but essentially, reflecting on history is imperative. It gives us perspective on origins and roots that translate to our time –– where we are and where we hope to go. Maya Angelou, the great African-American poet shared, ‘You can't really know where you are going until you know where you have been.’ The Apostle Paul shared, ‘that which was written in the past was for our learning . . .’ (Romans 15:4 NKJV), and where there is learning, there is potential for change.”

In the following list, Azusa Pacific faculty, staff, and students share books and authors that made a meaningful impact on their lives while expanding their knowledge of Black history. These reflect just a small selection of many excellent books about Black history and written by Black authors.

“We encourage you to consider the book recommendations and reflections shared by members of our APU community for personal enrichment or for the purpose of facilitating a book club to cultivate cultural engagement, community, and change,” said Hall.

The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein

Recommended by Mia Long Anderson, PhD, program director, MA in Strategic Communication

“Within the conversation of social justice and racial equity lies the issue of housing, generally, and housing discrimination, specifically. This reflects the broader issue of the wealth gap and its impact on underrepresented minority groups. In 2020, I watched the PBS documentary ‘East Lake Meadows.’ The documentary chronicled the development and demise of the titular well-known Atlanta housing project. As an Atlanta native, I was particularly interested in learning its history. The documentary revealed the housing project’s beginnings, steeped in housing segregation, and its impact on members of the African American community. Following the documentary, a colleague suggested I read The Color of Law. The book provides context for current housing practices in our nation, specifically as it relates to their role in de facto segregation, by discussing the history of housing regulations in the United States.”

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Recommended by Patricia Brown, PhD, professor, Department of English

“I first read this book when I was a freshman in college; it was a required reading for one of my classes. It resonated with me because I experienced the feelings of marginalization as a child that the protagonist, Pecola, endured. The novel taught me, at the age of 18, to challenge my perception of beauty. As a result, my self-worth was redefined, and I learned to relish my Black beauty. This novel reveals the tragedy of Blacks buying into the alienating notion of physical beauty. When we allow society to define our standard of beauty, we jeopardize our self-worth. The narrator, Claudia, pries open her white dolls to see what was inside the dolls that made them so desirable. Likewise, we must pry open, and even destroy, the dominant narrative about physical beauty, virtue, and self-worth.”

The Spirituals and the Blues by James H. Cone

Recommended by Coba Canales, EdD, dean of spiritual life

“I first read this book in seminary while studying under Dr. Ralph Watkins in a class that was designed to train future ministers and leaders for work in the urban context. I was mesmerized by the book and it changed the way I listen to music (or watch movies, or have conversations) to hear struggle. Rather than simply judging contemporary secular music for its ‘profane’ message, I tend to listen for pain, calls for help, invitations to hear a story of one’s experience. Cone closes the divide between the spiritual and physical by demonstrating the ways in which both the old negro spirituals and the ‘modern’ blues genre provided an expressive outlet for an oppressed people.”

The Third Option: Hope for a Racially Divided Nation by Miles McPherson

Recommended by Brandy Cannon, co-president, APU Society of Black Clinical Psychology Students

“I read this book in July 2020 after seeing the author speak about racial injustice. The Third Option provided me with a hopeful Christian perspective on racial division in the U.S. As a bi-racial person, I connected with the author’s experience and found the book informative, thought-provoking, and action-inspiring. The book provided a wonderful look into the author’s life and useful thoughts about paths that would take us to a more just way of being together.”

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Recommended by Christopher Collins, PhD, associate professor, Department of Higher Education

“I read this book page by page in the summer of 2020 and used it to lead a discussion group on the topic. Gates’ method and writing style is widely accessible. He draws deeply from historical images in a way that highlights the long lasting imprint in derailing reconstruction by depicting Black and White characteristics in dualities with religious, scientific, and economic language. Gates opens with a quote from Bryan Stevenson: ‘The North won the Civil War, but the South won the narrative war.’ It’s a historical book, but that sentiment runs deep into our contemporary setting. The book exposes the roots that produced the strange fruits we have seen and continue to see.”

Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon

Recommended by Leah Fortson, PhD, MDiv, assistant professor, Department of Psychology

“I read this book last year as part of a reading group in APU’s School of Behavioral and Applied Sciences, led by our dean. In this book, Fanon poignantly discusses the impact of colonization and provocatively lays out what he believes is necessary to bring about decolonization. He discusses the shared impact of colonization, for the colonized and the colonizers, and leads the reader to reflect on their own role in the continuation of the ‘colonial situation.’ This book is challenging and yet an intellectually rewarding read. It provides space for consideration, regardless of race, of whether we have participated in the maintenance of this condition.”

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, by Frederick Douglass

Recommended by David Weeks, PhD, dean, Honors College, and Daniel Palm, PhD, chair and professor, Department of History and Political Science

“I read this for the first time in graduate school and have returned to it several times. Frederick Douglass was the brightest star among 19th-century abolitionists. Once an illiterate slave, Douglass became a renowned writer and eloquent orator, fighting fiercely for ‘the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice.’ His autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, was an instant best-seller, a brilliant exposé of cruelty and oppression. But there is much more. His writings and speeches fill 10 volumes in Yale University Press’s edition of The Papers of Frederick Douglass. Throughout this iconic body of work, Douglass never wavered in his confidence that America could rid itself of ‘this monstrous system of injustice and blood’ and deliver on its promise to secure the rights of all.” – David Weeks

“I first read Douglass in college, having heard a professor who I admired refer to it as one of the essentials in American political literature. Every American should read this firsthand account about slavery in the old South, and one man’s escape from it. I highly recommend [the 2016 Norton Critical Edition], which includes Douglass’s famous address, ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’ Having experienced slavery, Douglass called his countrymen and women to task for failing to live up to the high principles of the American founding. His critique was singularly effective, and he became a leading figure in the American effort to abolish slavery.” – Dan Palm

Celebrate Black History Month: Upcoming Events

APU’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Division invites you to join us for series of virtual events and conversations in recognition of Black History Month.

For more ways to engage through conversation, events, and resources, connect with APU’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Division.