Monday, February 23, 2015

In memory of a voice of hope

Fifty years ago, on February 21st, Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, was gunned down in the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. Controversy still surrounds his assassination as to who was really responsible for it. For much of the month of February, various media have produced articles, blogs, and newscasts in anticipation of this half-century. Reading these, we learn just how complex a man Malcolm was. He was such a controversial character, for so long, because of his association with the Nation of Islam, and their teachings. 
In Manning Marable's thoroughly researched biography, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, he takes us through various chapters of Malcolm's life to show us how at every stage, Malcolm reinvented himself, invention as a quest as Marable asserts, "to discern the meaning and substance of faith" (12). From an Islam that embraced black supremacy to an Islam he saw as all-encompassing when he was performing the Haj, the holy pilgrimage in Mecca, Malcolm expanded his ministry to be more inclusive, and anti-racist. His main concern remained the building up of African-Americans, and the fight for their rights and their dignity as human beings. There are those who still focus on his "by any means necessary", and his earlier separatism, and do not look any further than that, cannot know the real Malcolm. Even Manning Marable could only know the historical Malcolm, to shed greater light in paths dim, and unknown to many.  It was a study to which he dedicated many years of his life. Marable, himself, died a few days before the publication of this book, and it remains part of his legacy.  
Your library has Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, as well as other materials on Malcolm X. Stop by, check it out. Or wander into our audio/video room and check out the Spike Lee film.  

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

To the incomparable Ms. Morrison

Toni Morrison's eighty-fourth birthday was this past Wednesday, February 18th. She has been a prolific writer through much of her life, with books like The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Paradise, Beloved, among others. Her novels focus on issues of race and patriarchy as well as the inability to reconcile a painful past to what could be a hopeful present. Your library has some of Morrison's novels, calling out to you to come and read. Here's wishing Toni Morrison a happy birthday, and gratitude for enriching our literary landscape!  

An excerpt from her 1997 novel, Paradise: 
Let me tell you about love, that silly word you believe is about whether you like 
somebody or whether somebody likes you or whether you can put up with  
somebody in order to get to someplace you want or you believe it has to do with  
how your body responds to another body like robins or bison or maybe you 
believe love is how forces or nature or luck is benign to you in particular not  
maiming or killing you but if so doing it for your own good. 
Love is none of that. There is nothing in nature like it. Not in robins or bison  
or in the banging tails of your hunting dogs and not in blossoms or suckling foal.  
Love is divine only and difficult always. If you think it is easy you are a fool. If you 
think it is natural you are blind. It is a learned application without reason or motive 
except that is is God (141).

Friday, February 6, 2015

Why do we celebrate Black History Month?

Morgan Freeman, one of America’s very accomplished actors, and an African-American, has been critical in the past of a month dedicated to African-American history. Black history, he emphasized, “is American history.”
I would like to think that all Americans would agree with black history being American history. Was that not part of Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream as well? When the historian, Carter Woodson, first designated the second week of February as “Negro History Week” in 1926, to coincide with the birthdays of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave turned abolitionist, it was his hope that a week to highlight a culture integral to America would ultimately phase out once black history became that integral part of U.S history that we study in textbooks, among other materials. Whether or not Woodson’s wish has come true continues to be part of an ongoing conversation.
We celebrate Black History Month to continue to honor the lives of black men and women who paved the way. Those who refused to sit at the back of the bus, or to vacate their seats at lunch counters. Those who were the first to accomplish something in the arts and sciences. Those who were assassinated while engaged in the struggle to make America, not Black America, but America a more just nation. Those who continue to do these very things. Yes, we can celebrate the lives of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Paul Robeson, Lena Horne, Duke Ellington, and all those who made a difference in our lives, all year round. But for now, we also have February, the shortest month of the year.
2015 marks 50 years since Malcolm X was gunned down at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan. That happened this month, on the 21st. Your library has a number of books about Malcolm X, including the more recent biography of him written by Manning Marable: Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. It is a wonderful read, with more detail than we read in The Autobiography of Malcolm X. We also have Spike Lee’s phenomenal film about Malcolm X. If any of you have seen Ali, you might agree that Mario Van Peebles resembled Malcolm much more than Denzel Washington did, but both embodied the spirit of the man.
Throughout this month, we will highlight more of what the Library has in literature and art in observance of Black History. 
Until then, from the late Maya Angelou:
The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams   
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream   
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied   
so he opens his throat to sing.