As a white person growing up in California I had black friends, and I thought I understood black history, just from things I’d learned in school. Then, in 2010, my family moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, I started a support group for inner-city teen moms, and we started attending a multi-ethnic church, and I realized I knew nothing at all.
What to do next? Educate myself. These are some resources I’ve discovered to help me understand the true history of my black brothers and sisters, so I can build better friendships and have better conversations.
I highly recommend these resources, and I truly believe that once when we take time to understand another’s history, we are one step closer to the reconciliation our country needs.
1. The Warmth of Other Suns | Isabel Wilkerson
This book was mentioned by my Pastor Harry Li over the pulpuit and I ordered the Audible book during the sermon, and I’m so thankful I did. Have you ever heart of the Great Migrigration? Yeah, I hadn’t either. It’s the decades long migration of black citizens who fled the South for norther and western cities, in search of a better life. The book is told through three lives, Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, George Swanson Starlin, and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster, with drama and poignancy that captivated me and also broke my heart about what “a better life” often brought. I think every American should read this book and learn the history they were never taught.
More about The Warmth of Other Suns: From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves.
With stunning historical detail, Wilkerson tells this story through the lives of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago, where she achieved quiet blue-collar success and, in old age, voted for Barack Obama when he ran for an Illinois Senate seat; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem, where he endangered his job fighting for civil rights, saw his family fall, and finally found peace in God; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue a medical career, the personal physician to Ray Charles as part of a glitteringly successful medical career, which allowed him to purchase a grand home where he often threw exuberant parties.
Wilkerson brilliantly captures their first treacherous and exhausting cross-country trips by car and train and their new lives in colonies that grew into ghettos, as well as how they changed these cities with southern food, faith, and culture and improved them with discipline, drive, and hard work. Both a riveting microcosm and a major assessment, The Warmth of Other Suns is a bold, remarkable, and riveting work, a superb account of an “unrecognized immigration” within our own land. Through the breadth of its narrative, the beauty of the writing, the depth of its research, and the fullness of the people and lives portrayed herein, this book is destined to become a classic.
2. Between the World and Me | Ta-Nehisi Coates
I cried at times hearing the things a black father had to teach his son about living in American and the past and current treatment of black bodies. Ta-Nehisi Coastes’ words are poetic and impactful.
More about Between the World and Me: In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?
Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.
3. The Kitchen House | Kathleen Grissom
This novel is rough and raw and hard to read, especially about the treatment of black slaves … which is exactly why you need to read it.
More about The Kitchen House: Kathleen Grissom, New York Times bestselling author of the highly anticipated Glory Over Everything, established herself as a remarkable new talent with The Kitchen House, now a contemporary classic. In this gripping novel, a dark secret threatens to expose the best and worst in everyone tied to the estate at a thriving plantation in Virginia in the decades before the Civil War.
Orphaned during her passage from Ireland, young, white Lavinia arrives on the steps of the kitchen house and is placed, as an indentured servant, under the care of Belle, the master’s illegitimate slave daughter. Lavinia learns to cook, clean, and serve food, while guided by the quiet strength and love of her new family.
In time, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, caring for the master’s opium-addicted wife and befriending his dangerous yet protective son. She attempts to straddle the worlds of the kitchen and big house, but her skin color will forever set her apart from Belle and the other slaves.
Through the unique eyes of Lavinia and Belle, Grissom’s debut novel unfolds in a heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful story of class, race, dignity, deep-buried secrets, and familial bonds.
4. The Help | Kathryn Stockett
My favorite novel from a few years ago about black maids in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi. Even if you saw the movie and liked it (or didn’t!) You need to read the book.
More about The Help: Aibileen is a black maid in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, who’s always taken orders quietly, but lately she’s unable to hold her bitterness back. Her friend Minny has never held her tongue but now must somehow keep secrets about her employer that leave her speechless. White socialite Skeeter just graduated college. She’s full of ambition, but without a husband, she’s considered a failure. Together, these seemingly different women join together to write a tell-all book about work as a black maid in the South, that could forever alter their destinies and the life of a small town…
5. A Light to My Path | Lynn Austin
One of my favorite Christian novels. The sympathic characters helped me to understand history better.
More about A Light to My Path: “You don’t have to go with Missy Claire. She can’t make you go with her.”
Kitty, a house slave, has always obeyed Missy Claire and followed orders. But when word arrives that the Yankees are coming, Kitty is faced with a decision. Will she continue serving Missy Claire and her household? Or will she listen to Grady and embrace this chance for freedom? Even wise Delia says Kitty has to decide for herself—that nobody except the Lord can tell her which way to go.
Kitty has always lived in a world where authority is not questioned. She never has learned to make up her own mind any more than she has learned to read or write.
But now Kitty has a daunting choice: How does she want her story to end?
6. Hidden Figures
One of my favorite movies of the last year.
7. Truth’s Table
“Midwives of culture for grace and truth.” Truth’s Table is hosted by Michelle Higgins, Christina Edmondson, and Ekemini Uwan–Black Christian women who love truth and seek it out wherever it leads us. We will share our perspectives on race, politics, gender, current events, and pop culture that are filtered through our Christian faith. So pull up a chair and have a seat at the table with us. Learn more at TruthsTable.com
8. Jamie Ivey’s podcast
Jamie Ivey is my favorite podcast. She’s not afraid to talk about hard, yet important topics. Here are some great podcasts that talk about diversity:
Books I recently bought and I can’t wait to read with my kids and for myself:
With my kids:
9. Brown Girl Dreaming | Jacqueline Woodson
Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.
10. The Lions of Little Rock | Kristin Levine
As twelve-year-old Marlee starts middle school in 1958 Little Rock, it feels like her whole world is falling apart. Until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is everything Marlee wishes she could be: she’s brave, brash and always knows the right thing to say. But when Liz leaves school without even a good-bye, the rumor is that Liz was caught passing for white. Marlee decides that doesn’t matter. She just wants her friend back. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are even willing to take on segregation and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.
11. Bud, Not Buddy | Christopher Paul Curtis
It’s 1936, in Flint Michigan. Times may be hard, and ten-year-old Bud may be a motherless boy on the run, but Bud’s got a few things going for him:
1. He has his own suitcase full of special things.
2. He’s the author of Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself.
3. His momma never told him who his father was, but she left a clue: flyers advertising Herman E. Calloway and his famous band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression!!!!!!
Bud’s got an idea that those flyers will lead him to his father. Once he decides to hit the road to find this mystery man, nothing can stop him—not hunger, not fear, not vampires, not even Herman E. Calloway himself.
12. Up from Slavery | Booker T. Washington
Born in a Virginia slave hut, Booker T. Washington (1856–1915) rose to become the most influential spokesman for African Americans of his day. In this eloquently written book, he describes events in a remarkable life that began in bondage and culminated in worldwide recognition for his many accomplishments. In simply written yet stirring passages, he tells of his impoverished childhood and youth, the unrelenting struggle for an education, early teaching assignments, his selection in 1881 to head Tuskegee Institute, and more.
A firm believer in the value of education as the best route to advancement, Washington disapproved of civil-rights agitation and in so doing earned the opposition of many black intellectuals. Yet, he is today regarded as a major figure in the struggle for equal rights, one who founded a number of organizations to further the cause and who worked tirelessly to educate and unite African Americans.
13. The Fire Next Time | James Baldwin
A national bestseller when it first appeared in 1963, The Fire Next Time galvanized the nation and gave passionate voice to the emerging civil rights movement. At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin’s early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document. It consists of two “letters,” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism. Described by The New York Times Book Review as “sermon, ultimatum, confession, deposition, testament, and chronicle…all presented in searing, brilliant prose,” The Fire Next Time stands as a classic of our literature.
14. Race and Ethnicity in Arkansas | John A. Kirk
I know John Kirk from church, and I’m excited to read this book.
More about Race and Ethnicity in Arkansas: Race and Ethnicity in Arkansas brings together the work of leading experts to cast a powerful light on the rich and diverse history of Arkansas’s racial and ethic relations. The essays span from slavery to the civil rights era and cover a diverse range of topics including the frontier experience of slavery; the African American experience of emancipation and after; African American migration patterns; the rise of sundown towns; white violence and its continuing legacy; women’s activism and home demon¬stration agents; African American religious figures from the better know Elias Camp (E. C.) Morris to the lesser-known Richard Nathaniel Hogan; the Mexican-American Bracero program; Latina/o and Asian American refugee experiences; and contemporary views of Latina/o immigration in Arkansas. Informing debates about race and ethnicity in Arkansas, the South, and the nation, the book provides both a primer to the history of race and ethnicity in Arkansas and a prospective map for better understanding racial and ethnic relations in the United States.
15. Warriors Don’t Cry | Melba Pattiollo Beals
We live near Central High School, and I take everyone who visits to experience the museum, commemorating the Little Rock Nine, and discover a part of history they don’t know.
More about Warriors Don’t Cry: An innocent teenager. An unexpected hero.
In 1957, Melba Pattillo turned sixteen. That was also the year she became a warrior on the front lines of a civil rights firestorm. Following the landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education,Melba was one of nine teenagers chosen to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School.
Other noteable books I’m reading about diversity
16. Ethnic Blends | Mark DeYmaz and Harry Li (my pastors!)
These pastors just don’t talk about diversity, they live it, and I’m proud to call them pastors and friends.
More about Ethnic Blends: Increasingly, church leaders are recognizing the intrinsic power and beauty of the multi-ethnic church. Yet, more than a good idea, it’s a biblical, first-century standard with far-reaching evangelistic potential. How can your church overcome the obstacles in order to become a healthy, fruitful multi-ethnic church of faith? And why should you even try? In Ethnic Blends, multi-ethnic church pioneer Mark DeYmaz provides an up-close and personal look at seven common challenges to mixing diversity into your local church. Through real-life stories and practical illustrations, DeYmaz shows how to overcome the obstacles in order to build a healthy multi-ethnic church. He also includes the insights of other effective, multi-ethnic local church leaders from the United States and Australia. Ethnic Blends describes what effective local churches in the 21st century will look like and shows us how to create them, together as one, beyond race and class distinctions. –Miles McPherson, Senior Pastor, The Rock Church, San Diego, CA Mark DeYmaz, perhaps more than any pastor in America, has his pulse on what it will take for the Church to find real reconciliation in our generation. –Matt Carter, Lead Pastor, Austin Stone Community Church, Austin, TX
And what I want to read next:
17. The Slave Ship | Marcus Rediker
My heart aches just reading what this book is about, but it’s a part of history I need to understand better.
More about The Slave Ship: In this widely praised history of an infamous institution, award-winning scholar Marcus Rediker shines a light into the darkest corners of the British and American slave ships of the eighteenth century. Drawing on thirty years of research in maritime archives, court records, diaries, and firsthand accounts, The Slave Ship is riveting and sobering in its revelations, reconstructing in chilling detail a world nearly lost to history: the “floating dungeons” at the forefront of the birth of African American culture.
In an engaging and personal talk — with cameo appearances from his grandmother and Rosa Parks — human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson shares some hard truths about America’s justice system, starting with a massive imbalance along racial lines: a third of the country’s black male population has been incarcerated at some point in their lives. These issues, which are wrapped up in America’s unexamined history, are rarely talked about with this level of candor, insight and persuasiveness.