If there is a better way to pass a lunch hour (for free), I can’t think of it.
If there is a better way to pass a lunch hour (for free), I can’t think of it.
For those that need a break from holiday merriment… in favor of grim, WWII drama.
To be a woman is to be a history maker. Although countless names and stories have been omitted, under-celebrated, or redacted from the official record due to the patriarchy’s dominance, the contributions that women have made to the world are impossible to overlook. From the persistence of Ida B. Wells and Ona Judge to the bravery of Harriet Muse and Harriet Jacobs and the intellectual prowess of Brittney C. Cooper and Isabel Wilkerson, history is filled with the accounts of women whose vision and rejection of convention serve as a timeless reminder of how radical living life on your own terms can be.
Take the time to celebrate the history of women whose names you don’t already know. Take the time to honor their truths.
Through Catherine Kerrison’s earnest exploration of the lives of Thomas Jefferson’s three daughters—Harriet Hemings and Martha and Maria Jefferson—readers are given an immersive look at the way race, class, and gender shaped colonial womanhood. Comprised of previously unseen correspondence between the Jefferson sisters, vivid illustrations, and captivating anecdotes informed by extensive archival research, Jefferson’s Daughters captures the complexity of one our nation’s most controversial figures and the family that called him father. With each page, Kerrison excavates Harriet, Martha, and Maria from the margins of history with tangible empathy and urgency. An illuminating title for any reader, Jefferson’s Daughters is a celebration of American womanhood.
Beth Macy’s Truevine unveils the often overlooked and unbelievable tale of the Muse brothers. Born on the edge of the 19th century to sharecropper parents in Virginia, George and Willie Muse were kidnapped as children by a sideshow runner who lured the boys away from their home with the promise of candy. Billed in circuses and showcases across America and overseas as “Ambassadors from Mars,” “cannibals,” and “freaks,” the Muse brothers, who were African American albinos quickly became celebrities in the eyes the public. Macy’s profoundly moving investigation of the Muse brother’s kidnapping and their mother Harriet Muse’s relentless struggle to get them back shines a spotlight on an underexplored chapter in American history. A story about family, race, and reclamation, Truevine is a stunning example of why freedom and love is worth fighting for.
Erica Armstrong Dunbar
National Book Award finalist Erica Armstrong Dunbar resurrects the captivating story of Ona Judge in the pages ofNever Caught. From beginning to end, Dunbar’s prose sheds unflinching light on America’s first president and how his unrelenting pursuit of Judge and refusal to follow the laws of his own nation led to an obsessive manhunt. Never Caught is a revealing portrayal of Washington and a stunning depiction of Judge’s resilience. A page-turner in the truest sense, Dunbar’s award-winning account dispels the myth of Washington’s morality, exposes the corrupt origins of the American patriarchy, and exalts the ingenious strength of Black womanhood.
The Warmth of Other Suns
With heart and dignity, Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson uplifts the pioneering spirit and legacy of Black Americans whose desire for true freedom sparked the Great Migration. Enriched by extensive research and a marrow-deep sense of empathy, Wilkerson’s widely celebrated title pays homage to those whose search for a better life could not be stopped by the scars of segregation, the weight of racism, or even the onslaught of redlining. Far too often highlighted solely by a handful of paragraphs in the history textbooks of American schools or reduced to an anecdote during Black History Month, the full scope of the Great Migration rightfully takes center stage in Wilkerson’s necessary and inspiring masterpiece.
Brittney C. Cooper
In Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women, Brittney C. Cooper writes, “In order to take… Black women seriously as intellectuals we must be willing to trust them. By trust I don’t mean always agree. I mean acknowledge, appreciate, struggle with, disagree with, sit with, and question. I mean take Black women seriously.” Throughout the pages of her book, Cooper celebrates Black women thinkers, educators, activists, and innovators whose contributions have remained relatively unsung—within and outside of the Black community—in comparison to the accomplishments of their male counterparts. Beyond Respectability is an invigorating testament to the pivotal legacies of changemakers like Pauli Murray, Anna Julia Cooper, and Mary Church Terrell and why the intellectual work of Black women cannot and will not be forgotten.
Too Heavy a Load
Deborah Gray White
Although originally published in the late ’90s, Deborah White Gray’s Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves, 1894-1994 remains unarguably timely. Tracing a century worth of trials and triumphs through the biographies of trailblazers from Ida B. Wells to Anita Hill, Gray maps the way solidarity and community building among Black women challenged the sexism and racism of synonymous with American culture. An informative and invigorating read, Too Heavy a Load is a refreshing chronicle of perseverance, the transformative power of sisterhood, and the limitlessness of communal vision. A quintessential title for feminists and historians alike, Gray’s well-researched and heartfelt book is one to be read with vigor and revisited often.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Penned during the 1850s, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girlby Harriet Jacobs is one of the earliest autobiographical accounts of American slavery. Published after her death in 1861 under the pseudonym Linda Brent, Jacobs’ heart wrenching yet crucial narrative gives readers an eye-opening portrait of her life on a plantation in North Carolina, the inhumane brutality of her owner, and the way motherhood inspired her to seek freedom for herself and her family. One of America’s first Black feminist texts, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is an invaluable addition to the literary canon.
Paula Byrne’s fascinating biography examines the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the biracial daughter of Sir John Lindsay and an enslaved African woman. Best known as she’s depicted in a double portrait with her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, Belle was educated and raised by her great uncle William Murray who served as Britain’s Lord Chief Justice. Murray, who served as Belle’s surrogate father, was instrumental in multiple judicial rulings during the 1770s that ultimately led to the end of slavery in England. Through Byrne’s enlightening prose and thorough research, Belle and her family’s story reveals how revolutionary it is to be a Black woman during a turning point in history.
Although, you could understand how it might have been.
On November 9–10, 1938, approximately 7,500 Jewish homes, stores, hospitals, and schools were destroyed and looted, hundreds of Jews were arrested, and 91 Jews were murdered. Thirty thousand Jewish men were sent to concentration camps. These attacks were carried out in Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland (parts of the former Czechoslovakia) by civilians and paramilitary groups at the urging of the Nazis, and police officers and firefighters stood idly by because the Gestapo told them not to stop the riots. Directly following this, the Nazis blamed the Jews for the events and heavily fined the German Jewish community.
This was Kristallnacht, or “the night of broken glass.” It was a turning point, marking the change from “merely” anti-Semitic rhetoric and laws, to actual violent actions. The Holocaust didn’t happen in one fell swoop; Hitler slowly added more and more restrictions; started lying more and more; and kept on riling up his base. The Nazis built up to the mass round-ups, deportation, and mass murder of Jews, gay people, Roma, the disabled, and anyone who didn’t fit their ideal. Human rights atrocities don’t just happen overnight. It builds up gradually and then all at once. There are warning signs. It’s just a matter of whether people recognize the signs, take them seriously for what they are, and decide to take action against them.
It’s often said that those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it. Clearly, that seems to be a bit simplistic, given the current events—but learning about the past is important if we are to change the future. This November marks the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht. If you’re looking to learn more about Kristallnacht or the Holocaust, here are some books to get you started.
ANNE FRANK’S DIARY: THE GRAPHIC ADAPTATION BY ARI FOLMAN, ANNE FRANK, AND DAVID POLONSKY
If you’ve never read this—or even if you have, pick up this version. In fact, get both, because obviously, this isn’t the full diary. This was a monumental task, I imagine, converting this classic text to a graphic memoir. But Folman and Polonsky did an admirable job of bringing the diary to life on the page, and the art feels right with the text. A haunting, important book that has become only more so as time goes on.
ASPERGER’S CHILDREN: THE ORIGINS OF AUTISM IN NAZI VIENNA BY EDITH SHEFFER
Although Asperger syndrome is no longer in the DSM, it still remains in our everyday conversations. Hans Asperger was a pioneer of autism, and while most people celebrate his contributions to the field of psychology, this book sheds light on a not-so-great aspect of Dr. Asperger: his ties to the Third Reich and his complacency in the abuse and murder of children. The Nazis targeted anyone different or dissenting, including those who were disabled. This book was a tough one—excruciating at times—to get through. Sheffer does a wonderful job of discussing the nuances of Asperger’s work, and how his research was eventually used to pathologize different kinds of thinking and how it was used in a fascist regime.
THE HIDING PLACE BY CORRIE TEN BOOM, WITH ELIZABETH AND JOHN SHERRILL
Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch watchmaker who, along with her family, became active in the Dutch Resistance against the Nazis. They hid Jews and other members of the Resistance from the Nazis, until an informant led to their arrest. Ten Boom was sent to prison, then several concentration camps, and eventually released because of a clerical error. Even after her release, she helped disabled individuals hiding from the Nazis. She and her family have been honored as Righteous Gentiles for their work—and this book is their story.
HITLER’S WILLING EXECUTIONERS: ORDINARY GERMANS AND THE HOLOCAUST BY DANIEL JONAH GOLDHAGEN
When many people think of Germany during the Third Reich, a common refrain is “how did this happen?” The world was more aware than you might think, although the news about it was buried in the back pages. The informants that told Nazis where Jews were hiding, or those that rounded up Jews in their neighborhood were simply ordinary Germans. Not everyone who killed Jews was an SS soldier. Plenty of “good Germans” simply turned the other way because whatever was going on didn’t affect them. They didn’t speak up because each new law, each new restriction, each new decree, didn’t infringe on their rights or their lives. Their neighbors and friends disappeared, and they went on with their lives. Hatred flourishes thanks to the complacency of ordinary people. This book is a detailed account of how ordinary Germans played a critical role in the Third Reich, and how their inaction was used to Hitler’s advantage.
BRANDED BY THE PINK TRIANGLE BY KEN SETTERINGTON
Berlin was a cultural hub prior to the Holocaust, and a tolerant city for gay men and women. Once Hitler came into power, that changed. This book compiles first-person accounts of being gay during Hitler’s regime and stories of camps, along with research and anecdotes. Like the yellow star for Jews, the pink triangle was used to identify gay individuals, and the Nazi regime was brutal toward them. This book is a good start to learning more about this subject, with a detailed bibliography for further reading.
… and a fair bit of what came between.