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Too often, the national conversation around Blackness in the South focuses on the horrors of the systemic setbacks that whiteness has thrust upon Black people everywhere, without leaving room to celebrate the creativity, joy, and resiliency of Black folks who lived and are still living through it. If we believe in Black Futures, Black History shows us how to build them.
While we here at Scalawag celebrate Black history all year, February offers the (too-short) opportunity to collectively share in that process of remembering.
Here are some of the books, articles, films, podcasts, and activities that have helped our editorial team better understand where we came from, and where we're going.
South of America: A journey below the Mason-Dixon Line to understand the soul of a nation, the latest book from Imani Perry.
We haven't read it yet, but everybody on our team is chomping at the bit to dive in! Alabama Daughter and scholar Imani Perry carefully examines the place of our origins—all our origins—and how the South, the belly and bowels of America is what gives countenance to our present moment with its cravings, longings, and anti-Black fears. We've been saying it all along: The South is everywhere, y'all.— Alysia Nicole Harris, Arts & Soul Editor
Catch up on Black classics and the Black history you didn't learn about in public high school in North Carolina—even though you should've.
bell hooks' work has always been on my to-read list, but her passing and Alysia's tribute to her work made diving into her scholarship on love and Black feminism feel urgent in a way that reading for pleasure rarely does. I started with "When Angels Speak of Love," a short and beautiful collection of 50 poems you can easily devour in one sitting. Grab a copy of that or hooks' other works from our Bookshop page. And if you have any connection to North Carolina or you're ready for a full-on tome, I'd also recommend picking up David Zucchino's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Wilmington's Lie:The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy." (Or if you're not ready for 448 pages of dense history, you can learn more about the through-line from the 1898 white supremacist coup to today in this Scalawag story.)— Sarah Glen, Audience Manager
Revisit our interviews/reviews of Black authors.
Since I joined the Scalawag staff, I've had the pleasure of interviewing two of our generation's best thinkers and writers. Da'Shaun Harrison, who has since joined our team as our first editor-at-large, debuted "Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-fatness as Anti-Blackness" last year, and it instantly changed my life. Pick up a copy from our Bookshop, or download your copy of the author-read audiobook when it becomes available on February 8. I also had the pleasure of interviewing one of my favorite authors, Akwaeke Emezi, who's also based in the city I call home. "Dear Senthuran," their memoir, is a haunting and delicious read that consumed and challenged me. And I'll begin this third and final recommendation with a question Alysia Harris posed after she interviewed Aurielle Marie, author of the poetry collection "Gumbo Ya Ya:" "When was the last time you let a Black grxl's Southern English serve as a love song, funerary rite, and freedom anthem for Black femme folks?" If you don't know, you better indulge in these stunning poems.— Ko Bragg, Race & Place Editor
Real museums of Memphis, by Zandria Felice Robinson, in Scalawag.
The commemoration surrounding the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination was to Memphis what the Olympics were to Atlanta. In this Scalawag piece from 2018, Zandria Felice Robinson dives into exactly how the celebration/reflection diverted the attention people of Memphis away from King's real message, and in turn pushed children away from the city's real museums: The Black men and women who know that the city and country were not redeemed by King's death. Here in particular, where struggling Black communities have been promised that King's death made them free, it's a refreshingly critical look at the white "post-racial capitalist fantasy" of New Memphis against the city's true history.— Lovey Cooper, Managing Editor
Getting Down to the Root, directed by Mississippi-native Jasmine Williams.
This short film focuses on the legacy of food inequity, and how institutional racism locks out Black farmers. The documentary follows Dara Cooper, an organizer with the National Black Food and Justice Alliance and the Health Environment Agriculture and Labor (HEAL) Food Alliance, as she talks to Black farmers and others in this fight, and explores its interconnectedness to other anti-Black systems: the police state, environmental racism, and nutritional violence.— Ko
Road to Step.
This short (and happy!!!) film from Reel South follows the reigning champs of the University of Mississippi's annual Black Greek step show as they set out to defend their title. In the two months leading up to the competition, students from the Eta Beta chapter of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity aren't just building their own modern brotherhood as Black students on a predominantly Southern white campus, they're continuing a long tradition of dance as storytelling and memory-making. Spoiler alert: They win.— Lovey
Add more Black history into your IG feed.
I haven't had the attention span to watch much television lately, but lord knows I'm on my phone. Instagram accounts like ATX Barrio Archive, Black Miami-Dade, and Ericka Hart's Black History Month series put me in touch with the history of places I've lived and loved. What Southern-focused Black archive accounts do y'all love?— Sarah
Tressie McMillan Cottom and Kiese Laymon on the ethics of revision.
Last year, I got curious about how our orientation to media and our understanding of the experiences it portrays shift as our consciousness builds. (Last year I also learned that if I'm thinking about something, bell hooks probably already thought about it too.) It turns out that our beloved friends Tressie McMillan Cottom and Kiese Laymon were already thinking about it, too. They layered my own understanding and gave the practice that proceeds this kind of shift a name: Revision. In a conversation they recorded for the Ezra Klein show back in November, and in his memoir Heavy, Kiese offers this on revision: "In my own sloppy work on and off the page, I was beginning to understand revision as a dynamic practice of revisitation premised on ethically reimagining the ingredients, scope and primary audience of one's initial vision. Revision required witnessing and testifying. Witnessing and testifying required rigorous attempts at remembering and imagining. If revision was not God, revision was everything every god ever asked of believers."
I implore you to listen as Tressie and Kiese lovingly lay bare what it means to revise, to deny, and what it means to revise in order to meet our fear, deepen our understanding, and get freer. A design of white supremacy is that it rarely slows its onslaught long enough for us to have the time and space to intentionally revise our understanding of our experiences of it and within it. What if we didn't relegate the little space white supremacy yields in February to celebrations of Black history OR Black futures? What if we committed to a collective practice of revision in pursuit of Black liberation instead?— Cierra Hinton, Executive Director
Listen to your elders. Hosted by former members of the Black Panther Party JoNina Abron-Ervin and Lorenzo Komboa Ervin, the Black Autonomy podcast is a series of accessible history lessons all about anarchism and its relationship to the Black Liberation Movement. There are only eight episodes so far (an easy binge), but they cover everything from armed self-defense to going beyond protest in building a liberatory societal infrastructure. Start at the beginning with "Vote For Me, I'll Set You Free: Black politics and Elections," where JoNina and Lorenzo discuss elections, the Democratic Party, and political power in Black politics—and argue for direct democracy as an alternative.— Lovey
Dig into Black history on the local level.
What you find might surprise you. It's easy to get enamored with the narratives of larger than life figures who rise to national prominence in the struggle for Black liberation, but for those of us living in small towns, there are often untold stories of local Black organizers, innovators, and musicians waiting to be re-remembered. My research into Corsicana, Texas, turned up the story of First Independent, the oldest continuously-meeting Black baptist congregation in the state—formed in 1868 by former slaves who declared their independence from white Baptists and struck out on their own to honor the God that never condoned slavery. If you don't know how to begin your search, local libraries, the archives department, old folks homes, and historic Black congregations and cemeteries are good places to start. I'd love to know what you find.— Alysia
Support Black-led and Black-serving organizations in your community.
For me, that means I'm re-upping my donation to The Aifya Center, which supports the health and wellbeing of Black womxn in Texas through programs on abortion access, maternal mortality, and living with HIV. You can find other Southern reproductive justice groups to support in this roundup we put together. I'm also supporting Six Square, which works to maintain the legacy and culture of the Black community in East Austin. If you're a biker, they've got a Black History Month brunch and bike event coming up—including a walkthrough of the Carver Museum's latest exhibit.— Sarah
Support Black-led Southern media. Become a Scalawag member today!
More Black History Month stories:
Essential Reading: Black History and Black Futures
We practice Black history by telling our stories—how we eat, how we take care of our health, why our decisions must be collective—so that we might believe, as our ancestors did, that other worlds are not just possible, but necessary.
'All my people come from the hills'
hooks was one of the rare folks who became an ancestor before death. Ahead of Black history month, these poems help us mourn her transition while celebrating her life.
Freedom wasn't given—it was seized
Survivors of slavery share their experiences through Reconstruction in the new podcast series "Seizing Freedom" by Virginia Public Media and Witness Docs, featuring voiceover retellings of Black folks' courageous efforts to reconstruct life on their own terms.
The Color of Freedom: Reimagining portraits of the formerly enslaved
Honoring the people photographed in the 1930s "ex-slave narratives," researcher and documentarian Lee Hedgepeth renders their portraits in color. Part science, part art, colorization allows us to bear deeper witness to their lives—if only in our imaginations.
The Story of John H. Merrick and the Largest Black Life Insurance Company in the U.S.
In 1898, life insurance was unattainable for most Black folks in the U.S. John H. Merrick transformed that reality, building the multimillion dollar North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company in Durham's historic Hayti community. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Merrick's death in 1919.
Finding the thread: The tradition of African-American quilting
Although quilting in recent years has been seen as a hobby predominantly practiced by white women, traditions of African-American quilting have been practiced for more than 150 years.
Rebellion on the Coast: Louisiana artists reenact Black armed resistance
Dread Scott pays tribute to Louisiana's history of armed Black resistance. 350 participants in period costumes traveled on foot and horseback over two days following the 26 mile route of the German Coast Uprising of 1811.
The mortician who kept a neighborhood's history alive
John Clarence "Skeepie" Scarborough III preserved the bodies of his client's beloved. The history of a Durham, North Carolina, neighborhood destroyed by urban renewal.
Banking on Black Women: Inside Maggie Walker's Financial Empire
Decades before The New Deal, Richmonder Maggie Walker founded the first and only bank managed by and tailored to Black women. It was so successful that it survived the Great Depression.
How Black kids reclaimed the whitewashed world of 1920's children's literature
As the children's publishing industry shut out Black voices and perspectives in the 1920's, Black weekly newspapers gave kids a platform.