Penn Libraries News

Featured Books and DVDs: Black History Month

From music journalism to activism to mountain climbing, the topics of our Black History Month picks run the gamut, while also highlighting significant historical figures and communities.

Close up view of two rows of books and DVDs lined up side by side, some overlapping, on a table. Visible titles include Black Girl in Suburbia, Built from the Fire, Back to Natural, and A Madea Family Funeral.

Celebrate the achievements of Black Americans and learn more about their contributions to U.S. history with this month’s featured books and DVDs. From music journalism to activism to mountain climbing, the topics of our Black History Month picks run the gamut, while also highlighting significant historical figures and communities. You can also learn more about Black History Month and visit online exhibits and events all month through the official Black History Month website.


You can find the selections highlighted below, and many more, on display on the first floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, next to New Books.

Note: The descriptions below are collected from publishers and edited for brevity and clarity.  

Books

Black Archives: A Photographic Celebration of Black Life by Renata Cherlise

In 2015, Renata Cherlise established the multimedia platform Black Archives, which presents Black people across time living vibrant, ordinary lives. Through the platform, many have discovered and shared images of themselves and their loved ones experiencing daily life, forming multidimensional portraits of people, places, and the Black community. These photographs not only tell captivating stories, they hold space for collective memory and kinship. This book of photos features more than 300 images that spotlight the iconic and the candid, offering a nuanced compendium of Black memory and imagination.

 

Ain't But a Few of Us: Black Music Writers Tell Their Story edited by Willard Jenkins

Although most of jazz’s major innovators and performers have been African American, the overwhelming majority of jazz journalists, critics, and authors have been and continue to be white men. No major mainstream jazz publication has ever had a Black editor or publisher. Ain’t But a Few of Us presents candid dialogues with Black jazz critics and journalists about the impact of these racial disparities. Additionally, the book’s anthology section reprints classic essays and articles from Black writers and musicians such as LeRoi Jones, Archie Shepp, A. B. Spellman, and Herbie Nichols.

 

With Her Fist Raised: Dorothy Pitman Hughes and the Transformative Power of Black Community Activism by Laura L. Lovett

Dorothy Pitman Hughes was a transformative community organizer in New York City in the 1970s who shared the stage with Gloria Steinem for five years, captivating audiences around the country. After leaving rural Georgia in the 1950s, she moved to New York, determined to fight for civil rights and equality. Historian Laura L. Lovett traces Hughes’s journey as she became a powerhouse activist, responding to the needs of her community and building a platform for its empowerment. With expert research, which includes Hughes’s own accounts of her life, With Her Fist Raised is the necessary biography of a pivotal figure in women’s history and Black feminism whose story will finally be told.

 

Built from the Fire: The Epic Story of Tulsa's Greenwood District, America's Black Wall Street by Victor Luckerson

When Ed Goodwin moved with his parents to the Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, his family joined a community soon to become the center of Black life in the West. But just a few years later, on May 31, 1921, the teenaged Ed hid in a bathtub as a white mob descended on his neighborhood, laying waste to 35 blocks and murdering as many as 300 people in one of the worst acts of racist violence in U.S. history. The Goodwins and their neighbors soon rebuilt the district into “a Mecca,” in Ed’s words, where nightlife thrived and small businesses flourished. But by the 1970s urban renewal policies had nearly emptied the neighborhood. Journalist Victor Luckerson tells the true story behind a potent national symbol of success and solidarity and weaves an epic tale about a neighborhood that refused, more than once, to be erased.

 

Black Hair in a White World edited by Tameka N. Ellington

This anthology is an in-depth study of the cultural history, perceptions, and increasing acceptance of Black hair in the broader American society. Essays discuss representations and responses to Black hair, including analysis of research findings about marketing messages and depictions of Black hair in popular culture, discussions of workplace discrimination, and stories about the origins of the natural hair movement and how many Black people have learned to embrace and celebrate their natural hair.

Black Hair in a White World is a groundbreaking, serious examination of perceptions of Black hair and makes an important contribution to ongoing discussions about gender, sociology, and self-expression.

 

DVDs

One Night in Miami

On one incredible night in 1964, four icons of sports, music, and activism gathered to celebrate one of the biggest upsets in boxing history: underdog Cassius Clay (soon to be called Muhammad Ali)’s defeat of heavyweight champion Sonny Liston at the Miami Convention Hall. One Night in Miami is a fictional account of the night where Ali gathered with fellow icons Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown and discussed their roles in the civil rights movement and cultural upheaval of the 60s.

You’re Watching Video Music Box

The untold story of the world’s longest running video show, Video Music Box. A hip-hop mainstay since 1983, VMB gave a platform to artists like Jay-Z, Nas and Mary J. Blige before they hit it big. Host Ralph McDaniels’ archives — amassed over 40 nearly years — reveal the show’s importance to numerous big-name musicians, as well as to the kids that grew up watching.

An American Ascent

This documentary film follows the first African-American expedition to climb North America's highest peak, Denali, with hopes of shrinking the Adventure Gap that makes the outdoors a predominantly white space. By taking on the grueling, 20,310 foot peak of the continent's biggest mountain, nine African-American climbers set out to build a legacy of inclusion in the outdoor/adventure community.  The film addresses often overlooked issues of race and the outdoors as it follows the team up the mountain, chronicling the many challenges of climbing one of the world’s most iconic peaks.

The Blackening

The Blackening centers around a group of Black friends who reunite for a Juneteenth weekend getaway only to find themselves trapped in a remote cabin with a twisted killer. Forced to play by his rules, the friends soon realize this ain’t no game. The Blackening skewers genre tropes and poses the sardonic question: if the entire cast of a horror movie is Black, who dies first?

Synergy Entertainment Presents Oscar Micheaux

This three-disc collection includes the films Midnight Ramble, The Girl From Chicago, and God’s Step Children. Micheaux was the first major Black filmmaker in the United States. According to the NAACP, “throughout the first half of the 20th century Micheaux depicted contemporary Black life and complex characters in his films, countering the negative on-screen portrayal of Blacks at the time.” This month’s featured books also include a biography of Micheaux.