Black History Month

As the 50th anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination approaches (21 February), this collection of essays, FBI files, newspaper articles and speeches offers a chance to see the controversial civil rights leader and black nationalism advocate, in a different light. 

Marable and Felber dig deep into his past with police reports that detail the time his family home was firebombed in Michigan in 1929 and also provide the Muslim leader’s own rap sheet; ranging from stealing a fur coat to carrying an illegal firearm. 
On their own, the details would add up to little more than curios of a complex and often overlooked figure from America’s recent past, but coupled with the various newspaper articles that chart his rise through the ranks of the Nation of Islam (and into an American media personality) and essays by the likes of James Baldwin, the editors begin to paint a picture of a man who was always evolving, constantly learning and forever capable of molding and revising his own philosophy. 

There’s insight into how he was interpreted after his death too, with Baldwin writing about the nixed biopic planned in the late 60s (“It was simply a subject Hollywood could not manage”) and a letter from publishers to Alex Haley apologizing for not being able to publish his now famous autobiography. LB

The Price of the Ticket (by James Baldwin) – It’s rather extraordinary, if slightly grim and unsettling, how relevant this seminal collection of James Baldwin’s essays are today. 

First published in 1985, the book includes 50 of Baldwin’s best works that span the course of several decades. It serves as an intellectual primer on race in America, but it is also a tour de force of magnificent writing. His commentary on race, black identity, white delusion and the state of humanity was not only fearless, but achingly poignant and exacting. 

The essay that I always return to is A Talk to Teachers, originally published in The Saturday Review in December 1963. Baldwin plainly lays out the purpose of the American education system (“A process that occurs within a social framework and is designed to perpetuate the aims of the society”) and then proceeds to lower the boom on the paradox in how it affects Black children in America (“… any Negro who is born in this country and undergoes the American educational system runs the risk of becoming schizophrenic”). 

Baldwin, never one to let a society sanctioned process dictate his self-worth, flips the script and turns the essay into a beautifully righteous statement on individualism and self-invention.

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