Three Books Responding to the Repercussions of Slavery

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave
Frederick Douglass
Sterling Publishing, 2012

1963: The Year of Hope and Hostility
Byron Williams
Byronspeaks, 2013

Hate Thy Neighbor
Jeannine Bell
NYU Press, 2013

The acquittal of the man who killed unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, the release of the film Fruitvale Station dramatizing the murder of Oscar Grant (another young black man) by police, and a federal judge’s August 2013 ruling that the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy has resulted in millions of incidents of blacks being unjustly harassed by police have all contributed to a broader awareness of America’s ongoing racist treatment of African Americans.

Perhaps it’s time to think more deeply about how we expose each new generation to the history of slavery, segregation, and their consequences. We could start by requiring every middle school child to watch the televised version of Alex Haley’s Roots. We would also do well to share the speeches and essays of Frederick Douglass and national columnist Byron Williams’s reflections on the year 1963, when southern police set their dogs on peaceful anti-segregationist blacks who were marching for their freedom. Williams’s book recalls Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech in August, the Kennedy assassination that fateful November, and much more.

Another new book to share with the younger generation is Jeannine Bell’s Hate Thy Neighbor, a sobering reminder of how the legacy of the past lives on in the present. Bell’s book documents the persistence of racial segregation in American housing—segregation enforced by violence against Blacks who try to move into predominantly white neighborhoods. Anti-integrationist violence often persuades African Americans and other people of color to stay out of those neighborhoods, thus guaranteeing the persistence of a racially segregated America. Bell’s book offers an important reality check for those who believe that racism is no longer a problem.


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