Black History Month is a time for all Americans to consider how truthful they believe that the most resonant phrase in the Declaration of Independence — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” — to be.
Here are five books and five movies that might provide some insight into America’s troubled history on race.
“The Warmth of Other Sons: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration,” by Isabel Wilkerson
Wilkerson recounts the history of African-Americans moving out of the South and transforming the American landscape through the densely researched lives of three individuals.
“Paradise,” by Toni Morrison
It is the third in Morrison’s loose trilogy that began with her masterwork, “Beloved.” “Paradise” is set in Ruby, Oklahoma, a fictional all-black town. It is about the clash between the male-dominated town and the five women who have separated themselves to live in an abandoned convent. And it has one of the most startling first sentences in literature: “They shoot the white girl first.”
“The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism,” by Edward E. Baptist
Baptist’s history shows how the expansion of slavery in the first eight decades after American independence drove the evolution and modernization of the United States, as Southern states grew into a continental cotton empire, and the United States grew into a modern, industrial, and capitalist economy.
“Kindred,” by Octavia Butler
Butler, who often used the forms of science fiction and fantasy to address racial topics, presents the grim fantasy of a woman who travels back in time to a Maryland plantation in the 1800s, where she struggles to preserve her existence in both time periods.
“Sing Unburied Sing,” by Jesmym Ward
One of the most acclaimed and awarded novels of last year, “Sing Unburied Sing” uses the framework of a road trip — an African-American woman and her children driving to pick up her white husband from prison — to explore issues of race and family.
“The Films of Solomon Sir Jones” (1920s)
Widely available on YouTube, a collection of 29 home movies showcasing the lives of black people in Oklahoma in the 1920s was selected in 2016 for inclusion into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. These silent black-and-white films were produced by Baptist minister and amateur filmmaker Solomon Sir Jones, and they include images in the local area, such as the Oklahoma Eagle Printing Co. on North Greenwood, as well as a black family outside their Sapulpa residence on Hobson Street.
The story of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1965 march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital of Montgomery is detailed enough in this moving film to provide an education to young and old alike about one of the civil rights movement’s greatest achievements.
“Do the Right Thing” (1989)
Filmmaker Spike Lee’s incendiary masterpiece is a look at racism on one hot day in New York, but you can easily consider the events to be a metaphor for race relations in the U.S. See it at this special event: Circle Cinema is screening the movie at 6 p.m. Feb. 20, followed by a panel discussion featuring Guy Davis, the blues musician son of Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, who both appear in the film.
“Stormy Weather” (1943)
This Black History Month experience is all about witnessing the musical performances of several of the greatest black performers of the first half of the 20th century. From the voice of Lena Horne and the dancing of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson to Cab Calloway and his Cotton Club Orchestra, this is pure entertainment history.
“The Jackie Robinson Story” (1950)
Crossing the “color line,” hall-of-famer Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play Major League Baseball. What the film lacks in powerful storytelling is made up for by one fact: Robinson plays himself in the movie.