A crowd walks down I-55 toward downtown Memphis during a protest against police brutality in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Photo by Johnathan Martin for MLK50

This year, MLK50: Justice Through Journalism staffers and our community set resolutions to pursue justice and movement-making in whatever ways we could. My resolution is to have a deeper understanding of our shared struggle for equity and equality by reading one non-fiction book each month and leading a discussion on MLK50’s Instagram. 

For Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I compiled a list of books and you can read along with me. Sign-up for our newsletter for upcoming events related to each book. 

January

“Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells,” by Ida B. Wells

A friend gave me this book after I started working for MLK50 last year. The storied legacy of Wells in Chicago and in Memphis gets at the heart of what we do here, and I’m eager to learn more about the trailblazing journalist in her own words. 

February

“Barracoon: The Story of the Last ‘Black Cargo’,” by Zora Neale Hurston

Hurston’s anthropological approach to an interview with Cudjo Lewis, the last survivor of the last slave ship, was unpublished at the time it was written in 1931, due to her insistence on transcribing his words faithfully rather than rewriting them for a learned audience. Read an excerpt published by New York Magazine here. 

March, April

“Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” and “Letter From Birmingham Jail,”  by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

“The Fire Next Time,” by James Baldwin

I’ve paired King’s final book, written in 1967, and his 1963 appeal to white clergymen with Baldwin’s classic to bookend the first segment of the year with an exploration of the civil rights movement. Plus the anniversary of King’s assassination on April 4 is a time to reflect on his words and guidance on where he intended his work to take him. 

May, June

“Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals,” by Saidiya Hartman

“The Warmth of Other Suns,” by Isabel Wilkerson

Wilkerson’s and Hartman’s books explore the first half of the 20th century through the lived realities Black people faced in a segregated America. Their specific subjects differ, but they both offer foundational knowledge. They show how those living under harsh subjugation still sought freedom and opportunity despite the legal infrastructure. 

July, August, September

“Between the World and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“The New Jim Crow,” by Michelle Alexander

“Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” by Isabel Wilkerson

These three recent books, all published since 2010, present three perspectives to think about how race fits into American life in the 21st century — 50 years after King’s and other movement makers began to transform the nation.

October, November

“Freedom Is a Constant Struggle,” by Angela Davis

“Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds,” by adrienne maree brown

As we close out the year, I’ll look at where the movements against state violence and oppression go next. These two books look at how activism plays out globally and personally, a balance that is critical to master in justice work going forward. 

December

“Black Futures,” By Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham

Finally, I will end the year with this anthology exploring “what it means to be Black and alive.” This mixed-media work compiled interviews, essays, memes and recipes on culture and activism. I’m eager to use it to “remix” my own thinking and approach to justice as the year turns over.  

Shiraz Ahmed is editorial operations manager for MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Email him at shiraz.ahmed@mlk50.com


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