Blog Archives

Authors to Explore During Black History Month

By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

The modern United States of America has the great honor of being home to myriad cultural groups. The inventions, discoveries, perspectives, and creativity of minority groups impact our nation the whole year through, and it’s personally edifying to reflect on the abundance of important ideas that come to us from so many different cultures. That’s why, during Black History Month each February, we take the time to officially celebrate, enjoy, and learn about the innumerable contributions that black men and women have made to American culture.

Naturally, Black authors write in every genre: from science-fiction to romance, from graphic novels to poetry. Although readers see the value in reading works from all facets of culture, they may not have come across some of these writers before. Today, we’ll take a winding journey through various genres, highlighting Black authors along the way.

Let’s start in the world of comic books and graphic novels. The timeless duo of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson has been reimagined in a comic book series written by Karl Bollers. Set in Harlem, New York, with African-American leads, Watson and Holmes treats the traditional sidekick as the leading man. While keeping elements of the classic story intact – Watson is a war veteran; Holmes specializes in usual cases – Bollers comes up with new dangers and adventures for the pair in a modern, urban setting.

Other writers to check out in this medium include Aaron McGruder (The Boondocks), Brandon Thomas (The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury), Brian Parker (You Can Rely on Platypi), David Gorden (Quincredible), Kyle Baker (Nat Turner), Patricia C. McKissack and Fredrick L. McKissack, Jr (Best Shot in the West), and Ta-Nehisi Coates (Marvel’s Black Panther).

Speaking of Coates, who first made his name in journalism, his 2015 non-fiction book, Between the World and Me, is considered a must-read. It takes the form of “a letter to the author’s teenaged son about the feelings, symbolism, and realities associated with being black in the United States” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Between_the_World_and_Me).

Such a personal publication leads us to the genre of autobiography and memoir, which is a great way to get inside the heads of people with different experiences and perspectives. Much-loved television writer and producer Shonda Rhimes shares her journey from fear and detachment to self-acceptance and empowerment in Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person. Another television personality with an entertaining memoir is Issa Rae, with The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl. In Black Man in a White Coat, Damon Tweedy, MD, explores the relationship between race and the medical world.  Elizabeth Alexander writes about family, creativity, and loss in The Light of the World. Other well-known authors in this genre include Frederick Douglass (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass), Solomon Northup (Twelve Years a Slave), Barack Obama (Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance), and Maya Angelou (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings).

Angelou is also beloved for her poetry, one example being “Still I Rise.” Merely scratching the surface of her fellow renowned Black poets, we find Rita Dove (“Exit”), Gwendolyn Brooks (“We Real Cool”), Langston Hughes (“Harlem”), Nikki Giovanni (“Walking down Park”), Jean Toomer (“Blue Meridian”), Lucille Clifton (“won’t you celebrate with me”), Tyehimba Jess (“Hagar in the Wilderness”), Melvin Dixon (“Heartbeats”), and Robert Hayden (“Middle Passage”).

Switching gears, let’s talk cookbooks: another great way to appreciate culture. No matter your tastes or skill level, you’re sure to find new recipes to add to your rotation with these selections. Edna Lewis’ classic The Taste of Country Cooking weaves stories with delicious recipes to create seasonal menus. Formerly an integral part of Paula Deen’s staff at Lady & Sons, Dora Charles has published her own cookbook, full of unexpected tips for maximum flavor, called A Real Southern Cook: In Her Savannah Kitchen. The Church Ladies’ Divine Desserts, by Brenda Rhodes Miller, gives you all the recipes you need for crowd-pleasing desserts, as well as wisdom and laughter from “the Church Ladies.” And celebrity chef Marvin Woods brings you “125 recipes for coastal Southern cooking with innovative style” in The New Low-Country Cooking.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a list some modern writers of fiction, along with a title selected from their work.

  1. LaShonda Katrice Barnett, Jam on the Vine
  2. Paul Beatty, The Sellout (satire)
  3. Chesya Burke, Let’s Play White (short stories)
  4. Octavia E. Butler, the Xenogenesis trilogy (sci-fi)
  5. Ernessa T. Carter, 32 Candles (humorous)
  6. Tananarive Due, Ghost Summer (short stories)
  7. Piper Huguley, the Home to Milford College series (inspirational romance)
  8. N. K. Jemisin, the Inheritance trilogy (fantasy)
  9. Beverly Jenkins, prolific author of historical and contemporary romance
  10. Sadeqa Johnson, Second House from the Corner
  11. Victor LaValle, The Ballad of Black Tom (horror)
  12. Terry McMillan, Waiting to Exhale
  13. Rebel Miller, the Kira’s Story series (futuristic romance)
  14. Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
  15. Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress (mystery)
  16. Z. Z. Packer, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere (short stories)
  17. Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Balm
  18. Delores Phillips, The Darkest Child
  19. Darryl Pinckney, High Cotton
  20. John Ridley, Everybody Smokes in Hell (noir)
  21. Alice Walker, The Color Purple
  22. Colson Whitehead, Zone One (zombie thriller)
  23. Jacqueline Woodson, Miracle’s Boys (young adult)

Of course, these authors are relevant all year long, not just during Black History Month. So, if many of these names are new to you, why not choose a few and add their works your reading list this year? And don’t forget, if we don’t have one of these titles in our catalogue, we can always submit an Interlibrary Loan (ILL) request to other libraries throughout the country.

Here are links to lists and reviews I found helpful (and interesting) in creating this blog post, where you can discover even more great writers. Happy Black History Month! Read the rest of this entry

Advertisements

Guest Post: Lest We Forget

Thelma Battle

By Thelma Battle

The cultural tradition of funeral services, among many African- American citizens, has been a unique tradition since slavery. Oral history tells us that during slavery times many slaves were not allowed the opportunity to have a funeral or to pay respect to the deceased.  The deceased if fallen dead in the field, for instance was taken, wrapped and a hole was dug, with no funeral or burial rites. The only person to view this process was the digger of the hole. This was not always the case in many other instances of deceased slaves. Williamson County, Tennessee is known for its slave cemeteries, meaning that some slave owners had the decency to see that their slaves had a proper burial; and that loved ones were allowed to attend the burial.

The history of some African American funerals, carry a uniqueness that often interprets the region of habitation.

Thelma Battle’s 2018 Black History Month Exhibit, Lest We Forget, will be open the entire month of February during regular Library hours: M-Th 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., F-Sat. 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Sundays, 1-5:30 p.m.

The cultural tradition of African Americans providing printed funeral programs at the ceremony of a loved one is a unique, yet national among most African Americans.

History tells us that slaves were sold and many slave families were separated forever. This cruel act meant such slaves would never see their loved ones again or have knowledge of who they were. Today the ability to put in writing the life and times concerning the deceased and sharing it with family, friends and loved ones is an expression of freedom. It is a reminder as well as a celebration of “Who You Were” and “Whence You Came”, What You Stood For”.  The order of service, the undertaker, flower girls and pallbearer and cemetery is also announced.

Today many African Americans come together at funerals bearing an oppressed history, but are able to share in the freedom of this day and time; and in doing this act take home a keepsake printed history of the deceased. Such material is often priceless to genealogists tracing family trees.

Lest We Forget: The 2018 Thelma Battle Collection African American Exhibit

Handmade Funeral Program for Mittie Gentry Scruggs

By Marcia Fraser, Special Collections Department

Now, throughout February, the Special Collections department at Williamson County Public Library is hosting the 2018 Thelma Battle Black History Month Photographic Exhibit, “Lest We Forget,” spotlighting the lives of residents in Franklin’s black community who have lived and died in Williamson County. This exhibit features the vast funeral program collection housed in Special Collections as part of the Thelma Battle Family History Collection.

Why funeral programs? Oftentimes, we really don’t get to know a person until he or she dies. Have you ever been to a funeral, or read an obituary, and realized there were important things about that person that you didn’t even know? Maybe you weren’t aware of some of the ways he participated in the community, or who his family connections are. This is what makes funeral programs and/or obituaries so valuable. If you’re researching your family history, they’re absolute gold!

Obituaries tell us a lot. Things like a person’s full name, his parents’ names, when he was born, who his children and grandchildren are, who predeceased him, who survived him, what he did for a living, when he died, and sometimes why. A funeral program gives you that and more – who preached the service, who the pall bearers and flower bearers were, what scripture was read, which songs were sung. A funeral program can give you the family and friend connections of the deceased. That’s a lot of information to find in one place, and if you’re researching your genealogy, it could give you the very link you need to connect you from one generation to the next on the family tree.

Mittie Gentry Scruggs and husband Forrest Scruggs

We now have over 1200 funeral programs from our local black community in Special Collections, and we’re still collecting. They are filed alphabetically in notebooks, and also digitized in our data files, so they’re available for the cost of a copy, ten cents a page. We are always seeking ways to enlarge our collection and so we invite you to share copies of programs you have that we don’t. If you have family funeral programs or obituaries you can share, we would love for you to bring them in and allow us to copy them and add them to our collection. Talk to one of the librarians in Special Collections to see if you have a program we need. An index of names in our current collection is available to exhibit attendees to search.

This year’s photograph exhibit will also include a new oral history film about Ms. Battle’s work as a grassroots historian, “Thelma’s Battle; Preserving African-American History in Franklin, Tennessee.” The film will be available for viewing as part of the exhibit.

The exhibit is held on the 2nd floor of the library in the Special Collections department at 1314 Columbia Ave. in Franklin, and will run from Feb. 1st – 28th. There will also be displays in the upstairs and downstairs display cases near the elevators. For more information, call 615/525-1246.

Excerpt from the funeral program of Mittie Gentry Scruggs

African American Olympians: The Unknown Greats

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

With it being African-American history month and an Olympic year it seems only logical to look back at some of the great African-American Olympians of the past and look forward to the new heroes of this summer.

poage

George Poage

Most Americans are familiar with the Olympic greats of the past like runners, Jesse Owens and Wilma Rudolf. They might even remember a young light heavyweight boxer from the 1960 Olympics named Cassius Clay, although they are more likely to remember him as we all do now as Mohammed Ali. Some people will recall Tommie Smith and John Carlos from their memorable podium appearance in the 1968 summer games for the 200 meter. And Gabby Douglas from the last Olympics who was the first American to win an individual all-around gold medal as well as the team gold.

However, for every one of these household names there are heroes who are forgotten. Very few remember George Poage who was the first African American to compete in the Olympics and the first to win a medal. Mr. Poage was born in Hannibal, Missouri but actually grew up in La Crosse, Wisconsin. While working on his post-graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin he was sponsored by the Milwaukee Athletic club to compete in the St. Louis games in 1904 where he won Bronze medals in the 200 and 400 meter Hurdles.

Taylor_team_photo

John Baxter Taylor, Jr. and team

There is also John Baxter Taylor, Jr. who became the first African American to win gold when he ran the third leg of the 400 meter relay. Dr. Taylor was a graduate of the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Veterinary Medicine, but did not live long enough to practice his craft or enjoy his Olympic success, dying of Typhoid Fever less than five months after the glory of his Olympic championship at the 1908 London games. He might have been the first African American individual gold medal winner, but refused to participate in a re-running of the 400 meter final because he felt a teammate was unfairly disqualified for obstructing a runner from the host nation.

Instead, DeHart Hubbard was the first African American to win an individual gold, a feat he completed in the long jump at the 1924 Paris Olympics. Mr. Hubbard went on to found the Cincinnati Tigers baseball team of the Negro American League.

coachman

Alice Coachman

African American woman began competing in the Olympics as early as the 1936 Berlin Olympics when Tidye Pickett and Louise Stokes were selected for the 80 meter hurdles, although only Pickett competed, Stokes having been injured before the games. The first Medal won by an African American woman was gold in High jump at the 1948 London Games, won by Alice Coachman. Ms. Coachman had begun her track career running barefoot on dirt roads and improvising her jumping equipment out of whatever was handy in Albany, Georgia, only learning proper technique and working with real equipment when she reached high school. She won the gold medal she received from King George VI by setting a world record and did it all despite missing her prime years due to the cancellation of the 1940 and 1944 Olympics due to the War. Ms. Coachman went on to work in education as a teacher and worked with the Job Corps as well as becoming the first African American woman to sign an endorsement deal for an international product when she appeared in a Coca-Cola advertisement with Jessie Owens in 1952.

Carl_Lewis

Carl Lewis

While not breaking down barriers or being the firsts, many African American athletes have given us great memories over past 30 years as well. The Eighties and Nineties had the brother-sister team of nine time gold medalist, and International Olympic Committee Sportsman of the Century Carl Lewis and his Sister Carol, now a commentator and bobsleigh break man, competing in the track and field events. The U.S. dominance of track and field during that time was also helped by another family. Six time Olympic medalist; three gold, one silver and two bronze, Jackie Joyner Kersee, her brother Al Joyner, a gold medalist in 1984 and his wife Florence Griffith Joyner who has three gold and two silver Olympic medals. All three were trained by legendary track and field coach, and Jackie’s husband, Bob Kersee. Joyner Kersee has held the world record for most points in a Heptathlon since 1988 and was named Female Athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated. At this same time the Dream Team of the 1992 Olympics, including NBA greats like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippin, David Robinson and Charles Barkley, reasserted U.S. dominance of the basketball world.

As summer approaches and the Olympic rosters are set, many new faces and some returning heroes will make themselves known. We can already be sure that Ashley Perry, a young woman from right here in Middle Tennessee, playing for the inaugural women’s rugby sevens team, and hopefuls like Simone Biles and returning legend Gabby Douglas, expected US Gymnastic team stars, and track star Allyson Felix will make sure that African Americans and Americans in general are represented proudly in Rio this summer.

%d bloggers like this: