Best Book I Have Not Read

Writing, Reading, Teaching, Life, Attempting to Balance it All

Black History Month: 2 books by Ntozake Shange & Kadir Nelson February 14, 2009

51ky7yyyanl_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa240_sh20_ou01_February is Black History Month. During the editing phase for publishing this post, I decided to confirm that fact and instead ended up going down a whole different path of thinking and reflecting. My first Google hit was for a news article from the Chicago Sun Times.  The article was written in response to a debate of which I was unaware. From my understanding, the debate is  regarding whether Black History Month even needs to be observed anymore now that we have an African American president.  

A little more poking around and I found out that Black History month was originally called “Negro History Week” and started being recognized in 1926.  We owe the celebration to Dr. Carter G. Woodson, an African American scholar from Harvard. It was he who proposed the second week of February because it marked the birthdays of Fredrick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, two men who had a remarkable impact on the  African American people.  

Coretta Scott is a poem by Ntozake Shange with paintings by Kadir Nelson. It is a beautiful book. When I first saw a review copy at NCTE, I was excited there was a picture book about the woman that has an award named after her that honors children’s books. The ALA website explains the award is,  “Given to African American authors and illustrator for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions, the Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples and their contribution to the realization of the American dream.

The award is designed to commemorate the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to honor Mrs. Coretta Scott King for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood.”

Shange’s poem begins…

some southern mornings
the moon
sits like an orange
sliver by the treetops

What imagery! Shange’s words are so beautiful, yet Nelson’s paintings add a whole other layer of beauty.  

The book’s powerful images continue throughout…

but fervor for the coming vote
and equality
pushed Coretta to a peace and wonderment
of the Lord
“ain’t goona let nobody turn me around
turn me round”

A look at the author then led me to another book by the pair, Ellington Was Not a Street. It won the Corretta Scott King award in 2004. The partnership of poetry and painting is again a thing of beauty.  

41t9kwgyrzl_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa240_sh20_ou01_it hasnt always been this way
ellington was not a street
robeson no mere memory
du bois walked up my father’s stairs
hummed some tune over me
sleeping in the company of men 
who changed the world 

The poem flows over the pages with paintings from the view of a small girl observing the many comings and goings in her family home and ends with a mini-biography of each person that is within the poem.  

I went to share the books with my children.  Instead of quietly admiring the poems and pictures, it inspired 1000 questions!

“Why are they walking to school?” ,

“What is that black disc she’s holding?”,

“Why weren’t they allowed to vote?”,

“How could that bus driver be so mean and just drive by?”,

“Who is Jim Crow?”

“What is a boycott or a sit-in?” 

Now I realize that the age of my children has not allowed them enough time to be exposed to a depth of history .  It also makes me very aware that while they take different skin color for granted (something not really to be noticed) they still need to know about all parts of American history, not just what is emphasized in textbooks (majority still have an overabundance of white men). It is is up to us, their parents, to make sure that happens. If it takes Black History Month to bring this realization to the front of my mind, a well-educated educator, I believe that the need for Black History Month is still very much needed to help remind all Americans that there are groups of people, whether they are African American, women, Jewish, Pacific-American that are an important part of not just now, but the past as well. The role they had in bringing us all to the point in our shared American history where we finally can have an African American or a woman as president is one that should not be taken for granted.

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