Black History Month directs our attention to people and events in the past, however, it would be a huge disservice to those memories and legacies if we failed to connect them to the present and our future.

This time of remembrance presents a renewed opportunity to educate ourselves and others about the contributions of Black people from various walks of life. They laid foundations for us to build upon. Find inspiration and motivation in these suggested readings:

Righteous Troublemakers - Untold Stories of the Social Justice Movement in America by Al Sharpton

While the world may know the major names of the Civil Rights movement, there are countless lesser-known heroes fighting the good fight to advance equal justice for all, heeding the call when no one else was listening, often risking their lives and livelihoods in the process.

Righteous Troublemakers shines a light on everyday people called to do extraordinary things—like Pauli Murray, whose early work informed Thurgood Marshall’s legal argument for Brown v. Board of Education, Claudette Colvin, who refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus months before Rosa Parks did the same, and Gwen Carr, whose private pain in losing her son Eric Garner stoked her public activism against police brutality. Sharpton also illuminates the lives of more widely known individuals, revealing overlooked details, historical connections, and a perspective informed by years of working on the front line of the social justice movement, to provide a behind-the-scenes look at the wheels of justice and the individuals who have helped advance its cause.

Workers on Arrival - Black Labor in the Making of America by Joe W. Trotter, Jr.

From the ongoing issues of poverty, health, housing and employment to the recent upsurge of lethal police-community relations, the black working class stands at the center of perceptions of social and racial conflict today. Journalists and public policy analysts often discuss the black poor as “consumers” rather than “producers,” as “takers” rather than “givers,” and as “liabilities” instead of “assets.”

In his engrossing new history, Workers on Arrival, Joe William Trotter, Jr. refutes these perceptions by charting the black working class’s vast contributions to the making of America. Covering the last four hundred years since Africans were first brought to Virginia in 1619, Trotter traces black workers’ complicated journey from the transatlantic slave trade through the American Century to the demise of the industrial order in the 21st century. At the center of this compelling, fast-paced narrative are the actual experiences of these African American men and women. A dynamic and vital history of remarkable contributions despite repeated setbacks, Workers on Arrival expands our understanding of America’s economic and industrial growth, its cities, ideas, and institutions, and the real challenges confronting black urban communities today.

The Warmth of Other Suns – The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves.
 
With stunning historical detail, Wilkerson tells this story through the lives of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago, where she achieved quiet blue-collar success and, in old age, voted for Barack Obama when he ran for an Illinois Senate seat; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem, where he endangered his job fighting for civil rights, saw his family fall, and finally found peace in God; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue a medical career, the personal physician to Ray Charles as part of a glitteringly successful medical career, which allowed him to purchase a grand home where he often threw exuberant parties.

Wilkerson brilliantly captures their first treacherous and exhausting cross-country trips by car and train and their new lives in colonies that grew into ghettos, as well as how they changed these cities with southern food, faith, and culture and improved them with discipline, drive, and hard work. Both a riveting microcosm and a major assessment, The Warmth of Other Suns is a bold, remarkable, and riveting work, a superb account of an “unrecognized immigration” within our own land. Through the breadth of its narrative, the beauty of the writing, the depth of its research, and the fullness of the people and lives portrayed herein, this book is destined to become a classic.