Some of us have had that experience of awakening to what’s going on in the world. Whether it’s from watching a movie documenting the civil rights movement or reading about the life of Malcolm X, there comes a point in time when young black Americans “wake up” and start reading and researching about the issues of institutional and systemic racism. For some, that moment happens when they’re about to start college. The seven classic revolutionary reads listed here will give you a head start on that path:
1. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley (1965)
A book about revolution, awareness and character, The Autobiography of Malcolm X remains a landmark read for curious, young black minds to this day. A great analysis of racial hate, as well as systemic and political racism, this classic is often the first true introduction that members of the millennial generation get to Malcolm X and how he went from the incarcerated “Detroit Red” to a national leader of black people. “Why am I as I am? To understand that of any person, his whole life, from birth must be reviewed. All of our experiences fuse into our personality. Everything that ever happened to us is an ingredient,” he writes.
2. Women, Race & Class, by Angela Y. Davis (1983)
“One of the most closely guarded secrets of advanced capitalist societies involves the possibility—the real possibility—of radically transforming the nature of housework.” So writes Angela Y. Davis, who delves into an introspective examination of the state of womanhood in America. Davis discusses the development of “the housewife” and how she and “the mother” were used as “universal models of womanhood.” With her historical approach, Davis pushes for the creation of “black feminism” and increasing the respect of womanhood.
3. Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? by Martin Luther King Jr. (1967)
In Martin Luther King Jr.’s final book before his assassination, he reflects on the civil rights movement from the 1950s to the end of the 1960s as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee begins aggressively pursuing the formation of black rights. King spent much of his time writing this book in an isolated residence in Jamaica. In it he expresses his thoughts on the Vietnam War, proclaims that blacks and whites must unify, and gets down into the soil of poverty and the welfare state pushed by the U.S. government, addressing the economic disparities between classes and races.
4. Assata: An Autobiography, by Assata Shakur (1987)
Activist Assata Shakur, a former member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army, wrote her autobiography while exiled in Cuba. The book serves as a look inside the U.S. prison-industrial complex and the state of race relations in America. Shakur also shares her insights into the black power and black liberation movements while she was in the U.S. The book raises awareness of the continual, ongoing battles between law enforcement and blacks while also noting the many leaders in the black power movement who are still incarcerated. “These people can lock us up, but they can’t stop life, just like they can’t stop freedom,” Shakur writes.
5. Revolutionary Suicide, by Huey P. Newton (1973)
A detailed, visionary depiction of the life of chief Black Panther Party leader and organizer Huey P. Newton, Revolutionary Suicide dives deep into the formation and purpose of the party. Newton, who taught himself how to read, gives an introspective look at his involvement within the party and reveals how his upbringing in Oakland, Calif., helped him see the need for a revolutionary reformation of the police system.
6. Die Nigger Die! A Political Autobiography of Jamil Abdullah al-Amin, by H. Rap Brown (1969)
A member of the Black Panther Party and chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, H. Rap Brown (now known as Jamil Abdullah al-Amin) discusses his experiences as a young black man involved in the civil rights movement. “The long-simmering anger at racism and economic injustice of alienated black youth in the ghettoes was erupting into violent and destructive urban insurrections,” Brown writes. “In every case these ‘riots’ were triggered by police brutality or misconduct, most usually the killing or brutalizing of an unarmed black man.”
7. Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson (1970)
George Jackson, a member of the Black Panther Party, was only 18 years old when he was sentenced to one year to life in prison for stealing $70 at gunpoint from a gas station. Jackson, who was killed at age 29 by prison guards in 1971, became enlightened by Marxist ideals and formed the Black Guerrilla Family, a prison group focused on extinguishing racism and increasing integrity and dignity in prisons. The book details the failures of the prison system and how it often sparks the rebellion of incarcerated black men. “Our overall task is to separate the people from the hated state. They must be made to realize that the interests of the state and the ruling class are one and the same,” Jackson writes.
Phillip Jackson is The Root’s summer intern and will be a junior at Hampton University in the fall. Follow him on Twitter.