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Your Library Needs These 5 Books by and About Powerful Black Women

Illustration for article titled Your Library Needs These 5 Books by and About Powerful Black Women
Screenshot: Dey Street Books, Seal Press, One World
It's Lit!It's Lit!Where all things literary live at The Root

There are books that make you feel great admiration for a woman’s work, books that spark the impetus to tackle an issue, and books that do both. This is a list of those books, written by women who have used their careers, voices and lives to elevate the greater good of all of us.

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Reclaiming Her Time: The Power of Maxine Waters
By Helena Andrews-Dyer, R. Eric Thomas

In her 40 years of public service, Congresswoman Maxine Waters has been less of a politician than a person who strategically uses politics to implement effectual change, advocate for folks on the margins, and upturn injustice. She became our “Auntie Maxine” because of her eye rolls, meme-able clapbacks, and absence of cares, but Reclaiming Her Time dives into the story that made Waters the woman we know and love, from growing up in St. Louis “too skinny” and “too Black” to her opposition of the Iraq War to her confrontations with the crony-ism of this current disastrous administration. It’s a reflection of her personal life and political career, accentuated with testimonies from her friends and fans to deliver a biographical portrait of a woman who, at 80, is still on fire.

The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart
By Alicia Garza

You know the story of how Black Lives Matter came to be and you certainly know why it is a necessary and urgent movement for this generation and the ones coming after it. Before it had a name, Garza, a multihyphenate writer, political strategist, and 2020 The Root 100 honoree, had been an organizer. This book is a platform to share how she learned to make room for folks who are awakening—not just the already woke—in her more than 20 years of experience to activate people around authentic change-making. It’s her story wrapped in lessons about how to bring people together. Listen to an excerpt read by Garza here.

Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America
By Ijeoma Oluo

Following her insightful 2018 New York Times bestseller So You Want to Talk About Race, Oluo, also part of the 2018 class of The Root 100 and upcoming guest on our new weekly podcast, It’s Lit!, is coming for white male supremacy—what she calls “America’s oldest pyramid scheme”—with her new book, Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America. Due out in December, it explores how the white man-machine has plowed through every American era, destroyed Indigenous communities, oppressed anyone who isn’t white and male, and shaped the current state of education, housing, politics, and even professional sports.

“I do not believe that white men are born wanting to dominate. We need to do more than just break free of the oppression of white men. We also have to imagine a white manhood that is not based in the oppression of others,” Oluo writes. “We must start asking what we want white manhood to be, and what we will no longer accept.”

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Illustration for article titled Your Library Needs These 5 Books by and About Powerful Black Women
Screenshot: Harper, NewSouth Books

My Race to Freedom: A Life in the Civil Rights Movement 

By Gwendolyn Patton

Even after her parents moved from Alabama to Detroit during the Great Migration to avoid the tumult of the post-Reconstruction South, purpose called Dr. Gwendolyn Patton back. In her memoir about her work in the Civil Rights movement, she details her involvement with the Montgomery Improvement Association, Freedom Riders and the pivotal march from Selma to Montgomery. Patton was one of the women advancing the frontlines as a youth organizer in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Christian Leadership Council and later went on to become a founding member of the Black Alabama Democratic Conference. Following her passing in 2017, My Race to Freedom is a manifesto and first-person power account of a life lived in service to her community and the power of her people.

We’re Better Than This: My Fight for the Future of Our Democracy
By Elijah Cummings, James Dale and Maya Rockeymoore Cummings

Congressman Elijah Cummings was almost finished working on his book—half-memoir, half-call to action—when he passed away in October 2019. Instead of leaving it, his wife and former Maryland gubernatorial candidate Maya Rockeymoore Cummings guided its completion and wrote the afterward. We’re Better Than This follows Cummings’ life and career as a leader in his Maryland community and his determination to hold Donald Trump accountable to actions worthy of the highest political office.

“He would not be surprised by the hypocrisy and the make-the-rules-as-you-go-along. He would have been urging the people of America to be the heroes here,” Rockeymoore Cummings told April Ryan in a discussion about the book. “Donald Trump is a corrupt leader and he has to be defeated. It’s part of the reason why Elijah wrote this book in his final years. Understanding that the democracy was at stake, he put the country in front of his own health and dimming spirit.”

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