Iman PerryThe new book “South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation” debuted this week at No. 6 on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list.
In a February 2 video interview with Essence magazine, Perry spoke to why teaching black history in schools is crucial. In its new newsletterUnstable Territoryfor The Atlantic, Perry takes readers on a travels through culture, law, history, literature and politics, and also shares his personal reflections.
Here, Perry, who is the Professor Hughes-Rogers of African American Studies at Princeton University, offers thoughts and insights on Black History Month, plus recommended reading, music, documentaries and more. Below is a list of university programs, events and resources that recognize and celebrate black history throughout the month of February and beyond.
What do you think of the continued necessity and vitality of Black History Month as a commemoration and reminder to expand our knowledge?
Black History Month began as Black History Week. It was officially started by the great scholar, educator, publisher and organizer, Carter G. Woodson in 1926, but it followed a tradition established by black teachers in the segregated south of using the week-long Abraham’s birthday celebrations Lincoln and Frederick Douglass to commemorate significant people and events in black history, both domestically and globally. It was a magnificent tradition that grew in defiance of this country’s standard narrative that held that black people had contributed nothing of value to human civilization.
In 2022, we find ourselves in a period where there is a concerted effort to remove black people from the history of this country and instead turn to a mythological representation of the country. So, it is absolutely clear that we still have to challenge the false stories that exclude the fabric of who has been here, and what has happened. But also, telling the story of resilience and the social, political and intellectual traditions, imaginations and events that have developed among people who have been left out of full citizenship is important for imagining how we continue to seek justice.
Help us focus on what we might be reading, watching, and listening to right now.
I’ll start by saying that all of the professors in the Department of African American Studies at Princeton have written incredible books and articles that are among the most distinguished works in the history of black studies, so check it out look at their work.
Read: I specifically encourage people to read and contemplate Toni Morrison’s classic short story “Recitative,” which was recently released as a standalone book. It’s a compelling story about two girls, one white and one black, who are not racially identified. And it helps us understand how race operates consistently, without the explicit mention of race, in people’s minds as well as in the social landscape.
Look: The 1964 film, “Nothing but a Man,” starring Ivan Dixon and Abbey Lincoln, is set outside my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, and it powerfully depicts the impact of hard work and Jim Crow on the family and love. It’s a film about gender, race, class and intimacy all at once.
Read: Kiese Laymon’s recently reissued novel “Long Division” is a masterful speculative work on what it means to come of age on the basis of slavery and the civil rights movement, which captures both intimacy across the line of color in the South and the wounds of history.
Listen: Stevie Wonder’s 1976 double album “Songs in the Key of Life” is arguably his greatest work, and it shows its breadth and depth. The content is political, romantic, moving. Wonder experiments with electronics and composition while maintaining his blues sensibility. And for students who want a sense of the world of the 70s, this is the perfect album to take you back to that era.
Look: Romare Bearden, one of the great visual artists of the 20th century, had a documentary about his life produced in 1980 titled “Bearden plays Bearden” which is available on YouTube. It is a magnificent portrait of his life and work, between North Carolina and New York and beyond, and includes other luminaries who were his friends, including Albert Murray, James Baldwin and Alvin Ailey. I especially love how it captures the way artists are social historians and critics.
Read: Margaret Walker is one of my literary heroines. She was born in Birmingham, participated in the Chicago revival, and had a long career as a researcher and educator at Jackson State University. His poem “For My People” is, to me, the most resonant work of art when it comes to the history of black American life. It is at once descriptive, instructive and spiritual.
University Events and Resources
This list will be updated throughout the month of February. Please note that most virtual events require a Princeton University netID to register.
- In progress: Black History Month Events Hosted by the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understandingincluding:
- Learn to write + perform poetry and speech with Roya Marsh
- Considering Black Liberation and Indigenous Sovereignty
- black queer stories
- Community care and masculinity
- 21 Jan-Feb 13: McCarter Theater Musical “Dreaming Zenzile,” about South African musical legend and activist Miriam Makeba, with four Princeton alumni: Lileana Blain-Cruz ’06 (director), Abigail Jean-Baptiste ’18 (associate director), Talvin Wilks ’85 (playwright) and Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa ’14 (distributor).
- February 4: Department of History Virtual Workshop”Slavery and resistance in 17th century England: revolution from yesterday to today.”
- February 4: Department of History Virtual Workshop on African History »Speaking as a Colonial State: Mass Broadcasting and the Language of Development in Northern Rhodesia, 1941-1963.”
- February 8:Bad Fat Black Girl: Notes from a Trapped Feministhosted by the Gender and Sexuality Resource Centre.
- February 10: Princetonians of Color Network virtual chat with local resident Shirley Satterfield.
- February 16:Read Till You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature”, hosted by The Graduate School.
- February 24:The Black Church: Current Challenges and Lasting Hope,” hosted by the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions.
- February 24: “Tribute to Bell Hooks: Reflections on its Pedagogical Legacy“, organized by the Department of African American Studies.
- February 25: Intersections Task Force: The Race, Difference and Social Justice Lecture Series features Professor Malik Gaines organized by the Department of African American Studies.
Other resources and websites:
Emily Aronson contributed to this story.