Tuesday, January 24, 2012

African American History Month at The Urbana Free Library

African American History Month is an annual celebration of the achievements by black Americans and a time for reflecting on the central role of African Americans in U.S. history. As conceived by historian Carter G. Woodson, the idea of setting aside time to nationally recognize the importance of African American history began as black history week in 1926. Since 1976 every U.S. President has officially designated the month of February as black or African American history month. To commemorate the month this year, The Urbana Free Library is highlighting our collection of both fiction and non-fiction titles that illustrate and celebrate this rich history. We kick off the festivities with a look at two books on the civil rights movement and the multi-racial freedom riders of 1961:

Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice recounts how a group of volunteers--blacks and whites--came together to travel through the Deep South, defying Jim Crow laws in buses and terminals and putting their lives on the line for racial and social justice. News photographers captured the violence in Montgomery, shocking the nation, and sparking a crisis in the Kennedy administration. This expansive book is the first comprehensive work on the freedom riders by a professional historian, and is a compelling read to boot. A must-read for anyone with an interest in what these brave young people did to influence the national narrative on race and society.

The name, mug shot, and other personal details of each Freedom Rider arrested were duly recorded and saved by agents of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, an investigative agency whose purpose was to "perform all acts deemed necessary and proper to protect the sovereignty of the state of Mississippi." How the commission thought these details would actually protect the state is not clear,but what is clear, fifty years later, is that the careful recording of names and the preservation of mug shots inadvertently created a record and testament to these early heroes of the civil rights movement.

Breach of Peace:Portraits of the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Riders features over seventy contemporary photographs, alongside many of these original mug shots, along with exclusive interviews with former Freedom Riders.

“The interview excerpts bring to life the experience these people shared—not just the rides, the arrests, and the beatings but also, in many cases, the weeks or months they spent in jail afterwards....We learn what they were doing before the rides and what they have done since….[Etheridge’s] solid feel for his subject is evident throughout this marvelous, moving book.” (Hendrik Hertzberg - The New Yorker )

For more information on African American history month or on the freedom riders, check out these links:

African American history month at the Library of Congress

PBS documentary on the Freedom Riders

Stayed tuned for more highlights from The Urbana Free Library collection!

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