The Way Home: Black History Month at Brazos Bookstore

Many of the books that Brazos Bookstore is highlighting this February through our events programming are about journeys. The roads we take get us to where we are, but we have to look back at them to understand how we got here, and to understand what we need to move forward. This is the spirit of the word Sankofa, a Twi word from the Akan people of Ghana, roughly translating to the phrase “Go back and get it.” It is an Adinkra symbol that has been adopted by Black American communities that means that it is very important to reflect on the past in order to have a successful future.

Award-winning illustrator Ashley Bryan’s memoir Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace tells the story of his time in the segregated army in World War II, about how drawing kept Ashley Bryan’s spirit alive as he served, even as he received horrible treatment from white officers. Drafted at 18 while studying at a New York City art college, drawing helped Bryan cope with the harsh realities of military life, from Boston to Scotland, to the rubble of Rouen and Le Havre. For a long time after the war, he didn’t talk about his experiences; he put away his drawings. Many decades later, he pulled them out again, finally ready to turn them into paintings, discovering that he’d in fact captured in them the beauty of Black camaraderie during wartime.

Making Our Way Home: The Great Migration and the Black American Dream by Blair Imani is a history of the Great Migration, when vast numbers of Black people chose to uproot themselves in search of economic opportunity and safety from the racist violence prevalent in the south. While they often found subtler forms of racism in the North and West, they also made community, and built art and civil rights movements that still impact American culture today. Through the graphic illustrations in the book Imani lifts up stories of LGBTQ and darker-skinned Black people, deepening the Great Migration narrative. The illustrations serve almost as a mirror as well, reflecting the vast spectrum of different kinds of Black people that have made Black American history what it is, while also rendering that history widely accessible and approachable. 

Stolen is the true story of five free boys in 19th century Philadelphia, lured by the promise of food and paid work, kidnapped into slavery in the South. Richard Bell’s book is well-researched, revealing complex capitalist motives that drove southern economics, as well as tracing out with empathy the journey the boys had to make to get back home. Stolen deepens the history of the American internal slave trade, bringing to light the lesser-known stories of kidnapping and human-trafficking that funnelled free Black people from the northern states into the economic machine of the Antebellum South. 

In The Overground Railroad Candacy Taylor talks about how Victor Hugo Green’s Green Book came to be, guiding Black Americans through the United States during the Jim Crow era, and listing thousands of Black-owned and Black-welcoming businesses. The guide showed them where they could visit rest-stops without harassment, eat in restaurants, sleep in hotels, and take hospitality and refuge while they were traveling. Taylor takes this history into the present day, by visiting and photographing the places that had been featured in the guide, and how those places have been changed by redlining and gentrification. At the sites that are still open, Taylor interviewed their owners and has petitioned for the preservation of the few sites still in operation, allowing them to continue celebrating Black history in America.

All of these stories are stories of journeys that Black American people have had to make to survive, but they are also about how they find ways to thrive, to make art, to overcome racial terror, and to succeed in spite of obstacles. They are about joy as well as pain. Celebrating Black lives must happen year-round if we want to imagine joyous, art-filled futures for our communities.

Infinite Hope: A Black Artist's Journey from World War II to Peace Cover Image
By Ashley Bryan, Ashley Bryan (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9781534404908
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books - October 15th, 2019

Making Our Way Home: The Great Migration and the Black American Dream Cover Image
By Blair Imani, Patrisse Cullors (Foreword by)
ISBN: 9781984856920
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Ten Speed Press - January 14th, 2020

Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home Cover Image
ISBN: 9781501169434
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: 37 Ink - October 15th, 2019

Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America Cover Image
ISBN: 9781419738173
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Abrams Press - January 7th, 2020

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