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Women’s History Month: Roland’s Book Club Selections

In honor of Women’s History Month, here are ten #rolandsbookclub selections that you ought to check out!

Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision

Barbara Ransby  

One of the most important African American leaders of the twentieth century and perhaps the most influential woman in the civil rights movement, Ella Baker (1903-1986) was an activist whose remarkable career spanned fifty years and touched thousands of lives.

A gifted grassroots organizer, Baker shunned the spotlight in favor of vital behind-the-scenes work that helped power the black freedom struggle. She was a national officer and key figure in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and a prime mover in the creation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Baker made a place for herself in predominantly male political circles that included W. E. B. DuBois, Thurgood Marshall, and Martin Luther King Jr., all the while maintaining relationships with a vibrant group of women, students, and activists both black and white.

In this deeply researched biography, Barbara Ransby chronicles Baker’s long and rich political career as an organizer, an intellectual, and a teacher, from her early experiences in depression-era Harlem to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Ransby shows Baker to be a complex figure whose radical, democratic worldview, commitment to empowering the black poor, and emphasis on group-centered, grassroots leadership set her apart from most of her political contemporaries. Beyond documenting an extraordinary life, the book paints a vivid picture of the African American fight for justice and its intersections with other progressive struggles worldwide across the twentieth century.

Purchase On Amazon.com


Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC
Faith S. Holsaert, Martha Prescod Norman Noonan, Judy Richardson and Betty Garman Robinson

In Hands on the Freedom Plow, fifty-two women–northern and southern, young and old, urban and rural, black, white, and Latina–share their courageous personal stories of working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement.

The testimonies gathered here present a sweeping personal history of SNCC: early sit-ins, voter registration campaigns, and freedom rides; the 1963 March on Washington, the Mississippi Freedom Summer, and the movements in Alabama and Maryland; and Black Power and antiwar activism. Since the women spent time in the Deep South, many also describe risking their lives through beatings and arrests and witnessing unspeakable violence. These intense stories depict women, many very young, dealing with extreme fear and finding the remarkable strength to survive.

The women in SNCC acquired new skills, experienced personal growth, sustained one another, and even had fun in the midst of serious struggle. Readers are privy to their analyses of the Movement, its tactics, strategies, and underlying philosophies. The contributors revisit central debates of the struggle including the role of nonviolence and self-defense, the role of white people in a black-led movement, and the role of women within the Movement and the society at large.

Each story reveals how the struggle for social change was formed, supported, and maintained by the women who kept their “hands on the freedom plow.” As the editors write in the introduction, “Though the voices are different, they all tell the same story–of women bursting out of constraints, leaving school, leaving their hometowns, meeting new people, talking into the night, laughing, going to jail, being afraid, teaching in Freedom Schools, working in the field, dancing at the Elks Hall, working the WATS line to relay horror story after horror story, telling the press, telling the story, telling the word. And making a difference in this world.”

Purchase On Amazon.com

Open Wide The Freedom Gates: A Memoir
Dorothy Height  

A heroine of the Civil Rights Movement tells the remarkable story of her life, her work, and what it means to be both black and a woman. Dorothy Height led the National Council of Negro Women for forty-one years. Her counsel was sought by presidents from Eisenhower to Clinton, who recognized her tireless work with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Purchase On Amazon.com 

Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America
Charisse Jones and Kumea Shorter-Gooden

Based on the African American Women’s Voices Project, Shifting reveals that a large number of African American women feel pressure to com-promise their true selves as they navigate America’s racial and gender bigotry. Black women “shift” by altering the expectations they have for themselves or their outer appearance. They modify their speech. They shift “White” as they head to work in the morning and “Black” as they come back home each night. They shift inward, internalizing the searing pain of the negative stereotypes that they encounter daily. And sometimes they shift by fighting back.With deeply moving interviews, poignantly revealed on each page, Shifting is a much-needed, clear, and comprehensive portrait of the reality of African American women’s lives today.

Purchase On Amazon.com   

Living Islam Out Loud American Muslim Women Speak
Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur  

Living Islam Out Loud presents the first generation of American Muslim women who have always identified as both American and Muslim. These pioneers have forged new identities for themselves and for future generations, and they speak out about the hijab, relationships, sex and sexuality, activism, spirituality, and much more.Contributors: Su’ad Abdul-Khabeer, Sham-e-Ali al-Jamil, Samina Ali, Sarah Eltantawi, Yousra Y. Fazili, Suheir Hammad, Mohja Kahf, Precious Rasheeda Muhammad, Asra Q. Nomani, Manal Omar, Khalida Saed, Asia Sharif-Clark, Khadijah Sharif-Drinkard, Aroosha Zoq Rana, Inas Younis

Purchase On Amazon.com 

Jewels: 50 Phenomenal Black Women Over 50
Michael Cunningham and Connie Briscoe 

Photographer Michael Cunningham (coauthor of Crowns) and author Connie Briscoe, a New York Times bestselling novelist, profile 50 women over the age of 50 who have been remarkably successful–whether in reaching the top of the corporate ladder, finding fame in politics or the arts, or raising a son to be proud of a single mother–and reveal the ways that they have prevailed despite daunting obstacles. Their stories are paired with Cunningham’s intimate portraits of the women.

JEWELS includes well-known and little-known women alike, from teachers and executives to artists, authors, and entertainers. Among the celebrities profiled in the book are Ruby Dee, Eleanor Holmes Norton, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Marion Wright Edelman. Coauthor Connie Briscoe also appears here as one of the featured Jewels, telling her inspiring personal story. World-renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist, and educator Nikki Giovanni contributes an original poem to the book.
Purchase On Amazon.com 

Storming Caesar’s Palace: How Black Mothers Fought Their Own War on Poverty
Annelise Orleck

In Storming Caesars Palace, historian Annelise Orleck tells the compelling story of how a group of welfare mothers built one of this country’s most successful antipoverty programs. Declaring “We can do it and do it better,” these women proved that poor mothers are the real experts on poverty. In 1972 they founded Operation Life, which was responsible for many firsts for the poor in Las Vegas-the first library, medical center, daycare center, job training, and senior citizen housing. By the late 1970s, Operation Life was bringing millions of dollars into the community. These women became influential in Washington, DC-respected and listened to by political heavyweights such as Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Ted Kennedy, and Jimmy Carter. Though they lost their funding with the country’s move toward conservatism in the 1980s, their struggles and phenomenal triumphs still stand as a critical lesson about what can be achieved when those on welfare chart their own course.

Purchase On Amazon.com 

Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC
Faith S. Holsaert, Martha Prescod Norman Noonan, Judy Richardson and Betty Garman Robinson

In Hands on the Freedom Plow, fifty-two women–northern and southern, young and old, urban and rural, black, white, and Latina–share their courageous personal stories of working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement.

The testimonies gathered here present a sweeping personal history of SNCC: early sit-ins, voter registration campaigns, and freedom rides; the 1963 March on Washington, the Mississippi Freedom Summer, and the movements in Alabama and Maryland; and Black Power and antiwar activism. Since the women spent time in the Deep South, many also describe risking their lives through beatings and arrests and witnessing unspeakable violence. These intense stories depict women, many very young, dealing with extreme fear and finding the remarkable strength to survive.

The women in SNCC acquired new skills, experienced personal growth, sustained one another, and even had fun in the midst of serious struggle. Readers are privy to their analyses of the Movement, its tactics, strategies, and underlying philosophies. The contributors revisit central debates of the struggle including the role of nonviolence and self-defense, the role of white people in a black-led movement, and the role of women within the Movement and the society at large.

Each story reveals how the struggle for social change was formed, supported, and maintained by the women who kept their “hands on the freedom plow.” As the editors write in the introduction, “Though the voices are different, they all tell the same story–of women bursting out of constraints, leaving school, leaving their hometowns, meeting new people, talking into the night, laughing, going to jail, being afraid, teaching in Freedom Schools, working in the field, dancing at the Elks Hall, working the WATS line to relay horror story after horror story, telling the press, telling the story, telling the word. And making a difference in this world.”

Purchase On Amazon.com

My Face Is Black Is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations
Mary Frances Berry 

“My face is black is true but its not my fault but I love my name and my honest dealing with my fellow man.” –Callie House (1899)In this groundbreaking book, acclaimed historian Dr. Mary Frances Berry resurrects the remarkable story of ex-slave Callie House (1861-1928) who, seventy years before the civil-rights movement, headed a demand for ex-slave reparations. A widowed Nashville washerwoman and mother of five, House went on to fight for African American pensions based on those offered to Union soldiers, brilliantly targeting $68 million in taxes on seized rebel cotton and demanding it as repayment for centuries of unpaid labor. Here is the fascinating story of a forgotten civil rights crusader: a woman who emerges as a courageous pioneering activist, a forerunner of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Purchase On Amazon.com

Queen: The Life and Music of Dinah Washington
Nadine Cohodas

Queen is the landmark biography of the brief, intensely lived life and soulful music of the great Dinah Washington.A gospel star at fifteen, she was discovered by jazz great Lionel Hampton at eighteen, and for the rest of her life was on the road, playing clubs, or singing in the studio–making music one way or another.Dinah’s tart and heartfelt voice quickly became her trademark; she was a distinctive stylist, crossing over from the “race” music category to the pop and jazz charts. Known in her day as Queen of the Blues and Queen of the Juke Boxes, Dinah was regarded as that rare “first take” artist, her studio recordings reflecting the same passionate energy she brought to the stage. As Nadine Cohodas shows us, Dinah suffered her share of heartbreak in her personal life, but she thrived on the growing audience response that greeted her signature tunes: “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes,” “Evil Gal Blues,” and “Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes),” with Brook Benton. She made every song she sand her own. Dinah lives large in these pages, with her seven marriages; her penchant for clothes, cars, furs, and diets; and her famously feisty personality–testy one moment and generous the next. This biography, meticulously researched and gracefully written, is the first to draw on extensive interviews with family members and newly discovered documents. It is a revelation of Dinah’s work and her life. Cohodas captures the Queen in all her contradictions, and we hear in this book the voice of a natural star, born to entertain and to be loved.

Purchase On Amazon.com  

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