On this Juneteenth, educate yourself on the Black experience with these book recommendations from locals

As anti-police brutality protests of all shapes and sizes continue into their third week in Long Beach, demonstrators have not only taken to the streets but dove into books to educate themselves on the Black experience, struggle and history, as have those who have watched the extraordinary events of the past few weeks.

In recognition of Juneteenth, which celebrates the end of slavery with education and reflection, we’ve reached out to local scholars and bookstore owners for their recommendations on a wide variety of topics, including revolutionary content, ancient civilizations and systemic oppression.

If you didn’t know, Juneteenth commemorates the day news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached Texas on June 19, 1865.

Max and Femi Viltz of Village Treasures, 247 E. Broadway

Though Village Treasures doesn’t really sell books—it is a gift and boutique shop filled with authentic African and world imports—Max and Femi have decades-worth of knowledge and thus a long list of book recommendations. At one point, they led study groups locally after getting inspiration from a 1988 trip to Egypt. They are currently part of the African American Cultural Center committee which is working to create a physical space in the city.

A selection of recommended books by Max and Femi Viltz of Village Treasures in Long Beach. Photo by Stephanie Rivera.

  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley
  • The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Goodwin Woodson
  • Christopher Columbus and the Afrikan Holocaust: Slavery and the Rise of European Capitalism by John Henrik Clarke
  • Wonderful Ethiopians of the Ancient Cushite Empire by Drusilla Dunjee Houston
  • Introduction to African Civilizations by John G. Jackson
  • Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race from 4500 B.C. to 2000 A.D. by Chancellor Williams
  • Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America: The Class Account of the Struggles and Triumphs of Black Americans by Lerone Bennett. Jr.
  • There Is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America by Vincent Harding
  • Capitalism and Slavery by Eric Williams
  • How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney
  • Intellectual Warfare by Jacob H. Carruthers (this recommendation is for advanced readers and also includes resources)

Renee Quarles of Shades of Afrika, 1001 E. 4th St.

Renee sells everything from body oils, African art, beauty supplies and lots of books written about the Black experience and beyond. Those books have been flying off the shelves, so be aware that some of her recommendations may be in limited supply. “Publishers are scrambling to reprint,” Quarles said. Children’s books have also been popular recently. Quarles said since schools physically closed in March, she has had parents coming in wanting to purchase books for their kids.

Books for sale at Shades of Africa in Long Beach. Photo by Stephanie Rivera.

  • A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
  • Message to the Millennials by Bro. Rizza Islam
  • Blood in My Eye by George L. Jackson
  • Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Y. Davis
  • Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton
  • Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael
  • The New Black Power: A Collection of Essays by The People’s Scholar, Dr. Boyce Watkins
  • Understanding the Assault on the Black Man, Black Manhood and Black Masculinity by Wesley Muhammad
  • Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen
  • Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism by James W. Loewen
  • A Black History Reader: 101 Question You Never Thought to Ask by Dr. Claud Anderson

Senay Kenfe of Play Nice, 1029 E. Fourth St. 

Local artist and activist Senay Kenfe, part owner of the vintage clothing store, has been selling books online despite the temporary closure of Play Nice due to the coronavirus pandemic.

  • They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America by Ivan Van Sertima
  • The Assassination of Malcolm X by George Breitman, Herman Porter and Baxter Smith
  • How to Eat to Live – Book One: From God In Person, Master Fard Muhammad by Elijah Muhammad
  • Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
  • Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century by Kehinde Andrews

Jhoanna Belfer of Bel Canto Books, 2122 E. Fourth St.

Jhoanna Belfer not only owns a bookstore but is known for her exceptional talent of recommending books based on people’s tastes. She has provided us with Black-authored fiction and a link to the Black History Month Essential read on her Bookshop partner page. Find it here.

  • For lovers of historical fiction: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
  • For lovers of family sagas: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  • For lovers of sci-fi/fantasy: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Note: Some of these books may not be readily available in print due to high demand.

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