In honor of Black History Month I want to talk about a list of books on the black experience that were part of a structural injunction for Ohio's Marion Correctional Institution back in the early 1970s. I've been interested in this list for many, many years -- I think I first came across this around 1999 when I was working on Ralph Ellison (his book Invisible Man) was one of the books on the list.
What interests me are the books in that list and what they say about Black Power and the relationship between Black Power and the Civil Rights movement. I've blogged about this before, when I noted the key books on the list and note what was absent from it. But I've done a little more digging and have an essay about the books and what their contents tell us about the origins of Black Power in the pessimism that followed the Civil Rights movement's struggles and in Black Power's agenda, particularly as it related to the legal system.
The paper's up on ssrn now. Here's my abstract:
"Black Power in a Prison Library" focuses on a list of 90 books on the black experience in America that were ordered added to the Marion, Ohio Correctional Institution in 1972. It uses the list as a way of gauging what books the plaintiffs (and thus the court) thought were essential to telling the African American experience. And in that way, we can use the list to reconstruct the contours of the bibliographic world of the African American experience in the early 1970s. The list reflects an interest in history of slavery, Reconstruction and Jim Crow, the literature of the Harlem Renaissance, the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, and contemporary works on Black Power. Notably thin is prison literature. Together the books help form a picture of the critique of law made by Black Power writers and the ways those claims built on historical, sociological, and civil rights literature. The book list, thus, suggests some of the ways that books propagated and gave definition to Black Power claims.
The illustration is the cover of Julius Lester's Look out Whitey! Black Power's Gon' Get Your Mama, which has wonderfully vivid writing. I'd settled on this as one of my favorite introductions to Black Power before David Garrow said he thought it was one of the best works on Black Power. I found David's endorsement to be a great validation of my judgment!