Black History Month is a life-giving banquet of black history, culture, literature, art, film, music, and theology. For black people in the US, it's a time of joy, pride, lament, and reflection. It's an imperative pause to honor the work, stories, and excellence of black people. Naturally, there's usually a massive surge in lists and resources highlighting the contributions of African American people in the US in February.
Beyond celebration, Black History Month is also a great time for white Christians to check our historical bias and expand our lens. However, the onslaught of easy-to-access think-pieces and listicles during February is not an excuse for March-to-January apathy. We have year-round work to do!
If we are serious about widening our historical narrative, addressing racial bias, and celebrating the history of African Americans in the US, our reading lists should reflect that commitment. So if you’re looking for a place to start, here are 8 books that Christians can pick up during or after Black History Month. Bonus: most of these resources specifically highlight the historical experiences and contributions of black women, so you can start celebrating Women's History Month a little early!
All books have been vetted and approved by CBE Bookstore staff and most can be purchased via CBE’s website.
1. When Momma Speaks: The Bible and Motherhood from a Womanist Perspective by Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder
“In When Momma Speaks, Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder provides an engaging womanist reading of mother characters in the Old and New Testaments. After providing a brief history of womanist biblical interpretation, she shows how the stories of several biblical mothers—Hagar, Rizpah, Bathsheba, Mary, the Canaanite woman, and Zebedee's wife—can be powerful sources for critical reflection, identification, and empowerment. Crowder also explores historical understandings of motherhood in the African American community and how these help to inform present-day perspectives.”
2. Empowerment Ethics for a Liberated People by Cheryl J. Sanders
“Cheryl Sanders sharpens the agenda of black liberation by offering both a fresh reading of historical black religion and a distinctive approach to Christian ethics. Arguing that the experience of oppression has been the catalyst for black moral life and thought, Sanders traces several paths that African American Christians have taken in moving from victimization to moral agency: testimony, protest, uplift, cooperation, achievement, remoralization, and ministry.”
3. Ministry at the Margins: The Prophetic Mission for Women, Youth, and the Poor by Cheryl J. Sanders
“For centuries women, youth, and the poor have been seen as objects of Christian ministry, but rarely as those who do ministry themselves. This is so much the case that in some quarters today ministry and mission are bad words, reeking of older and paternalistic models of Christian ‘service.’
In this challenging book, Cheryl Sanders demonstrates how mission can be updated. Far from being regressive or irrelevant in a multicultural, nonpatriarchal world, Christian mission can come alive when it is not just ministry to but ministry by marginalized groups seeking justice.”
4. An Introduction to Womanist Biblical Interpretation by Nyasha Junior
“An Introduction to Womanist Biblical Interpretation provides a much-needed introduction to womanist approaches to biblical interpretation. It argues that womanist biblical interpretation is not simply a byproduct of feminist biblical interpretation but part of a distinctive tradition of African American women's engagement with biblical texts. While womanist biblical interpretation is relatively new in the development of academic biblical studies, African American women are not newcomers to biblical interpretation."
This volume provides a history of feminist biblical interpretation and discusses the current state of womanist biblical interpretation as well as critical issues related to its development and future.”
5. Too Heavy A Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength by Chanequa Walker-Barnes
“Black women are strong. At least that's what everyone says and how they are constantly depicted. But what, exactly, does this strength entail? And what price do Black women pay for it?
The author traces the historical, social, and theological influences that resulted in the evolution and maintenance of the Strong Black Woman, including the Christian church, R & B and hip-hop artists, and popular television and film. Drawing upon womanist pastoral theology and twelve-step philosophy, she calls upon pastoral caregivers to aid in the healing of African American women's identities and crafts a twelve-step program for Strong Black Women in recovery.”
6. Daughters of Miriam: Women Prophets in Ancient Israel by Wilda C. Gafney
“Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, the ‘daughters who prophesy’ in Ezekiel and Joel… throughout Scripture, formative moments are marked by female prophets giving powerful voice to Yahwistic faith. In this probing study, Gafney examines historic prophetesses and their messages in Israel and surrounding ancient Near Eastern cultures; as well as in early and rabbinic Judaism.”
Editor's tip: Author Wilda C. Gafney is an expert in womanist midrash. Her interpretation of the biblical text is “rooted in the African American preaching tradition to tell the stories of a variety of female characters, many of whom are often overlooked and nameless.”
7. Silent Voices, Powerful Messages: The Historical Influence and Contribution of the African-American Experience in the Foursquare Gospel Movement by Doretha A. O'Quinn
“Silence Voices, Powerful Messages shares the insightful biographical life stories of the African-American pioneers of the Foursquare Movement. Dorthea A. O’Quinn has given the Pentecostal church a resounding call to listen to the powerful messages of these great patriarchs and matriarchs.”
Editor's tip: Pay special attention to the leadership of black women like Dorothy Lucile Hall and Lucile Marie Johnson.
8. The Women of Azusa Street by Estrelda Alexander
“The Women of Azusa Street pays tribute to several women who played a vital, yet often overlooked or downplayed role in the historiography regarding the 1906 Azusa Street Revival–the Los Angeles event that catapulted the then fledgling Pentecostal Movement into national prominence.”
Editor's tip: Pay special attention to coverage of the black women who shaped and led this revivial movement such as: Lucy Farrow, Ophelia Wiley, Jennie Evans Moore Seymour, and Emma Cotton.