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A GOOD READ: North American black history is offered in detail in books

Black History Month (or in the U.S.

Black History Month (or in the U.S., African-American History Month) has, in recent years, been the subject of a great deal of debate over whether or not the month-long celebration is the best way to honour the history, struggles and achievements of people of African descent.

It helps to remember that when African-American historian, author and journalist Carter G. Woodson started the celebration - as a week-long event - in February 1926, knowledge of black history among the general public and even among African-Americans was severely lacking: the view that the community had contributed anything valuable or important to society was pervasive.

Civil rights movements of all kinds owe much of their inspiration the black civil rights movements of the 1950s, '60s and beyond. The following books serve as excellent introductions to the many diverse philosophies and approaches that made up those movements.

The encyclopedic Civil Rights Chronicle: The African-American Struggle for Freedom is a movement timeline running from the early pre-20th century struggles through those of the first half of the last century, the Great Depression, the Second World War, the 1950s and 1960s, and the more recent events of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. With a forward by Myrlie Evers-Williams (widow of the slain NAACP member Medgar Evers), Civil Rights Chronicle is an eye-opener for anyone interested in learning about the civil rights movement's central place in history.

Back in the late 1980s, the Henry Hampton-produced PBS documentary series Eyes on the Prize garnered much praise for its examination of the long and difficult road the civil rights movement travelled in the middle of that century. Hampton, who died in 1998, and Steve Fayer also wrote the companion book Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of Civil Rights Movement from the 1950s through the 1980s. Taken from the interview transcripts of the documentary, Voices of Freedom provides an in-depth view of the movement from the ground.

Powerful Days: The Civil Rights Photography of Charles Moore features images from some of the pivotal events of the 1960s movements in the American south. These include Birmingham in 1963 and the Selma March in 1965. Moore's images alternate between chilling and awe-inspiring.

A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., edited by historian James M. Washington, reveals Dr. King to have been a much more complex thinker and activist than as has been commonly remembered. This book collects his writings on the subjects of non-violence, racial integration and self-determination, his famous sermons and public addresses ("I Have a Dream", the anti-war "A Time to Break the Silence" and his last, "I See the Promised Land"), his major essays ("Letter from Birmingham City Jail") as well as the text of his interviews with the press and his books. A Testament of Hope may leave you with a new and more complete view of one of history's major public figures.

Next to the American civil rights movement, the Canadian civil rights movement gets comparatively less airtime and ink. Writer and historian John Cooper examines the campaign against racial discrimination and segregation in Dresden, Ont. in his children's book (aimed at a middle school audience) Season of Rage: Hugh Burnett and the Struggle for Civil Rights. Cooper covers the history of slavery in the United States and Canada, the Underground Railroad, the history of racism in Ontario and the formation of the Dresden-based National Unity Association. Season of Rage is highly educational for those wanting to know more about the struggle for black civil rights in Canada.

Check any of these books, and others on black history, at your local library.

A Good Read is a column by Tri-City librarians that is published every Wednesday. Jason Colantonio works at Coquitlam Public Library.