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7 classics to mark the American civil rights movement

A selection of celebrated classics to mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s death and the American civil rights movement

The Light of Truth

Ida B. Wells

In this collection, Wells's anti-lynching crusade comes alive. Through brilliant social analysis, she exposed lynching as part of a larger framework of subjugation in which white people used violence as a deliberate tactic to combat black economic progress in the southern USA. Wells won international renown for her investigative journalism, leading her on lecture tours around the Northern States and Europe, where she rallied support against lynching. Wells established herself as an advocate for social justice and human dignity by combining irrefutable evidence with deeply personal emotional appeal.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Malcolm X

Vilified by his critics as an anti-white demagogue, Malcolm X gave a voice to unheard African-Americans, bringing them pride, hope and fearlessness, and remains an inspirational and controversial figure.

This autobiography (written with Alex Haley) reveals his quick-witted integrity, usually obscured by batteries of frenzied headlines, and the fierce idealism which led him to reject both liberal hypocrisies and black racialism.

Why We Can't Wait

Martin Luther King Jr.

'Lightning makes no sound until it strikes'

This is the momentous story of the Civil Rights movement, told by one of its most powerful and eloquent voices, Martin Luther King, Jr. Here King recounts the pivotal events in the city of Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 that propelled his non-violent campaign for racial justice from lunch counter sit-ins to a phenomenon that 'rocked the richest, most powerful nation to its foundations'.

Why We Can't Wait is both a unique document of American history and an enduring testament to the wise, courageous and endlessly hopeful vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Fire Next Time

James Baldwin

'We, the black and the white, deeply need each other here if we are really to become a nation'

James Baldwin's impassioned plea to 'end the racial nightmare' in America was a bestseller when it appeared in 1963, galvanising a nation and giving voice to the emerging civil rights movement. Told in the form of two intensely personal 'letters', The Fire Next Time is at once a powerful evocation of Baldwin's early life in Harlem and an excoriating condemnation of the terrible legacy of racial injustice.

Passing

Nella Larsen

A classic novel that has been at the heart of racial identity discourse in America for almost a century.

Clare Kendry leads a dangerous life. Fair, elegant, and ambitious, she is married to a white man unaware of her African American heritage. Clare's childhood friend, Irene Redfield, just as light-skinned, has chosen to remain within the African American community, but refuses to acknowledge the racism that continues to constrict her family's happiness. A chance encounter forces both women to confront the lies they have told others-and the secret fears they have buried within themselves.

Mumbo Jumbo

Ishmael Reed

America, 1920s. A plague is spreading, and it's spreading fast, from New Orleans to Chicago to New York.

It's an epidemic of freedom, joy and self-expression, being spread by Black artists, that makes anyone who catches it desperate to dance, sing, laugh and jive. It's the outbreak of Jazz, Ragtime and Blues; the spirit of Blackness overtaking America and the world. And it's threatening to dismantle the whole social order. Working to root out the plague by any means possible - even murder - are the members of The Wallflower Order, an international conspiracy dedicated to puritanism and control. But, deep in the heart of Harlem, private eye and Vodun priest Papa LaBas is determined to defend his flourishing ancient culture against their insidious plans.

The Constitution of the United States

Enshrining the fundamental rights and freedoms of its citizens in law, and curbing the power of those who rule them, the US constitution is one of the most significant documents in the history of democracy.

Part of Penguin's Little Black Classics series.

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