In one of my talks during the Rosh Hashanah service I discussed the stunning new book on race relations by journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates entitled Between the World and Me, which was written as a letter to his 15-year-old son Samori. It discusses America’s history of racial violence and explores what it is like to inhabit a black body in this country.
Over the summer and before the holidays I read two other heartbreaking books which I consider required reading.
The first was Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon. This book brings to light one of the most shameful chapters in American history — that we’re not taught in school but ought to be — about how oppression of African-Americans continued and was perpetuated long after the Civil War.
I also read Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson, which describes the widespread unfairness in the justice system. It focuses on the plight of men and women on death row who got there because of a miscarriage of justice. It also highlights the horrible situation of thousands of people who committed crimes as children and were then sentenced to live the rest of their lives in prison. The accounts are heartbreaking and full of anguish, and are only relieved by Stevenson’s heroic efforts, and those of his colleagues in the Equal Justice Initiative which he founded, to get verdicts overturned and people off death row.
These books are not easy to read. They are terribly unsettling and upsetting. But they need to be read, we need to educate ourselves to hard truths. Please then do what I am doing now. Please tell your friends and family to do the same thing.