Recommended Reading for the 150th Speaker Series

Richmond’s Unhealed History by Ben Campbell

The history of Richmond, Virginia, encapsulates the history of the nation itself. For that reason, Richmond's story, or parts of it, has been the subject of hundreds of books, articles, and scholarly papers. Yet, no one has examined this history through the lens of Christian ethics—at least, not until Episcopalian priest, the Reverend Benjamin Campbell. Writing as a local pastor, theologian, and modern-day prophet, he exposes the ugly truth of Richmond’s past and how the injustices of earlier periods haunt metropolitan Richmond today. Yet, he argues, what better place than Richmond for those unaware of the truth, those scarred by it, and those who deny it to listen to each other and engage in an honest conversation about the past and the inequities that divide the city today. Could not Richmond, Campbell asks, model for the rest of the country how truth-telling can lead to redemption and reconciliation? This is a unique book that should be required reading for every Richmonder, better yet, every American. —John V. Moeser, Senior Fellow, Bonner Center for Civic Engagement, University of Richmond, Professor Emeritus of Urban Studies and Planning, Virginia Commonwealth University

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Once in a great while a book comes along that changes the way we see the world and helps to fuel a nationwide social movement. The New Jim Crow is such a book. Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as "brave and bold," this book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that "we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it." By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, this book is a "call to action."

Between the World and Me by Te-Nehisi Coates

Hailed by Toni Morrison as “required reading,” a bold and personal literary exploration of America’s racial history by “the single best writer on the subject of race in the United States” (The New York Observer)

“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

Ferguson & Faith: Sparking Leadership & Awakening Faith by Leah Gunning Francis

The 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO, ignited a movement focused on criminal justice, race relations, economic disparity, and many more inequalities.  Among the many newly recognized leaders in the movement were St. Louis area clergy.  Leah Gunning Francis was among those religious leaders, and her interviews with more than two dozen clergy takes us behind the scenes of the protests' violent birth and the longer reconciliation the area faces in the wake of Brown's death—demonstrating that being called to lead a faithful life can take us to places we never expected. 

Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman

In this classic theological treatise, the acclaimed theologian and religious leader Howard Thurman (1900-1981) demonstrates how the gospel may be read as a manual of resistance for the poor and disenfranchised. Jesus is a partner in the pain of the oppressed and the example of His life offers a solution to ending the descent into moral nihilism. Hatred does not empower—it decays. Only through self-love and love of one another can God's justice prevail.

Gather at the Table by Thomas DeWolf and Sharon Morgan

Two people—a black woman and a white man—confront the legacy of slavery and racism head-on

“We embarked on this journey because we believe America must overcome the racial barriers that divide us, the barriers that drive us to strike out at one another out of ignorance and fear. To do nothing is unacceptable.”

Sharon Leslie Morgan, a black woman from Chicago’s South Side avoids white people; they scare her. Despite her trepidation, Morgan, a descendent of slaves on both sides of her family, began a journey toward racial reconciliation with Thomas Norman DeWolf, a white man from rural Oregon who descends from the largest slave-trading dynasty in US history. Over a three-year period, the pair traveled thousands of miles, both overseas and through twenty-seven states, visiting ancestral towns, courthouses, cemeteries, plantations, antebellum mansions, and historic sites. They spent time with one another’s families and friends and engaged in deep conversations about how the lingering trauma of slavery shaped their lives.

Gather at the Table is the chronicle of DeWolf and Morgan’s journey. Arduous and at times uncomfortable, it lays bare the unhealed wounds of slavery. As DeWolf and Morgan demonstrate, before we can overcome racism we must first acknowledge and understand the damage inherited from the past—which invariably involves confronting painful truths. The result is a revelatory testament to the possibilities that open up when people commit to truth, justice, and reconciliation. DeWolf and Morgan offer readers an inspiring vision and a powerful model for healing individuals and communities.