To meet the need for content related to racism, anti-racism, and Black voices, JSTOR has created a complementary, extensive open library to support readers and scholars seeking to engage with BIPOC+Q-authored reading lists, starting with a unique set of resources related to the Schomburg Center’s Black Liberation Reading List.
For 95 years, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem has preserved, protected, and fostered a greater understanding of the Black experience through its collections, exhibitions, programs, and scholarship. In response to uprisings across the globe demanding justice for Black lives, the Schomburg Center—part of The New York Public Library—created a Black Liberation Reading List, featuring 95 books that they and the public turn to regularly as activists, students, archivists, and curators. The Schomburg Center has also published smaller reading lists for teens and for kids.
In 1925, The New York Public Library’s 135th Street branch became the Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints and one year later purchased Afro-Puerto Rican activist and bibliophile Arturo Schomburg’s personal library of several thousand “vindicating evidences” of Black people’s contributions to the world. Ever since that time, the institution that became the Schomburg Center has been a hive of archives and activism. James Baldwin, whose The Fire Next Time graces the list, once said, “I went to the 135th Street library at least three or four times a week, and I read everything there. I mean, every single book in that library. In some blind and instinctive way, I knew that what was happening in those books was also happening all around me.”
Curated by Schomburg staff, the Black Liberation Reading List has a particular focus on books by Black writers and those whose papers are in the Schomburg Center’s robust collections, such as James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Ann Petry, Malcolm X, and Harry Belafonte. The Schomburg Center’s collections, which include manuscripts, photographs, rare books, film, and more, currently total over 11 million items.
For each of the 95 books on the Schomburg Center’s list, JSTOR’s new free resource provides unrestricted access to closely-related articles, book chapters, and other content. Our goal in creating this open library is to provide scholars, students, and the general public with free access to vital scholarship while amplifying the important work being done by the Schomburg Center to curate texts connected to the international discourse about the Black experience, anti-racism, and liberation.
JSTOR’s collection creates opportunities for new scholarly and creative connections. It puts Bettina L. Love’s 2017 article “Difficult Knowledge: When a Black Feminist Educator Was Too Afraid to #SayHerName” in conversation with Brittany Cooper’s 2018 book, Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower. Students of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community are invited to consider Clayborne Carson’s meditation on the “Paradoxes of King Historiography.” Readers of Amiri Baraka’s S O S: Poems 1961-2013 can read reflections on his artistic legacy in “An Interview with Ntozake Shange” by Marlon B. Ross.
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JSTOR’s open library provides access to book chapters, and in some cases, whole books, such as May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem by Imani Perry, listed in connection with her title on the Schomburg Center’s list, Breathe: A Letter to My Sons. The richest sub-collection in the resource includes more than 50 items released in relation to Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider, including several poems and interviews with Lorde herself. Another large trove of articles explores the life and legacy of Malcolm X, listed in connection to his Autobiography and Manning Marable’s biography, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. No such compilation can ever be complete, but JSTOR’s new resource hopes to be a generative contribution to the Schomburg Center’s popular reading list, deepening and expanding our collective engagement with Black creative and intellectual expression. We hope the list will be a useful resource for teachers, scholars, and lifelong learners and encourage you to share the full list—which is available in this Google doc—widely.