By Rachel Popa
Often, the best way to learn about a topic is to read about it. “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” “Between the World and Me” and “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” are excellent reads to learn more about the history of African Americans in the United States.
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot follows the true story of how in 1951, doctors took cancer cells from the cervix of a poor, black tobacco farmer named Henrietta Lacks and used them for research, cloning them hundreds of times – all without Lacks’ knowledge or permission. Meanwhile, Lacks endured harsh radiation treatment in the hospital’s “colored” ward.
Lacks’ cells, known by doctors around the globe as “HeLa” after Lacks’ initials, were used by scientists for cancer research because of their tendency to multiply rapidly. Lacks’ cells were so widely used that they had already been sent to space by the time her family found out about their use.
Skloot skillfully intertwines the complex themes of poverty, race and science in “Henrietta Lacks,” making it a must-read for Black History Month.
“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, winner of the National Book Award, highlights issues of race and oppression through letters from Coates to his son.
Coates, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, writes beautifully and profoundly in “Between the World and Me,” his message an important one to remember during Black History Month.
“The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” by Frederick Douglass has been required reading for many students across America, and for good reason. “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” published for the first time in 1845, is a first-hand account of Douglass’ experiences as a slave.
Douglass appeals to the reader by writing eloquently and starkly, allowing his experiences as a slave to speak for themselves. He points out the harsh irony and hypocrisy of American slavery, as well as the bittersweet reality of being “free.”
“Frederick Douglass” has not only earned its place as a must-read for Black History Month, but also as one of the most important pieces of African American literature in history.