Black-Owned Bookstores: Their Struggles for Survival and Revival
Recent scholarship has rediscovered the pioneering role of Black bookstores, an often-overlooked element in the story of Black community development and Black empowerment in the United States. The Stone Center’s 2019 African Diaspora Lecture and Roundtable brings together former and current bookstore owners from around the country and places them in conversation with activists and scholars who have examined their history. Black bookstores were central in the politics and activism of Black communities in the United States in the years leading up to the Civil Rights Movement and the subsequent development of other movements centered around Black Power, Black nationalism, Black Internationalism and Pan-Africanism. In the 1970’s and 1980’s Black feminists, as well as Black gay and lesbian activists/artists, also found Black bookstores to be a formidable weapon in fighting for recognition and rights. In many ways, these establishments became much more than depots for purchasing canonic and new writing from Black authors. Many quickly established themselves as cultural centers and political gathering places where the most important issues of the day were discussed debated and challenged. This last role contributed greatly to their coming to the attention of U.S. national intelligence agencies. The African Diaspora Lecture and Roundtable will feature a presentation by Professor Joshua C. Davis whose recent book, From Head Shops to Whole Foods: The Rise and Fall of Activist Entrepreneurs, includes a chapter entitled “Liberation Through Literacy: African American Bookstores, Black Power, and the Mainstreaming of Black Books”. Davis’ research included extensive review of FBI files and additional interviews with the owners of Black bookstores. His work, featured in the Atlantic (“The FBI's War on Black-Owned Bookstores”, February 19, 2018) concluded that there had been an organized campaign to undermine the key and central role of Black bookstores in Black community life. Davis will be joined by other scholars, current and former bookstore owners, and activists including: Michael Simanga, Clarence Lusane, Ed Vaughn, Paul Coates, Bro. Yao (Hoke S. Glover), Kalamu ya Salaam, and Lewis A. Brandon, III.