By Karen Williams
We’re witnessing a worldwide movement against police brutality, systemic racism, and oppression against black people in the United States. The protests, inspired by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery (to name a few), quickly went global, causing a renewed interest in books, art, and other creative works by and about black people in America. Many are seeking to educate themselves about black history and racism in the United States, and black bookstores, previously overlooked and under-appreciated outside of their communities, are winning wider recognition for their long-standing work in this area.
Three Reasons to Support Black Owned Bookstores
- Black bookstores have historically served as safe spaces and community gathering locations, especially for organizing political movements.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, many black bookstores provided families with access to books about black culture, black history, and the growing civil rights and Black Power movement. So much so that J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI encouraged the surveillance of Black independent booksellers.
Even today, African American bookstores continue to support emerging authors, independent writers, and minority owned publishing houses. You’ll typically find a robust calendar of book signings, poetry readings, literacy programs for children, and other events for book lovers of all races to enjoy and explore.
- The number of black bookstores is steadily declining in the United States.
Unfortunately, since their peak in the 1970s and 1980s, the number of African-American-owned bookstores has dropped significantly. The advent of online bookstores, widespread internet access and economic challenges are but a few factors contributing to this disturbing trend. Buying from black-owned bookstores is one way to show your support for black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs striving to leave a cultural legacy in their communities.
- You’ll find a wider selection of titles from Black authors, including independent writers and books from small publishing companies.
Depending on the book title and subject matter, you might have to search a little further than Amazon or your local chain bookstore to find lesser-known reads by and about African Americans.
During the American Booksellers Association’s 2020 Winter Institute keynote event “Bookselling and Liberation: Black Bookstores in America, from the ’60s to the Present,” Judy Richardson of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), explained how a book sales rep visiting her store was shocked to discover that she was in a black bookstore and that the book selection differed so greatly from what she typically encountered.
Black owned and independent bookstores are among America’s greatest cultural treasures, and supporting these businesses is just one small way you can support the black community and stand in solidarity for equality.