Black authors, history explored through monthly book club at America’s Black Holocaust Museum

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Courtesy: ABHM

In November 2020, America’s Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee was doing what a lot of us were: trying to stay connected. So it started a monthly book club, leaning into an activity people could do from home at a time when many of them were searching for information.

“We [were] all going through this very isolating period and — at the same time with everything with George Floyd — this racial awakening, especially among white people who had not really picked up these books before and hadn’t really discussed these things at length,” ABHM Education and Research Coordinator Mia Phifer recalled. “So we really wanted to give a space where we could do that and have the historical context, too, behind these conversations.”

Two years later, the museum continues helping the public explore the writings of Black authors and history. Each book is chosen by ABHM staff, a volunteer coordinator and resident historian Dr. Robert Smith. The selection process started with titles readers were already gravitating to, including stories that directly impact Milwaukee.

ABHM First Book Club

One of their recent picks was Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America by Candacy Taylor, selected in conjunction with the Charles Allis Art Museum’s “Ghosts of Segregation” exhibit.

The book club was inspired by ABHM founder Dr. James Cameron, an avid reader, writer and educator. To this day, he is the only known survivor of a lynching attempt to write and publish a memoir about his experience.

“I think we’re still serving a really important need with the book club, and feedback has been great,” Phifer said. “And I hope we’re making the changes that we want that are aligned with our mission — talking about race, working towards reconciliation and healing, and basically starting these deep, hard-to-have conversations like Dr. Cameron would have when he had people coming in the museum and loaned them any of the books in his office.”

For November, the book club selected Death of Innocence by Mamie Till-Mobley and Christopher Benson. It’s the story of the murder of Emmett Till through the lens of his mother, Mamie. Phifer said ABHM chose the book to align with the release of the movie Till and its showings at the Oriental Theater through Milwaukee Film and Black Lens.

The next ABHM Book Club meeting is at 6 p.m. Nov. 17 via Zoom. You can register for the free event/conversation here.

Written by: Kim Shine

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