What Would Harriet Tubman Do?

We the people have the potential to be the new abolitionists, advocates, and freedom writers that this moment demands.

“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.” – Harriet Tubman

A book cover with most of the text redacted and only the phrase watch your mouth visible.

Resistance comes in many forms, including in the books we choose to read. Photo by COVS97/Flickr.

So, dear readers — as I’m writing this, it’s Black History Month. And I always feel a way about that, particularly as an African American. This year, it’s hard not to be all up in my feelings as I bear witness to the attempted erasure of Black history — of American history — in some of our schools as topics like reparations and the Black Lives Matter movement are cut from African American history curriculums. The cuts follow threats by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to ban the curriculum entirely. But let me back up a bit.

Why do we even have Black History Month? Back in 1915, Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-educated historian, co-founded an organization now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Through that organization, Woodson lobbied hard to establish a Negro National History Week, which went live in 1926. Fifty years later, President Gerald Ford decreed that Black History Month was officially a time for the public to intentionally think about the experiences and accomplishments of African Americans as a way to redress past neglect.

According to History.com, the theme for this year’s Black History Month is “Black Resistance.” I was reminded of this when I saw a cartoon by Michael de Adder in a recent issue of the Washington Post. Under the heading “History Repeats,” the cartoon pictured a big crate with “Florida oranges” plastered on one side for all to see and was filled with books titled “Black History.” Two Black women, one with a smile on her face, comb through the crate. The title of the cartoon is “The New Underground Railroad.” Resistance comes in many forms. So, in the spirit of Harriet Tubman (‘cause I KNOW what she would do), I want to share with you some new and upcoming books about nature written by Black authors who share their love of all things green.

First up is Nature Swagger: Stories and Visions of Black Joy in the Outdoors, edited by the CEO and founder of Outdoor Afro, Rue Mapp. This book is filled with essays, poems, and photographs that illustrate what Mapp calls “Black joy.” It’s also an invitation for us all to, as Mapp puts it, “reconnect with nature, and write your own story and transform within it.”

Next up is A Darker Wilderness: Black Nature Writing from Soil to Stars, edited by Erin Sharkey. Kiese Laymon, the author of the memoir Heavy, states that “Erin Sharkey has created and assembled the most important anthology of the decade.” Appropriately, this gem dropped, with love, on Valentine’s Day.

Leah Penniman, co-founder of Soulfire Farm and the author of Farming While Black, has a new book, Black Earth Wisdom: Soulful Conversations with Black Environmentalists, that came out in February.

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Returning to history, Tiya Miles, a National Book Award winner, drops some knowledge with her new book, Wild Girls: How Time in Nature Forged the Women who Challenged a Nation, which will be available in September.

And to round it out, keep an eye out for Been Outside: Adventures of Black Women, Non-binary and Gender-nonconforming People in Nature edited by new voices Amber Wendler and Shaz Zamore, out this October. These essays are a nod to our future-present — who we are now on the trail and beyond.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list. (Please also check out works by Audrey Peterman, James Mills, and Camille Dungy, for example.) I chose these books in part because I was privileged to contribute in some small way to each project. Some may say that I’m being self-serving. I would respond, “You’re right.” Because this is my history. And resistance demands my participation. But here’s the thing: It’s your history, too. And by pushing Black history back to the dusty corners of the American experience — well, we all lose.

We the people have the potential to be the new abolitionists, advocates, and freedom writers that this moment demands. In the books I’ve shared here, the way we know and show up in Nature together and alone, in contrast and in sync, are not simply stories about Black experience, but reminders that the human experience is dense, varied, and rich. And I believe that’s a story we can all relate to. Don’t ever stop. Keep going.

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