Honoring Black History Month with a love of books and legends
By Guest Columnist MIKE “STINGER” GLENN, former Atlanta Hawks basketball player, broadcaster, book collector and lover of history.
My love of books began with my mother, Annye Wilkes Glenn, my first and best teacher. Mom first taught me literacy by reading countless bedtime and daytime stories and feeding my inquisitive and developing mind with intrigue and fascinations.
Mom, who taught elementary school her entire career, was my teacher in the third, fourth, and fifth grades. Mrs. Glenn, as I was instructed to call her at school, mandated reading periods—even in the summertime for her children- and discussions of lessons learned. She would always ask me, “Michael, what lesson did you learn from the book that you read?”
I loved sports books, but I was not allowed to limit my selections to that one area. I read about inventors, explorers, presidents, national heroes, care givers, freedom fighters, educators, and others. My thoughts and aspirations expanded far beyond the boundaries of my small community in Cave Spring, Ga.
Mom’s favorite historical figure, who has also become mine, was Frederick Douglass. She would sometimes quote Douglass’ enslaver Hugh Auld, who shouted odious instructions concerning the educational protocol for Douglass and other enslaved Americans.
Auld shouted at his wife Sophia, who had taught a young Frederick Douglass some fundamentals of reading, “Learning will do him no good but a great deal of harm, making him disconsolate and unhappy…He should know nothing but the will of his master and learn to obey it…If you teach that n____r how to read, it will forever unfit him to be a slave.”
Mom would condense and clean up the language; she would say,” If you teach him how to read, it will forever unfit him to be a slave.”
Frederick Douglass considered Auld’s tirade as his first anti-slavery lecture. It flamed the fires of his curious mind and led him toward a life of freedom and literacy. Mom made sure that we understood how created a remarkable and historical life through knowledge and inspiration provided by reading.
My celebration of Black History Month this February centers on book collecting, a passion that I enjoy all year long. Each month of the past 13 years, I have commemorated Black history through collecting rare, first edition books and sharing the information and inspiration with others.
Black history is and should be an inseparable part of American and world history. I use my passion to break down walls, integrate, promote, and share.
While I collect books that concentrate on various areas of Black life and culture, history dominates my shelves. I view history as a teacher and a healer. All the effects of today are rooted in historical causes of yesterday. By over- emphasizing effects without connecting the causes, we embrace a historical amnesia that impedes our progress and greater humanity.
The first edition books, newspapers, and other documents of my collection contain the spirit of the time in which they were published with all of the customs, laws, and beliefs that may seem foreign today.
It was in 1997 when I was introduced to the world of rare and first edition books. It followed my passion for mathematics and basketball, having earned a B.A. degree in Mathematics from Southern Illinois University and having played 10 years of professional basketball in the NBA.
I then wrote and published my first book, Lessons in Success from the NBA’s Top Players. It included quotes from famous men and women throughout history.
While researching the quotes, I searched for the books that contained those quotes, and that led me to the world of rare and first edition books and I enthusiastically started collecting books.
I found myself a custodian of a people’s memory. I was connected in a new and spiritual way to the authors and subjects of these precious time period documents of American history. I could not escape the feeling that my new interest was more than a passion; it contained a purpose.
Through book collecting, I saw a great connection between the past and the present. I was digging deeper to uncover yesterday’s causes which led to effects of today. I understood William Faulkner’s words:
“The past is never dead, it isn’t even past.”
James Baldwin summarized my thoughts even better:
“History is not something merely to be read and it does not refer merely or even principally to the past. On the contrary the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us and are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.“
I developed great affection for Zora Neale Hurston and consider her my favorite author, other than Frederick Douglass. I feel like a student of W.E.B. Dubois — his genius, research, creative analysis, eloquence, and boldness helped to more accurately define Sociology and the Reconstruction period after the Civil War.
John Hope Franklin, Lerone Bennett, Carter G. Woodson became just a few of my new historical friends.
I am blessed to have one of the world’s great collectors of African American books, Charles Blockson, as a mentor and friend. He has revealed perspectives, dynamics, and directives of Black book collectors, past and present.
Blockson for more than 60 years sought out books, pamphlets, broadsides, engravings, and everything and anything relating to Black people of African descent. In 1984 he donated his collection of 20,000 items to Temple University and served as curator until his recent retirement of the collection that bears his name, The Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection.
As I was learning how and what to collect, he would advise and counsel me via the phone or in person from his Temple University office. At the end of each conversation, he would always say,” Keep collecting.” Blockson would advise me never to pay an exorbitant price for books.
“The books, at the right price, will find you,” Blockson said. He taught me that my quest was spiritual, and that I had been chosen to follow this particular path.
I discovered that early book collectors played a significant role in forming American foundations of education. Libraries and reading societies were formed or aided by the early American bibliophiles — lovers of books.
In 1815 former President Thomas Jefferson sold his entire collection, 6487, of books to the Library of Congress to help re-stock the shelves which had been destroyed during the War of 1812.
During much of the antebellum period, Philadelphia contained the largest free African American community in the United States. These individuals created institutions for the purpose of collectively challenging slavery and racism. They established churches, schools, literary societies, fraternal organizations, and businesses.
An early society for promoting education and literacy was founded by a group of free men of color in Philadelphia in 1828. The” Reading Room Society” had books donated by collectors/owners to be loaned to members of their group. In 1833 the Philadelphia Library Company of Colored Persons was established for similar reasons.
Black women, although excluded from many opportunities on the basis of race and gender, participated in the movement to empower the race through literacy. They organized a Female Literary Society in 1831.
I feel that I am in good company and traveling on an ordained path. Thanks for allowing me to share some of my passion with you. If you would like more, please visit my web site: www.mikeglenn.com.