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Books that Shaped Work in America

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Book Recommendation

Ken Morris

Kenneth B. Morris, Jr.

Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives

As a direct descendant of both Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, I am profoundly aware that my ancestors were products of slavery. The story of Work in America cannot be told without talking about how its past was shaped by the peculiar institution. It is my hope that, with a better understanding of our history of slavery, we can work toward a future without it.

Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855). This edition of Douglass’s second autobiography is published by Yale University Press and Professor David Blight. Professor Blight is, I believe, the most knowledgeable and well-spoken scholar on the subject of my great great great grandfather, Frederick Douglass. Of the three Douglass autobiographies published, this is my favorite. It was the first book he wrote as a free man and not a fugitive slave. In this book, Douglass truly understands the meaning of freedom. This is the point in his life where he is emerging as the Great Abolitionist.

Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery (1901). This is more than just a title. My great great grandfather was the first African American to pragmatically address the future for his race after emancipation. And, Up From Slavery meant step-by-step training from the very basics of personal grooming to learning a trade and having a real stake in America’s growing economy.  This is the philosophy that made him the Great Educator. More than anyone that came before or after him, Washington defined Work in America for a free black population.

Alexander Tsesis, The Thirteenth Amendment and American Freedom (2004).  December 6, 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment.  Now, more than ever, it’s important to understand the meaning of the Thirteenth Amendment and the spirit in which it came to be. There’s no one who knows this subject better than Alexander Tsesis, Professor of Law at Loyola University in Chicago. This book tells you what the Thirteenth Amendment was meant to be and what it still can be for the future of human rights and contemporary slavery in the United States. 

Douglas Blackmon, Slavery By Another Name (2008). I grew up believing that slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil War and, of course, the Thirteenth Amendment. Douglas Blackmon guides us through the reality of emancipation for many black Americans shortly after the Civil War. What we find is that, though prohibited by law, the embers of slavery still burned in parts of this country. This is a must read for those wanting to know how a perversion of Work in America could still occur.

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow (2010). In my opinion, this is one of the most important books of the past decade. While the mission of the Thirteenth Amendment was to eliminate the vestiges and the remnants of slavery, Michelle Alexander reveals how policies of mass incarceration have turned the clock back to the days of Jim Crow, especially for young men of color. The author illustrates exactly how the unjust application of law may destroy the economic vitality and the very lives of an entire generation.

Kenneth B. Morris, Jr. is the President of Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives a public charity that addresses the issue of modern slavery through the institution of education.

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