Black History Month Series: Non-Fiction

Our Black History Month series returns with a focus on non-fiction: from the history of Black train porters that partially inspired a Giller-winning novel, to the debut essay collection from a celebrated poet, to biographies of Black sports stars and revolutionaries, to a scholarly tome on Black radical politics.

Black History Month Series: non-fiction.


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They Call Me George: The Untold History of Black Train Porters and the Birth of Modern Canada by Cecil Foster (Biblioasis)

The cover of They Call Me George by Cecil Foster.

Cited as one of the references in Suzette Mayr’s Giller Prize-winning novel The Sleeping Car Porter, They Call Me George chronicles the real-life history of Black train porters in Canada. The Canadian railways’ practice of hiring Black men as porters began in the late 19th century during the heyday of rail travel, and lasted all the way through to the mid-1950s. Porters were held to nigh-impossible standards – a passenger missing their stop was a fireable offense, for example – and subject to racial discrimination and mockery by passengers, their employers, and wider Canadian society. Their struggle against that discrimination helped pave the way for a more multicultural Canada.

Find They Call Me George here on All Lit Up.

Redemption Ground: Essays and Adventures by Lorna Goodison (Véhicule Press)

The cover of Redemption Ground by Lorna Goodison.

The award-winning Jamaican-Canadian poet Lorna Goodison taps into both her personal life and political perspectives for Redemption Ground, her first-ever collection of essays. Named after one of Kingston, Jamaica’s oldest markets, this collection travels the world – from her hometown, to New York, to Paris, to London, to Halfmoon Bay – with essays that interrogate colonialism, racism, the authentic self, friendship, and compassion. These enlightening essays make the perfect companion reader to Goodison’s poetry, and can be read on their own, as well.

Find Redemption Ground here on All Lit Up.

The Mantle of Struggle: A Biography of Black Revolutionary Rosie Douglas by Irving Andre (Between the Lines)

The cover of The Mantle of Struggle by Irving Andre.

Rosie Douglas, named the radical Prime Minister of Domenica in 2000, had unassuming roots in Canada, where he came to study agriculture in the late 1950s. After struggling to obtain a study visa, he phoned then Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, who advised him to join the Conservative Party. A decade later, Douglas saw his politics shift leftward as he joined anti-racist protests in Montreal, up to the point that he was deported as a “danger to national security.” Irving Andre’s biography of this fascinating revolutionary follows Douglas from his beginnings in Canada through international radical movements, leading up to his impactful political career in his home country of Domenica.

Find The Mantle of Struggle here on All Lit Up.

Races: The Trials and Triumphs of Canada’s Fastest Family by Valerie Jerome (Goose Lane Editions)

The cover of Races by Valerie Jerome.

Races is an autobiographical chronicle of author Valerie Jerome and her incredibly talented family: the Jeromes. Her brother, Harry Jerome, set seven world records in the 1960s, earning him the title of “world’s fastest man.” Her grandfather, John Howard, was Canada’s first Black Olympian in the 1912 Stockholm Games. Valerie herself competed for Canada in the 1960 Rome Olympic Games. For all of their international success and acclaim, Valerie’s intimate portrait of her family shows the discrimination they faced at home, and contrasts the deeply-embedded racism of 1960s Canadian society with their hard-won, inspiring victories.

Find Races here on All Lit Up.

Limits of the Black Radical Tradition and the Value-form by Shemon Salam (Daraja Press)

The cover of Limits of the Black Radical Tradition and the Value-Form by Shemon Salam.

An anarchist and researcher of the relationship of Black liberation, labour movement, and racial capitalism in the 20th century, Shemon Salam poses a critique of – and reformulation of – the Black Radical Tradition in this book. Moving away from Euro-centric forms of Marxism, Salam instead posits that value-form theory can be reimagined and broadened to become more intersectional, considering race, geopolitics, and other forms of discrimination that impact poverty and class in North America.

Find Limits of the Black Radical Tradition and the Value-Form here on All Lit Up.

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Catch up on the Black History Month series with our fiction picks here. Next week: poetry!