With Sadness, Myers Center Closes: Announces Awards for Outstanding Titles in Human Rights

Loretta J. Williams is a sociologist, educator, and activist who has been the director of the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights. Each year, the Myers Center has enlisted a diverse array of volunteer reviewers, who select ten outstanding new books that advance our work for community justice, and human rights.

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In 2009 we take pride in 25 years of continuous operation of the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights! We are saddened, however, that the Myers Center has closed down due to lack of funds. Like so many other non-profits, we experienced insurmountable difficulties in garnering funding to continue our important work. Our website will remain useful to many. It was last updated in April 2009. Thank you to so many who volunteered time, wisdom, energies and support over the years to make the Myers Center a valued national resource. May our relationships and commitment to building a just and equitable future for all continue, for in the struggle for justice is the hope of the future.

This year, ten authors of recently published books win accolades for creatively re-linking struggles for civil and human rights. Here are the winners of the Myers Center's 24th annual Outstanding Book Awards.

Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (Doubleday 2008), by Douglas A. Blackmon, details realities of post-emancipation involuntary servitude: the complicity of sheriffs, judges, justices, owners of mines, mills, etc., in rounding up former slaves, charging them with vagrancy, and then forcing them into exploitative labor conditions and contracts.

Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching (Amistad/HarperCollins 2008) by Paula J. Giddings, follows the anti-lynching crusader (1862-1931) through her childhood of family responsibilities, her teaching years, evolving journalism career, the suffrage movement, and more. Readers learn a great deal about obstacles for activist women, and the struggles within and without for both African American and white women's rights.

Asylum Denied: A Refugee's Struggle for Safety in America (University of California Press 2008), by David Ngaruri Kenney and Philp G. Schrag, tells the remarkable true story of a young Kenyan farmer whose political activism on behalf of tea farmers led to his imprisonment and torture, subsequent challenges, and eventual travails in the US. The book shines a light on the current politicized US administrative decision-making process for asylum seekers. Ally lawyer Schrag offers compelling recommendations for fixing this unjust system.

My Guantanamo Diary: The Detainees and the Stories They Told Me (Public Affairs 2008), by Mahvish Rukhsana Khan (a law student translator for attorneys working with clients in Guantanamo Bay), introduces detainees whose human rights have been violated. Khan traveled to Afghanistan to collect information for use in cases. Conveys stories skillfully, adding in history and context, for instance the fact that the US paid "rewards" for captured "terrorists" equaling more than the typical Afghani or Pakistani yearly salary.

Bella Abzug: How One Tough Broad from the Bronx Fought Jim Crow and Joe McCarthy, Pissed Off Jimmy Carter, Battled for the Rights of Women and Workers, Rallied Against War and for the Planet, and Shook Up Politics Along the Way (Farrar, Straus, Giroux 2007) by Suzanne Braun Levine and Mary Thom, uses an innovative collage format of statements from Bella Abzug and those who allied with her. The book captures her insights, brashness, resiliency, and influence. Over and over, she instituted strategies to fix problems. This multisensory portrait offers renewed energies for activists.

Someone Knows My Name (W.W. Norton 2007), by Lawrence Hill, evokes the everyday realities of enslavement. This fascinating novel portrays a broad swath of African, US, and Canadian history. Aminata Diallo gains her official freedom during the American Revolution for her work with the British occupying forces. Hill, in a powerful essay at the end, discusses his family history and motivation for writing the book.

Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real About Race in School (The New Press 2008), edited by Mica Pollock, brings together 64 real-life tools and techniques for strategizing classroom practices and work space politics. Questions prompt deep reflection and practical implementation.

Bringing Human Rights Home, Vols. 1-3 (Praeger/Greenwood Publishing Group 2008), edited by Cynthia Soohoo, Catherine Albisa, and Martha Davis, offers cutting-edge analyses of working for social justice utilizing a human rights frame domestically. It includes perspectives of activists, academics, lawyers, and others doing domestic social justice work against the odds.

Drifting Toward Love: Black, Brown, Gay and Coming of Age on the Streets of New York (Beacon Press 2008), by Kai Wright, is journalism at its best. Wright follows a handful of queer youth of color as they navigate their complex identities, neighborhoods, family and community affiliations, and friendships in a gritty setting. Yet the youth grow and persevere.

The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir (Coffee House Press 2008) by Kao Kalia Yang, narrates the harrowing history of Hmong peoples embroiled in the various wars in Southeast Asia in the 60s and 70s. She documents the emotional struggles and complex challenges of her entire community as well, and teaches us much about humanity and resiliency.