The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Culture Corner—Books and Videos Worth a Look:

Aug 16, 2021

Book: Steel Drivin’ Man: John Henry: The Untold Story of an American Legend

Published in 2006, this under-the-radar work traces the true story behind the legend and song of John Henry, the railroad worker who “died with his hammer in his hand.” Extensively researched, the book tells in detail how the notorious “black codes” imprisoned many black men after the Civil War, and forced them into convict labor, laying rail and building tunnels through mountains. The book makes these heroic figures come alive by tracing the story and details of the injustice, the heroic bonds, the work-song music that set the life-saving pace, and the death-defying labor that built this country on their backs.

Video: Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) 2021 documentary, directed by Questlove. Currently on Hulu (free trial is available).

If you haven’t already seen this excellent documentary film, you are in for a wonderful experience. This film is a series of clips from six free concerts attended by over 300,000 people in 1969 Harlem. 1969 was a time of pain, racism, war, poverty, and repression, but nothing could stop people from celebrating their hard-fought victories and the possibility to win and win again, a celebration of their power and their struggles. Mahalia Jackson singing “…the storm!!! Lead me home!” Nina Simone representing Malcolm X, Sly and the Family Stone, Motown, the Staple Singers, Latin and African artists, and more, and the audience lifting them all up. Sad to say, the promise of victory was not fulfilled, but the film shows the energy and force needed to win permanent revolutionary change.