Letter from Herb Boyd

I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.
— Malcolm X

Any book beginning for me starts with The Autobiography of Malcolm X with Alex Haley, and Roots by Haley is a logical and natural connection. Both books are among the top one hundred American publications of the century, if not of all time.

I think in working with Malcolm, Alex received his introduction to African history and Malcolm’s discussion of his family who introduced him to he Nation of Islam must have given Alex the stimulation he needed to pursue his own family’s history and lineage.

Somewhat related to Malcolm and Alex is the matchless production of significant books authored by James Baldwin, particularly The Fire Next Time. Add his collection of essays to this; James Baldwin : Collected Essays (Library of America) and you have a trove of literature that provides insight, sometimes terrible and nightmarish, to the American experience.

Teaching is about taking things apart; writing is about putting things together. –Toni Morrison

Any of the books by Maya, Toni, and Zora are necessary to a reader’s library, giving them upliftment and the intellectual grounding required to gather some notion of what Black Americans have endured, especially its women.

As I turn and check out a section of my own library, Du Bois, David Levering Lewis, Cornel West, Paul Robeson, Angela Davis, Gordon Parks, et al stare back at me, demanding that I give them another read, which in the normal rush of things in my life writings, they are indispensable. I’d better stop at this point since invariably I will encounter a reader who will lambaste me for leaving out their favorite author, but let them make their own list.

Herb Boyd was born on November 1, 1938 in Birmingham, Alabama. He grew up in Detroit, Michigan, where he attended Wayne State University in the 1960s. Boyd went on to graduate with his B.A. degree in philosophy from Wayne State University in 1969. He is the author of Black Detroit: A People’s History of Self-Determination and many others. Boyd currently lives and works in Harlem, New York City.

The Library of Herb Boyd, photo © Herb Boyd, 2020

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7 comments on “Letter from Herb Boyd
  1. Thank You Herb Boyd For All Your Literary Endeavors In Detroit! Thank You For Caring Enough To Continue To Write And Work For The Uplifting Of Humanity And Noting That Reading Is Not Only Fundamental – A Requirement For A Critically Thinking Society.

    Warmest Regards To You In One Of My Favorite Metropolis.

  2. Herb Boyd’s “Letter” offers a very thoughtful list of influential African American authors — a helpful starting point for anyone interested in understanding the breadth, depth, and resilience in the African American experience. For Detroiters, Herb Boyd’s own book, Black Detroit: A People’s History in Self Determination, should definitely be included on the list. I can’t help adding that it was a pleasure to see the well-worn book jackets on Herb’s 1st edition books by Malcolm X, Alex Haley, and James Baldwin — as well as the crowded jumble of books in his own library. Thanks!

  3. I like your library. It looks a lot like my own. One can never have enough books on the African American experience including your book, Black Detroit. I was born in Detroit, and raised in both Ferndale and Detroit. I am always amazed o at how much of our history I did not know while coming of age. At the age of 60+, I am still amazed at what I still have yet to learn. There”s a woman in my book club who always says whenever I help make our annual book selections list, “O! she’s gonna make sure I learn some kind of history!” I just laugh, and take it as a comment. READING IS 24-7!

  4. Hi Teresa,

    Thank you for your comments. I will pass them along to Herb in case he hasn’t seen them yet.

    I’m happy to hear more about your book club. We are working on a newsletter about local reading groups. Please call or write to us and we’ll be in touch. Thank you.

    Best regards,

    Cary Loren c/o Book Beat

  5. Hi Mame!

    Thank you for your kind comments. Yes, Black Detroit is a great book and should be a standard reference for anyone interested in the city. We try and promote this title whenever we can.

    I must point out that although the book cases and books in Herb’s library are his own, I went online to gather first edition images of the books Herb mentioned. I thought that by seeing the first editions of these books, people would gather a sense of their reality and the design, and times in which they were published. Thank you.

    Best regards,


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