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Black Bookstore Research Guide: The Repression of Black Bookstores

Guide to resources related to independent Black bookstores. Guide by Makoroba Sow

The Repression of Black Bookstores

The targeting of black bookstores can be traced to the very first black bookstore in the U.S owned by David Ruggles, an abolitionist contemporary of Frederick Douglass. Ruggles' bookstore was burned to the ground by a mob in 1835. In the 1960s, and at the height of the Black Power Movement, black bookstores were targeted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's COINTELPRO and placed under heavy surveillance.

Black bookstores have also faced pressures from so-called urban renewal. The Tree of Life Bookstore of Harlem is a prime example. Despite community protests, the beloved bookstore was bulldozed in 1980 to make room for a complex including a luxury hotel, trade center, and parking lot that were never built. Significantly, the Tree of Life Bookstore was located near the original location of the famed National Memorial African Bookstore, which itself was forced to relocate to make room for the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building in 1968.

The selected material include general resources on the repression of black bookstores, as well as resources on particular examples: the repression of Martin Sostre, owner of the Afro-Asian Bookstores in Buffalo, NY and the removal of the Tree of Life bookstore in Harlem.

Web Articles: FBI Repression

The FBI's War on Black Bookstores by Joshua Clark Davis, The Atlantic 

Journal Articles

Beckles, Colin A. (1996). "Black bookstores, black power, and the F.B.I.: The case of Drum and Spear." Western Journal of Black Studies, 20 (2), 67-71. ProQuest.

RELATED:  "We Shall Not Be Terrorized Out of Existence: Black Bookstores in England Resist Fascist Attacks." (1978). The Black Scholar, 9 (10), 45-47. JSTOR.*

RELATED: Beckles, Colin A. (1989). '"We Shall Not Be Terrorized Out of Existence": The Political Legacy of England's Black Bookshops."Journal of Black Studies, 29 (1). JSTOR.*

Articles can be accessed using your NYPL library card or onsite at an NYPL branch or research library. *JSTOR access is limited to onsite. 

Martin Sostre

The Prison Letters of Martin Sostre by Warren L. Schaich and Diane S. Hope, Journal of Black Studies.

Books in our Collection

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*The life and legacy of Martin Sostre

Historical Newspapers: Tree of Life

Dee. Ruby. (1977) "...Swingin' Gently." New York Amsterdam News (1962-1993). ProQuest.

Readers Write for the Tree of Life. (1976). New York Amsterdam News (1962-1993). ProQuest.

Trans-Urban, Staff R. (1979). "Tree of Life Vows Not to be Uprooted." New York Amsterdam News (1962-1993). ProQuest.

"Tree of Life Padlocked." (1980) New York Amsterdam News (1962-1993). ProQuest.