Book Review- How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin, Shaped a Nation, by Anna Malaika Tubbs

By Sue Schechter, Berkeley Law

Anna Malaika Tubbs recently wrote a wonderful and insightful non-fiction book about MLK, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin’s mothers.  She did a great amount of research (digging up documents, interviewing people, and more) giving readers a well-developed sense of the context these mothers and their sons were living in.  She acknowledges several times all the information we do not have but aims to make educated guesses about these women, their roles, and their lives.

We know their sons were all great leaders and we learn they all had especially close relationships with their mothers.  The book begins with Ms. Tubbs telling her own story and how she came to write the book – she mentions she was pregnant while she was writing it, and I believe that adds a lovely and strong connection to the role of mothers.  Rather than devote specific chapters to specific mothers, she chooses a theme including: men, marriages, children, loving and losing our sons, etc. and intertwines the topic with each mother and each son.  While I found it a little confusing when I first started reading the book, I came to appreciate the strength of acknowledging this collective idea of motherhood and how each mother brought different strengths to their mothering and their unfaltering and constant support of their sons. 

At the end of the book, she says, “It is time for the honor many quietly pay to Black mothers to become as loud as Alberta’s choir, as consistent as Berdis’s love, as strong as Louise’s fight.”  (Page 219/paperback).  This incredibly apt sentence wraps up the theme of this book, acknowledges the strength and importance of Black mothering, and carries forth the critical role these mothers played in growing and supporting these incredible leaders.

I highly recommend this book to all!