The Three Mothers: Book summary and reviews of The Three Mothers by Anna Malaika Tubbs

The Three Mothers

How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation

by Anna Malaika Tubbs

The Three Mothers by Anna Malaika Tubbs X
The Three Mothers by Anna Malaika Tubbs
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Book Summary

In her groundbreaking and essential debut The Three Mothers, scholar Anna Malaika Tubbs celebrates Black motherhood by telling the story of the three women who raised and shaped some of America's most pivotal heroes: Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin.

Much has been written about Berdis Baldwin's son James, about Alberta King's son Martin Luther, and Louise Little's son Malcolm. But virtually nothing has been said about the extraordinary women who raised them, who were all born at the beginning of the 20th century and forced to contend with the prejudices of Jim Crow as Black women.

Berdis, Alberta, and Louise passed their knowledge to their children with the hope of helping them to survive in a society that would deny their humanity from the very beginning—from Louise teaching her children about their activist roots, to Berdis encouraging James to express himself through writing, to Alberta basing all of her lessons in faith and social justice. These women used their strength and motherhood to push their children toward greatness, all with a conviction that every human being deserves dignity and respect despite the rampant discrimination they faced.

These three mothers taught resistance and a fundamental belief in the worth of Black people to their sons, even when these beliefs flew in the face of America's racist practices and led to ramifications for all three families' safety. The fight for equal justice and dignity came above all else for the three mothers.

These women, their similarities and differences, as individuals and as mothers, represent a piece of history left untold and a celebration of Black motherhood long overdue.

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Media Reviews

"Tubbs debuts with an engrossing triple biography of Alberta King, mother of Martin Luther King Jr.; Louise Little, mother of Malcom X; and Berdis Baldwin, mother of James Baldwin....Tubbs skillfully draws parallels between each woman's story, and vividly captures the early years of the civil rights movement. This immersive history gives credit where it's long overdue." - Publishers Weekly

"A welcome biography of three noted civil rights icons who were indelibly influenced by their mothers...A refreshing, well-researched contribution to Black women's history." - Kirkus Reviews

"This compassionate book skillfully introduces three people who have had an important impact on the world but whose lives receive little attention. Readers will complete the book feeling their time was well spent." - Library Journal

"The Three Mothers is a fascinating exploration into the lives of three women ignored by history after raising sons who helped shape a movement. By tracing the intellectual, political, and emotional strands of each woman's life, Anna Malaika Tubbs uncovers hidden complexities within black motherhood that illuminate our understanding of the past while also shedding light on the overlooked contributions of black women today. An eye-opening, engrossing read!" - Brit Bennett, New York Times bestselling author of The Vanishing Half and The Mothers

"Anna Malaika Tubbs does what Black women do best: hold up the light in darkness, calling us all to do our work. The light Alberta, Louise and Berdis deserve is finally shining on them, not only as mothers, but as women whose lives and examples can stir up the gift in all of us. When we tell the stories of Black women with the sharp truth and clarity Anna has, we can better honor the past and find guidance for the struggles of today. Anna is a powerful storyteller, and we should all be grateful she chose to tell this story." - Brittany Packnett Cunningham, co-host of Pod Save the People and co-founder of Campaign Zero

"In excavating the life stories of the mothers who reared three of the most central figures in the struggle for civil rights, Anna Malaika Tubbs provides a profound reflection on the contours of Black freedom in the twentieth century and beyond. The Three Mothers is an essential celebration of Black women, one that illuminates the history of racism and resistance in critical new ways. A timely and important book." - Elizabeth Hinton, author of From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime

This information about The Three Mothers shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Peggy A. (Morton Grove, IL)

Behind every great man is a mother!
Anna Tubbs not only highlights but celebrates the unique contributions of Berdis Baldwin, Alberta King, and Louise Little in making their sons so influential and powerful in shaping American society. This book is unique in its perspective of seeing how important these three women were in nurturing and developing these pivotal black figures. The level of detail in defining how these mothers not only coped in such a violent and racist society but managed to mother their sons into prominence underscores the amount of scholarly depth the author brings to this book. My only critique was that at times, I felt I was being lectured to instead of allowing me to form my own opinions. Overall, I applaud the author for the prodigious amount of work she did to uncover the personal stories of these three strong, courageous, and truly inspirational women!

Rory A. (Ventura, CA)

Men Have Never Been the Only Ones to Make History, and It's Finally Time to See the Light!
History in the present day is about finally illuminating what has always been pushed into dark corners and completely ignored. Anna Malaika Tubbs is one of the great many leading the charge, with this in-depth chronicle of the lives of Alberta King, Louise Little, and Berdis Baldwin, the mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin.

Tubbs' greatest strength and heart in the book is keeping the women connected, with all their commonalities, their struggles, their power, their heartbreak, their drive giving to us insight into what they endured, and how their heroic sons were influenced by their powerful day-to-day example.

All three are phenomenal women that hopefully is just the start, thanks to Tubbs, in bringing much more of this to the fore. It's ever more crucial in these tumultuous times.

Colleen F. (Carrollton, TX)

The Three Mothers
I was so excited to get this book. I've always been curious about the mothers of three great men. But where do you start? How do you find the information that you need? I was so eager to dive into this book and I must admit I feel like these three mothers. This book is full of love and compassion for their sons. How they were raised and taught shows the type of love that they received. This book also helps me to understand that no matter what, as a mother we are always teaching our children and trying to have their lives better than ours. We lose sleep and suffer because of the love that we have for them.

This book shows me that not only were these three mothers exceptional mothers but they didn't get the credit that they deserved. We have to prepare our children for the world. And unfortunately, they had to live to see their sons' deaths.

This book is beyond amazing and so needed at a time where mothers are hardly given the credit for raising such incredible men. Thank you BookBrowse for giving me the opportunity of this advanced reading book.

Claire M. (Sarasota, FL)

The Three Mothers
Three Black men of historical consequence are seen through what the writer makes of the lives of their mothers and the influence she proposes these women had on their sons.
These three women came from different backgrounds, even countries, but all were bright and all wanted to do something in life. They wanted to be educated, they wanted control over their bodies and to be able to raise a family by choice-not forced by a slave owner to produce money by having his children. Family and education, knowledge of the system and pursuit of their own worth and potential; these were what drove the Three Mothers.
All three recognized that education was potentially the way out of being suppressed by the white power structure. These men, Martin Luther King, Malcolm Little and James Baldwin were taught by their mothers to stand tall when faced with white aggression and suppression. Martin made it to college, Malcolm hit bottom after his mother was put in a mental institution but rehabilitated in jail and James dropped out of school to provide for his family. The racism, violence, and refusal to see any Black person as a person had affected all of them.
The mothers were the pillars for their sons, and it is in this era, many years later that the importance of understanding the lives the mothers and the men they married is so historically vital in bringing out the conditions under which Blacks lived and tried to evade. For far too many, times have not changed.

Shey C. (Morristown, TN)

Good Historical Work
I really enjoyed The Three Mother's. Wow, they were some strong ladies! While reading this I tried to put myself into some of the situations these ladies faced and I know I would not have had the bravery and divinity these women displayed. This would be a good book for book clubs.
The author lost me when she got political in the last chapter. I don't participate in political discussions and don't want to read about anyone's political views. I skipped most of the last chapter.

Diane T. (Slingerlands, NY)

I need to know more
Anna Malika Tubbs' book, The Three Mother's, gives the reader a background of the mothers of three influential Black men who were at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and James Baldwin. These men absorbed the passion of justice for the Black man from their mothers who lived during Jim Crow. These women not only saw the cruelty but experienced it first hand. Their sons also saw and experienced those cruelties yet approached their fight for equality in such different ways. In doing her research, Ms. Tubbs' was faced with having none of these mothers and sons alive to be able to hear first hand information, both factual and emotional. Although the factual was gotten from historians and personal interviews of remaining family members, the emotional bond between mother and son, the unspoken was lost. Perhaps if the scheduled interview with all three sons in one room could have taken place, it would have greatly added to the extensive research which she had done. Unfortunately, the assassination of Malcolm X happened two days prior to what would have been a historic interview by Kenneth Clark.

Through narratives of the beginnings of all three men and the tribulations their mothers faced, this gave me a perspective that no history or civics class could ever impart in students.

Ms. Tubbs' structure of her book reminds me of a dissertation with the conclusion chapter as her defence. After finishing reading this book, I was left with more questions. Perhaps that is the mark of a book whose topic has never been written before!

...8 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Anna Malaika Tubbs

Anna Malaika Tubbs is a Cambridge Ph.D. candidate in sociology and a Bill and Melinda Gates Cambridge Scholar. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University with a Bachelor's degree in anthropology, Anna received a Master's degree from the University of Cambridge in multidisciplinary gender studies. Outside of the academy she is an educator, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion consultant, and the First Partner of Stockton, California. She lives with her husband, Michael Tubbs, who is the mayor of Stockton, and their son, Michael Malakai.

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