By Candace Sweat
Black bookstores have served as sacred spaces for learning, expanding, exploring, and organizing.
For this edition, we wanted to shine a spotlight on Black women-owned bookstores in Dallas and their immeasurable influence on our communities.
We caught up with three Black women who [among others] have solidified their roles in Dallas’ history as champions for Black literacy, mobility, resilience, and excellence.
The timing of these interviews comes as we recognize the contributions of women throughout history.
It also comes at a time when school administrators across the state of Texas are banning books and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives face harsh scrutiny.
These women have stood against obstacles and continue to raise up generation after generation of curious, uncompromising readers.
Emma Rodgers is the creator and cofounder of Black Images Book Bazaar in Dallas. While the store closed in 2006, some seventeen years later, its impact still reverberates, and it is still at the center of conversation about literacy in Dallas and beyond.
Founded in 1977, Black Images Book Bazaar started as a mail-order business, and moved to Wynnewood Village in 1986.
In a one-on-one interview, Rodgers said it was a relentless search for books ahead of her son’s 9th birthday party that sparked a fire that could not be squelched. The books, she said, were to be given away as party favors. Several stores later, she had the books in her hands, and a life-changing idea to make Black books more accessible.
“We knew if we had that need, other parents had the same need to provide literature for their children and for their families,” Rodgers said.
Decades passed, and Black images became a pillar known for hosting renowned authors, community activities and more.
“I’m grateful that we may have been one of the trailblazers in the book industry,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers is a lifelong literacy advocate who now has an elementary school library named in her honor. She recognizes there’s still much work to be done and still serves as a beacon for those who’ve come behind her.
“You go about doing work and you go about doing it not to get any kind of recognition or anything,” she said. “You’re doing it because you know it’s the right thing to do and it’s the thing to be done.”
A Torch Bearer
Along South Marsalis Avenue, just blocks away from South Oak Cliff High School, Akwete Tyehimba and the Pan-African Connections Bookstore Art Gallery and Resource Center are common household names.
Pan-African Connections, as it is known by those who frequent the store, started with Tyehimba’s late husband Bandele Tyehimba in 1989. They were members of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party.
“Bookstores have always been important institutions in our communities. We always talk about how the Black church was one of the most important institutions in our communities, and I think bookstores kind of run second to that,” Tyehimba said.
As for the wave of book bans in state schools, Tyehimba is unflappable, undeterred and unafraid. She said her objective remains the same; to educate and transform communities.
“Literacy is so important. It’s almost as important as the food that you eat. Reading can lead you to so many opportunities in life. So many places.”
Tyehimba has a deep appreciation and longstanding friendship with Emma Rodgers. During our interview, she spent time reflecting on Rodgers’ impact on her life and business.
“We learn from the victories of others sometimes, and the examples of others. And Black Images was that example of how you can be successful in a Black business with your own voice,” she said. “I hope that we are making Ms. Emma proud by continuing her legacy, her living legacy.”
Nia-Taylor Clark was teaching a class when a student declared to her and his peer group that he didn’t read. She knew something had to be done.
Clark started BLACKLIT in 2019 as a mobile bookstore. Today, it stands as a brick and mortar on McEwen Road in Farmers Branch.
“We can solve a lot of the problems with literacy access if we just realize that it’s okay to want to see yourself and it’s okay to add yourself into the conversation,” Clark said during our one-on-one interview.
Clark realizes she’s making her mark in history as one of few.
“It’s a constant reminder that this is something that’s way bigger than me,” she said.
Like Akwete Tyehimba, Nia-Taylor admires Emma Rodgers and has a connection with Rodgers through Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
She said she wants to see more Black women-owned bookstores in North Texas. In the meantime, she’s standing on solid shoulders while looking for opportunities to hoist others onto her own.
“It’s an honor to stand in line with women who look like me but who are also doing great things,” she said. “And I’m just excited to mentor the next woman or the next little girl who’s about to do the same thing, but in a new and refreshing way.”