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

by Anna Malaika Tubbs

Hardcover, 2021




Flatiron Books (2021), 272 pages


"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"--… (more)


½ (35 ratings; 3.8)

User reviews

LibraryThing member akblanchard
Author Anna Malaika Tubbs uses what little is documented about the mothers of Black icons Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin as a springboard for a discussion of Black life in the U.S. in the twentieth century, with all its injustice and violence. The indominable spirits of women
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like Alberta King, Louise Little, and Berdis Baldwin gave their children reason for hope despite their often-bleak circumstances. The three mothers passed their self-sufficiency, courage, and resilience on to all their children but especially to their famous sons.

I wish that more could have actually be said about the three rather obscure women in question (to say that the three "shaped a nation," as specified in the subtitle, is an overstatement). The book is admirably researched, but Tubbs's discursive and somewhat redundant writing style takes some getting used to. There's a fair amount of editorializing as well. Still, this book is a laudable tribute to three often-overlooked figures.
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LibraryThing member muddyboy
I am conflicted in a lot of ways by this book. I wanted to learn about the mothers of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and James Baldwin who were so important in forming the characters and greatness of their exceptional sons. I did learn a lot and am grateful for that.. But, the book is one of
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grievance about how these women suffered persecution and lack of credit by American society over the years (The author author tell us about her own personal slights). In total, the author's agenda seems to overpower the achievements of these great women.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
This is a nonfiction account of the three mothers behind 3 of the most pivotal figures who shaped African-American culture in America, fought for Civil Rights and the end of segregation. Berdis Baldwin, Alberta King, and Louise Little were all incredible in their own right. The author shares their
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stories of strength and grief with the tenderness only a fellow mother could have. She weaves her own experience into the book and issues a call for continued change so that women are not overlooked in their roles, particularly black women. I loved learning about their drastically different lives. From New York to the Midwest to the South, the author compares their childhoods, financial standing, family dynamics, and more to show the impact each world had on Malcolm X, James Baldwin, and Martin Luther King, Jr. and the men they became.
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LibraryThing member kaulsu
This is a fabulous look at the women who birthed and raised three icons. The story of Malcolm X I was familiar with--but I had no idea he even had a mother. Talk about invisibility! The three women were in no way alike outside of their racial heritage, yet they were strongly influential in their
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sons' upbringing. The story of Malcolm's mother Berdis was heart wrenching. The social networkings of the United States were (are?) cruel and unjust. And Alberta King! I was shocked to hear that she was also assassinated in Ebenizer Baptist Church! One would think this fact would resurface each time a person is killed in their church.

I listened to this book from It sounded very much like a dissertation, and I believe Tubbs mentioned that this was the topic of her PhD work from either Oxford or Cambridge. This highlights the weakness of listening to--rather than the reading of--a book. I took one half star off from my ratings because of Tubbs accent: she swallows her "t's." I'm fairly sure this is a regional accent, but I found it annoying. Then I found my irritation annoying!
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LibraryThing member LibroLindsay
I really loved the scope and focus of this book, uplifting the lives of these three extraordinary women and putting their sons' lives into a greater context. So much of this book is simply breathtaking.



Original language


Physical description

272 p.; 9.07 inches


125075612X / 9781250756121
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