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The True South struggle

CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 6/13/2013, 12:36 p.m.

Monroe Brown is the proprietor of one of the city's few Black-owned bookstores, True South Books. The Bed-Stuy Brooklyn store specializes in books about African, African-American and ancient African history.

However, like many small businesses, especially bookstores, his business is trying to stay afloat as well as relevant. Brown fears that if he can't keep his doors open, valuable historical information won't be accessible to the community.

Brown wasn't always a business owner. Prior to opening True South Books, he served 25 years as a New York City public schools teacher. He taught English as a Second Language, among other subjects. During his years as an educator, he said he always wove in Black history.

Brown started the bookstore after his retirement. The space was previously a barbershop that was failing after the owner fell ill.

"I had been retired for four years and I needed something to do," he said. "As a teacher, I was aware that Black history was not part of the curriculum. So, I figured, there is a need there."

True South Books opened in 2007, which is the same year Liberation Bookstore closed, another Black-owned bookstore. Brown said most of the books he sells discuss Black history before slavery but also cover modern Black history. The store's front window can't be missed on Nostrand Avenue, with its various pictures of Black historical figures and a sign that says "Reading is More Important Than Watching T.V."

Along with being a bookstore, Brown said True South Books is also a cultural center. He often offers courses for the community on Black history for their personal enlightenment. The store also hosts book signings by noted authors.

"I would like to make this a learning center," he said. "We have taught classes here based on books like 'Black Genesis,' 'Up From Slavery' by Booker T. Washington and on pre-Egyptian civilization. It's all about knowing yourself, and the purpose of the store is to promote literacy. People are not reading like they used to."

However, Brown said that he is now faced with the challenge of keeping his doors open. He said on a scale of one to 10 that True South Books is scoring a one when it comes to business. Foot traffic into the store is slow and Brown is calling out to the community for help.

"Right now, the enemy is a lack of reading and a lack of knowledge," he said. "We are not reading books like we should. Also, we have been dealing with the economy, and the Black economy is even worse."

Brown said one way for the community to help True South is to patronize his business and make at least one $20 purchase a month.

"I think that can go a long way," he said. "We should all dedicate a percentage of our budget to educating ourselves."