Turn the knob and the bell rings with a swing of the door — welcome to Marcus Books. The store has several shelves littered with knowledge in the form of powerful books. Tables lined up at the entrance showcase various household items from calendars and journals, to lunch bags and little gifts. Soulful jazz music flows from the air into the ears of customers as their noses fill with the scent of sweet wood and their eyes are tickled with colorful book covers.
“My parents started the store; it’s family owned/operated,” said Blanche Richardson, the bookstore’s manager and owner. The Marcus Bookstore, located in Oakland, California has been around since 1960, serving as the nation’s oldest independent Black-owned bookstore. As the daughter of the Doctors Raye and Julian Richardson, the store’s two founders, Richardson carries on the legacy of spreading Black joy and knowledge through the existence of Marcus Books.
The name of the bookstore was inspired by “The Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey,” said Richardson. Garvey was a Jamaican political activist who founded and took part in multiple political organizations, hoping to spread the beauty and empowerment of African cultures. Marcus Books carries on this mission of reminding Black individuals of their beauty and importance by holding a space dedicated to sharing written pieces by and about Black people. Additionally, books starring other authors and characters of color can be found throughout the shelves, symbolizing Marcus Book’s dedication to racial justice and solidarity.
“(Our goal is to) provide a source for knowledge about the history, culture and future of Black people in the African Diaspora, (and) provide a venue where Black and other peoples of color can connect with authors,” said Richardson.
While Marcus Books serves as a place for customers to browse books related to Black culture and history, it regularly attracts out of state and out of country visitors. Richardson has described one of her favorite parts of leading Marcus Books as being, “constantly exposed to Black literature and meeting interesting people.” The opportunity to connect with well known and influential Black icons through the bookstore works towards the store’s mission of spreading Black excellence and intellect.
“We are fortunate to receive a good deal of favorable word-of-mouth and local and national publicity,” said Richardson. According to Richardson, Marcus Books aims to attract readers, activists, celebrities, and folks looking for the truth about Black History.
Another important aspect of the bookstore is its emphasis on diversity within the Black community. Marcus Books truly reflects the Black experience and brings attention to aspects of Black identities — from short stories on Black hair, to autobiographies written by Black changemakers. There are sections with books containing Black main characters for infants and young children who unknowingly desire to find the beauty in their skin color. Additionally, there are sections with romance and fantasy novels catered to teens going through the stage of exploring their literary interests. Marcus Books offers a very diverse and friendly selection of novels to choose from, whether one desires to expand their knowledge on Black history and political issues, or simply wants to read a hearty and humorous rom-com with a main character which reflects their own identity.
“Reading greatly increases the quality of your life,” said Richardson, “Within 3 minutes of sitting down with a book, your brain begins to produce endorphins, your blood pressure lowers, and your heart rate calms.” The soothing aspect of reading, along with the importance of racial awareness is the foundation that Marcus Books thrives on in order to bring attention to political and societal issues that connect to the Black community. On any visit to the store on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, one can expect to leave the store accompanied by the ring of a bell and a book in hand, prepared to fill one’s mind with Black knowledge and diverse stories.