The Shrine of the Black Madonna has been a staple of African American history and culture in Atlanta ever since its inception in 1975. While it serves the community as the ninth congregation of the Pan African Orthodox Christian Church, the site also hosts lectures and has a book store full of fiction and non-fiction on various facets of the Black experience. It also houses the life-changing African Holocaust Museum.
All the wonderful features the Shrine has to offer at the West End adds to the area’s rich culture, along with all the other Black-owned establishments nearby. But another thing that tends to attract a large crowd to the neighborhood is the important figures that often visit the Shrine. On May 25, best-selling erotica fiction novelist Zane will be at the bookstore to sign copies of her newest book, Vengeance. The book centers on “a damaged pop star determined to avenge a cruel event from her past,” according to a press release.
We caught up with Velma Maia Fann — historian, author, and the Shrine’s event coordinator. She let us in on the relevance of the Shrine in the Black community today, the rise in Black consciousness, Zane’s upcoming book signing, and more.
A lot of Black bookstores have been closing within the past few years. How has the Shrine been able to survive?
We have a legacy. We’ve been here since the ’70s. And we’re in the historic West End, a community that supports education and supports us. The West End is the hub of African American culture in Atlanta. We have had down days, but [we are] thankful we have seen a resurgence. The consciousness has been raised in our community, so we’re seeing a lot of young people coming in and looking for some of the older books, newer books, and urban literature. There’s still something about holding a book in your hand and turning the pages that’s still very appealing to our people.
Another thing that also makes us unique is the African Holocaust Museum, which is inside the bookstore. There [are] original documents on the slave trade. I’ve seen grown men walk in one way, and by the time they get through reading those documents, they come out totally different. When you walk out, you’ll have a whole different attitude about our struggle and who we are. It’s a reality check.
Which books have been the most popular lately?
Non-fiction books like Stolen Legacy, or The Destruction of Black Civilization, or The Mis-education of the Negro. And some of the new books, like The Coming.
Tell us about the upcoming event with Zane.
Her new book is called Vengeance. The book store is the host site for her book signing on the 25th at 6:30 p.m. You can purchase the book at our store.
What is your favorite book that the Shrine carries?
The Black History of the White House. It’s a history of African Americans in the White House, many of whom were enslaved. I can sit down and read books like that all day.
What book would you suggest to someone who is just coming into consciousness?
The Mis-education of the Negro. It’s going to set the stage for what we have been up against, and unless we really educate ourselves, we’re never going to know the truth about who we are. You have to understand that we came before [Christopher] Columbus. Once you have that foundation, that becomes how you view the world.