The best books on the struggle for equality in the USA

Charles Postel Author Of Equality: An American Dilemma, 1866-1896
By Charles Postel

Who am I?

These days I am a history professor and prize-winning author. But before I started my education at my local community college, I dropped out of high school to work odd jobs on farms and in factories, and spent two decades pondering the hows and whys of the gaping inequalities in our society. My books are part of that ongoing quest. They have won a number of awards, including the Bancroft Prize and the Frederick Jackson Turner Award.


I wrote...

Equality: An American Dilemma, 1866-1896

By Charles Postel,

Book cover of Equality: An American Dilemma, 1866-1896

What is my book about?

The Civil War unleashed a torrent of claims to equal rights. Former slaves and women's rights activists, farmers and factory hands engaged in epic struggles to define the meaning of equality in the U.S. Competing demands for equality often clashed. This is why herculean efforts to overcome the economic inequality of the Gilded Age and the sexual inequality of the late-Victorian social order came along with Native American dispossession, Chinese exclusion, and Jim Crow segregation. This book makes us take stock of the central place that the struggles for equality have played in our history. It also speaks to the multi-sided crises of inequality in our own time.

The books I picked & why

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Until Justice Be Done: America's First Civil Rights Movement, from the Revolution to Reconstruction

By Kate Masur,

Book cover of Until Justice Be Done: America's First Civil Rights Movement, from the Revolution to Reconstruction

Why this book?

The African American struggle for justice and equality has been a driving engine for making our country a more just and equal place. This book tells the gripping story of the movement for racial equality from the founding of the republic through the Civil War. This was a fight against enslavement, but it was also a fight against racist laws and institutions, in the North and the South, that deprived people of equality and full citizenship based on the color of their skin. This is a bold and sweeping account of the first great civil rights movement.

Until Justice Be Done: America's First Civil Rights Movement, from the Revolution to Reconstruction

By Kate Masur,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Until Justice Be Done as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The half-century before the Civil War was beset with conflict over equality as well as freedom. Beginning in 1803, many free states enacted laws that discouraged free African Americans from settling within their boundaries and restricted their rights to testify in court, move freely from place to place, work, vote, and attend public school. But over time, African American activists and their white allies, often facing mob violence, courageously built a movement to fight these racist laws. They countered the states' insistences that states were merely trying to maintain the domestic peace with the equal-rights promises they found in the…


The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution

By Eric Foner,

Book cover of The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution

Why this book?

Three amendments after the Civil War made for a revolution in our constitutional order. They abolished slavery, guaranteed all people due process and equal protection of the law, and gave Black men the vote. In doing so, the principle of equality, for the first time, was written into our national law. In this short, riveting account, one of our nation's greatest historians argues that this marked a second founding of the U.S. The struggle over the meaning of this second founding has the country in its grip to this day.

The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution

By Eric Foner,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Second Founding as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Declaration of Independence announced equality as an American ideal but it took the Civil War and the adoption of three constitutional amendments to establish that ideal as law. The Reconstruction amendments abolished slavery, guaranteed due process and the equal protection of the law, and equipped black men with the right to vote. By grafting the principle of equality onto the Constitution, the amendments marked the second founding of the United States.

Eric Foner conveys the dramatic origins of these revolutionary amendments and explores the court decisions that then narrowed and nullified the rights guaranteed in these amendments. Today, issues…


Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880

By W.E.B. Du Bois,

Book cover of Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880

Why this book?

This is the classic account of the African American struggle in the tumultuous days of the Civil War and its aftermath. Du Bois wrote this literary masterpiece in 1935, setting the pace for the reevaluation of the Reconstruction Era by later generations of scholars. It is a story of hope and freedom, terror and despair, at the heart of which lay the Black struggle for equality in the post-Civil War settlement.

Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880

By W.E.B. Du Bois,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

W. E. B. Du Bois was a public intellectual, sociologist, and activist on behalf of the African American community. He profoundly shaped black political culture in the United States through his founding role in the NAACP, as well as internationally through the Pan-African movement. Du Bois's sociological and historical research on African-American communities and culture broke ground in many areas, including the history of the post-Civil War Reconstruction period. Du
Bois was also a prolific author of novels, autobiographical accounts, innumerable editorials and journalistic pieces, and several works of history.

Black Reconstruction in America tells and interprets the story of…


Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, & the Great Depression

By Alan Brinkley,

Book cover of Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, & the Great Depression

Why this book?

During the Great Depression, no other public figures stirred the political waters the way Huey Long and FatherCoughlin did. The political "Kingfish" of Louisiana and the "Radio Priest" from Royal Oak, Michigan, gave voice to demands to "share the wealth" and for economic justice. This book tells their fascinating and disturbing stories, and in doing so reminds us of how deep the strivings for economic equality and social justice run through our history.

Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, & the Great Depression

By Alan Brinkley,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Voices of Protest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The study of two great demagogues in American history--Huey P. Long, a first-term United States Senator from the red-clay, piney-woods country of nothern Louisiana; and Charles E. Coughlin, a Catholic priest from an industrial suburb near Detroit. Award-winning historian Alan Brinkely describes their modest origins and their parallel rise together in the early years of the Great Depression to become the two most successful leaders of national political dissidence of their era. 

*Winner of the American Book Award for History*


The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.

By Peniel E. Joseph,

Book cover of The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.

Why this book?

Martin or Malcolm? Civil Rights or Black Power? Integration or Separation? In this book, equal parts wise and smart, Joseph shows the limits of such questions. With their different styles and ways, both Martin and Malcolm fought for the common cause of equality and full citizenship. This book gets to the heart of why this cause was the defining struggle for equality of the post-World War Two decades.

The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.

By Peniel E. Joseph,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Sword and the Shield as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are the two most iconic figures of the Civil Rights movement. To most Americans, Malcolm and Martin represent contrasting political ideals -- self-defense vs. non-violence, anger vs. pacifism, separatism vs. integration, the sword vs. the shield. The Civil Rights movement itself has suffered the same fate: while non-violent direct action is remembered today as an unalloyed good and an unassailable part of our democracy, the movement's combative militancy has been either vilified or erased outright. In The Sword and the Shield, acclaimed historian Peniel Joseph offers a dual biography of Malcolm and Martin…


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