The best books on the history of African American education

Who am I?

Marybeth Gasman has been writing about African American history – within the educational setting – since 1994 when she began research that led to on an intellectual biography of African American sociologist, Harlem Renaissance architect, and Fisk University president Charles Spurgeon Johnson. Over the years, her work has explored many topics, including the history of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Black medical schools, African American philanthropy, and the production of Black scientists. She is the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Endowed Professor in Education & a Distinguished Professor at Rutgers University and also serves as the Executive Director of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Leadership, Equity, & Justice.

I wrote...

Making Black Scientists: A Call to Action

By Marybeth Gasman, Nguyen Thai-Huy,

Book cover of Making Black Scientists: A Call to Action

What is my book about?

Americans have access to some of the best science education in the world, but too often black students are excluded from these opportunities. This essential book by leading voices in the field of education reform offers an inspiring vision of how America's universities can guide a new generation of African Americans to success in science.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935

Why did I love this book?

In all honesty, Anderson’s book changed my life and put me on the road to becoming a historian and a professor back in 1994 when I read it while pursuing a Ph.D. Before I read it, I didn’t like history. I didn’t realize that history could come alive and that the stories of average people as well as luminaries were equally compelling. I realized after reading his work that I had been starved of African American history by my educational institutions; reading this book made me want to read more and understand American history more fully and completely. And, Anderson’s craft made me want to become a professor.

By James D. Anderson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

James Anderson critically reinterprets the history of southern black education from Reconstruction to the Great Depression. By placing black schooling within a political, cultural, and economic context, he offers fresh insights into black commitment to education, the peculiar significance of Tuskegee Institute, and the conflicting goals of various philanthropic groups, among other matters. Initially, ex-slaves attempted to create an educational system that would support and extend their emancipation, but their children were pushed into a system of industrial education that presupposed black political and economic subordination. This conception of education and social order--supported by northern industrial philanthropists, some black educators,…

Book cover of Radicalizing the Ebony Tower: Black Colleges and the Black Freedom Struggle in Mississippi

Why did I love this book?

Joy Williamson-Lott has a powerful voice and perspective the permeates every sentence in this book. She doesn’t waste a word. And, her research skills are superb. For anyone wanting to learn how to write beautiful history, this book is a model. She is also particularly good at showcasing the voices of African American students who were instrumental to the Black freedom struggle. You can feel their energy and frustration in her passages, and their commitment to freedom and justice comes alive.

By Joy Ann Williamson-Lott,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Radicalizing the Ebony Tower as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a profoundly moving story of Black colleges in Mississippi during a watershed moment in their history. It is also the story of young Americans trying to balance their pursuit of higher education with the parallel struggle for civil rights. ""Radicalizing the Ebony Tower"" examines colleges against the backdrop of the black freedom struggle of the middle twentieth century, a highly contentious conflict between state agents determined to protect the racial hierarchy and activists equally determined to cripple white supremacy. Activists demanded that colleges play a central role in the Civil Rights Movement (a distinct challenge to the notion…

Book cover of Self-Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom

Why did I love this book?

Williams is another beautiful writer and what I love most about this book is it dispels the very harmful myths about Black intelligence during and after slavery. The author shares the many ways that enslaved Africans taught each other to read even though reading or teaching a Black person to read was illegal in all of the southern states. Reading, storytelling, and passing on knowledge across generations is part of the African American tradition and Williams captures all of this and more in this beautiful book.

By Heather Andrea Williams,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Self-Taught as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this previously untold story of African American self-education, Heather Andrea Williams moves across time to examine African Americans' relationship to literacy during slavery, during the Civil War, and in the first decades of freedom. Some slaves devised creative and subversive means to acquire literacy, and when slavery ended, they became the first teachers of other freedpeople. Williams argues that by teaching, building schools, supporting teachers, resisting violence, and claiming education as a civil right, African Americans transformed the face of education in the South to the great benefit of both black and white southerners.

Book cover of Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880

Why did I love this book?

This book is a masterpiece. Du Bois’s research, voice, and powerful arguments are essential reading for anyone interested in understanding slavery, race, class, education, and American society. His use of sources makes evident, and doesn’t allow anyone to deny, the full-scale support of White supremacy in the United States, despite the fall of slavery. Du Bois’s analysis continues to be an essential read today in that he truly understands the way that Whites have benefited and held tightly to their privilege. Given the current racial dynamics in the nation in 2021, reading Black Reconstruction will help provide a rich and complex understanding of the power structures that maintain White privilege and supremacy.

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…

Book cover of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

Why did I love this book?

Rothstein’s work is exact in its understanding of how pervasive and purposeful our nation has been in its effort to segregate communities, schools, and social interactions according to racial lines. He demonstrates how the local, state, and the federal governments worked side-by-side to foster discriminatory laws and practices to ensure that African Americans (and others) were denied opportunities to live in residential neighborhoods that gave them access to good jobs, schools and equitable resources and services. In order to understand racism, classism, and educational disparities, this book is essential reading – without it, decision makers, as well as citizens, are operating in the dark and continuing to foster inequitable policies.

By Richard Rothstein,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Color of Law as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Widely heralded as a "masterful" (The Washington Post) and "essential" (Slate) history of the modern American metropolis, Richard Rothstein's The Color of Law offers "the most forceful argument ever published on how federal, state, and local governments gave rise to and reinforced neighborhood segregation" (William Julius Wilson). Exploding the myth of de facto segregation arising from private prejudice or the unintended consequences of economic forces, Rothstein describes how the American government systematically imposed residential segregation: with undisguised racial zoning; public housing that purposefully segregated previously mixed communities; subsidies for builders to create whites-only suburbs; tax exemptions for institutions that enforced…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in African Americans, higher education, and education?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about African Americans, higher education, and education.

African Americans Explore 626 books about African Americans
Higher Education Explore 25 books about higher education
Education Explore 84 books about education

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