100 books like A Life in the Struggle

By George Lipsitz,

Here are 100 books that A Life in the Struggle fans have personally recommended if you like A Life in the Struggle. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, and Cheap Lives

Thomas F. Jackson Author Of From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Struggle for Economic Justice

From my list on racial and economic justice movements in the US.

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up middle-class, white, progressive, and repeatedly exposed to the mediated crises and movements of the Sixties left me with a lifelong challenge of making sense of the American dilemma. My road was long and winding–a year in Barcelona as Spain struggled to emerge from autocracy; years organizing for the nuclear freeze and against apartheid; study under academics puzzling through the possibilities of nonviolent and democratic politics. My efforts culminated in the publication of a volume that won the Organization of American Historians Liberty Legacy Award, for the “best book by a historian on the civil rights struggle from the beginnings of the nation to the present.”

Thomas' book list on racial and economic justice movements in the US

Thomas F. Jackson Why did Thomas love this book?

Though this book is not a study of movement organizing, it shows just how necessary the task of political and economic empowerment remains, if people are to escape cycles of low wages, dangerous work, persistent racism, and public neglect. This book inspired me, and even more so my students, for the connections it uncovered in a declining North Carolina railroad town: a growing, fiercely competitive, and radically unsafe poultry processing industry; persistent neighborhood segregation and racial disrespect, despite the widespread integration of Blacks and women into workplaces; the exclusion of Blacks and poor whites from local political power; the growth of mother-only and time-pressed poor families increasingly reliant on low wages and cheap food to get by. These are only a few of the topics Simon compressed into his lucid and readable portrait of the tragedy of chicken and the unfinished business of our time.

By Bryant Simon,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For decades, the small, quiet town of Hamlet, North Carolina, thrived thanks to the railroad. But by the 1970s, it had become a postindustrial backwater, a magnet for businesses in search of cheap labor and almost no oversight. Imperial Food Products was one of those businesses. The company set up shop in Hamlet in the 1980s. Workers who complained about low pay and hazardous working conditions at the plant were silenced or fired. But jobs were scarce in town, so workers kept coming back, and the company continued to operate with impunity. Then, on the morning of September 3, 1991,…


Book cover of Storming Caesars Palace: How Black Mothers Fought Their Own War on Poverty

Thomas F. Jackson Author Of From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Struggle for Economic Justice

From my list on racial and economic justice movements in the US.

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up middle-class, white, progressive, and repeatedly exposed to the mediated crises and movements of the Sixties left me with a lifelong challenge of making sense of the American dilemma. My road was long and winding–a year in Barcelona as Spain struggled to emerge from autocracy; years organizing for the nuclear freeze and against apartheid; study under academics puzzling through the possibilities of nonviolent and democratic politics. My efforts culminated in the publication of a volume that won the Organization of American Historians Liberty Legacy Award, for the “best book by a historian on the civil rights struggle from the beginnings of the nation to the present.”

Thomas' book list on racial and economic justice movements in the US

Thomas F. Jackson Why did Thomas love this book?

Even some of my most historically aware students are often stunned to learn that the largest poor people’s organization of the 1960s and 1970s was the National Welfare Rights Organization. This is the story of the Black mothers who built one of NWRO’s most dynamic and creative local chapters. Through its dramatic, inspiring characters, this book made it plain to me just how much gender justice is indivisible from racial and economic justice. They staged massive protests in the Las Vegas strip with an amazing cast of allies. Then they moved on, and leveraged resources from far and wide to build "Operation Life," a social service, healthcare, and job training agency that they ran themselves.

By Annelise Orleck,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Storming Caesars Palace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Storming Caesars Palace, historian Annelise Orleck tells the compelling story of how a group of welfare mothers built one of this country's most successful antipoverty programs. Declaring "We can do it and do it better," these women proved that poor mothers are the real experts on poverty. In 1972 they founded Operation Life, which was responsible for many firsts for the poor in Las Vegas-the first library, medical center, daycare center, job training, and senior citizen housing. By the late 1970s, Operation Life was bringing millions of dollars into the community. These women became influential in Washington, DC-respected and…


Book cover of Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama's Black Belt

Thomas F. Jackson Author Of From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Struggle for Economic Justice

From my list on racial and economic justice movements in the US.

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up middle-class, white, progressive, and repeatedly exposed to the mediated crises and movements of the Sixties left me with a lifelong challenge of making sense of the American dilemma. My road was long and winding–a year in Barcelona as Spain struggled to emerge from autocracy; years organizing for the nuclear freeze and against apartheid; study under academics puzzling through the possibilities of nonviolent and democratic politics. My efforts culminated in the publication of a volume that won the Organization of American Historians Liberty Legacy Award, for the “best book by a historian on the civil rights struggle from the beginnings of the nation to the present.”

Thomas' book list on racial and economic justice movements in the US

Thomas F. Jackson Why did Thomas love this book?

Poor Black farmers and sharecroppers lined the route of Martin Luther King’s famous march from Selma to Montgomery in March 1965, an epic protest that drew thousands of white supporters and led to the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act. Hasan Jeffries beautifully recaptures these local people’s struggle for political power and economic self-determination. This book made plain to me as has no other just why and where Black Power was the only option. Local people creatively won support from the federal Office of Economic Opportunity and challenged Lowndes County’s courthouse cliques and agricultural committees, powerful agencies set up of, by, and for wealthy white planters under New Deal federal crop subsidy programs. The Lowndes County Freedom Organization was the original Black Panther Party that later inspired legions of local northern activists.

By Hasan Kwame Jeffries,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bloody Lowndes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2010 Clinton Jackson Coley Award for the best book on local history from the Alabama Historical Association

A remarkable story of the people of rural Lowndes County, a small Southern town, who in 1966 organized a radical experiment in democratic politics
Early in 1966, African Americans in rural Lowndes County, Alabama, aided by activists from the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), established an all-black, independent political party called the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO). The group, whose ballot symbol was a snarling black panther, was formed in part to protest the barriers to black enfranchisement that had…


Book cover of Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King's Last Campaign

Thomas F. Jackson Author Of From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Struggle for Economic Justice

From my list on racial and economic justice movements in the US.

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up middle-class, white, progressive, and repeatedly exposed to the mediated crises and movements of the Sixties left me with a lifelong challenge of making sense of the American dilemma. My road was long and winding–a year in Barcelona as Spain struggled to emerge from autocracy; years organizing for the nuclear freeze and against apartheid; study under academics puzzling through the possibilities of nonviolent and democratic politics. My efforts culminated in the publication of a volume that won the Organization of American Historians Liberty Legacy Award, for the “best book by a historian on the civil rights struggle from the beginnings of the nation to the present.”

Thomas' book list on racial and economic justice movements in the US

Thomas F. Jackson Why did Thomas love this book?

When I read this book, I knew plenty about Martin Luther King’s ties to the labor movement. What I did not knowand what it took Honey twenty years to piece together—was an understanding of the 1,200 workers whose desperate straits and courageous creative nonviolence called King to Memphis in 1968. Honey uncovers the small triumphs hidden from view if we only look at the large tragedy of King’s assassination. Sanitation workers fought for safer working conditions, adequate wages, and trade union recognition from a city administration that literally treated them like garbage. A labor dispute transformed into a nonviolent community revolt. I remain in awe of the book’s richly textured portraits, among them Reverend Ralph Jackson, a peaceful protester brutalized by police, who forged a "campaign to end police brutality and improve housing, jobs, wages, and education across the city."

By Michael K. Honey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Going Down Jericho Road as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Memphis in 1968 was ruled by a paternalistic "plantation mentality" embodied in its good-old-boy mayor, Henry Loeb. Wretched conditions, abusive white supervisors, poor education, and low wages locked most black workers into poverty. Then two sanitation workers were chewed up like garbage in the back of a faulty truck, igniting a public employee strike that brought to a boil long-simmering issues of racial injustice.

With novelistic drama and rich scholarly detail, Michael Honey brings to life the magnetic characters who clashed on the Memphis battlefield: stalwart black workers; fiery black ministers; volatile, young, black-power advocates; idealistic organizers and tough-talking unionists;…


Book cover of A Voice That Could Stir an Army: Fannie Lou Hamer and the Rhetoric of the Black Freedom Movement

Keisha N. Blain Author Of Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer's Enduring Message to America

From my list on Black women in the Civil Rights Movement.

Why am I passionate about this?

I first learned about Fannie Lou Hamer more than a decade ago, and I have been deeply inspired by her life story and her words. I didn’t initially think I would write a book about her. But the uprisings of 2020 motivated me to do so. Like so many people, I struggled to make sense of everything that was unfolding, and I began to question whether change was possible. The more I read Hamer’s words, the more clarity I found. Her vision for the world and her commitment to improving conditions for all people gave me a renewed sense of hope and purpose.

Keisha's book list on Black women in the Civil Rights Movement

Keisha N. Blain Why did Keisha love this book?

Maegan Parker Brooks’ work on Fannie Lou Hamer was indispensable as I wrote my book. A Voice That Could Stir an Army focuses on Hamer’s use of rhetorical symbols and her public persona in a way that helps elevate Hamer’s legacy and demonstrates the importance of rhetoric to social movements. Brooks has helped bring Hamer’s words and ideas to a broader audience.

By Maegan Parker Brooks,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Voice That Could Stir an Army as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A sharecropper, a warrior, and a truth-telling prophet, Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) stands as a powerful symbol not only of the 1960s black freedom movement, but also of the enduring human struggle against oppression. A Voice That Could Stir an Army is a rhetorical biography that tells the story of Hamer's life by focusing on how she employed symbols - images, words, and even material objects such as the ballot, food, and clothing - to construct persuasive public personae, to influence audiences, and to effect social change. Drawing upon dozens of newly recovered Hamer texts and recent interviews with Hamer's…


Book cover of An Easy Burden: The Civil Rights Movement and the Transformation of America

Paul Kendrick Author Of Nine Days: The Race to Save Martin Luther King Jr.'s Life and Win the 1960 Election

From my list on memoirs of the civil rights movement.

Why am I passionate about this?

My father and I have written three books of narrative history. We tell stories from the American past that have a theme of interracial collaboration. Not sentimentally, but so that in a clear-eyed way, we can learn from moments in our history that may offer us hopeful ways forward. Growing up, I was shaped by narrative history techniques such as Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality by Richard Kluger and Taylor Branch’s America in the King Years trilogy. For this list, I wanted to share five favorite civil rights movement memoirs.

Paul's book list on memoirs of the civil rights movement

Paul Kendrick Why did Paul love this book?

Few reflect on Dr. King more insightfully than Young, from strategy sessions to reflective late-night talks with Dr. King. His memories from campaigns like Birmingham are invaluable. There is both humor and great depth in the tale of Young’s life, from theological school and parish ministry to being at the center of the civil rights movement. 

By Andrew Young,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked An Easy Burden as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Andrew Young is one of the most important figures of the U.S. civil rights movement and one of America's best-known African American leaders. Working closely with Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he endured beatings and arrests while participating in seminal civil rights campaigns. In 1964, he became Executive Director of the SCLC, serving with King during a time of great accomplishment and turmoil. In describing his life through his election to Congress in 1972, this memoir provides revelatory, riveting reading. Young's analysis of the connection between racism, poverty, and a militarized economy will resonate with…


Book cover of Scalawag: A White Southerner's Journey through Segregation to Human Rights Activism

Clara Silverstein Author Of White Girl: A Story of School Desegregation

From my list on memoirs from the front lines of standing up to racism.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a white child bused to African American schools in Richmond, Virginia in the 1970s, I unwittingly stepped into a Civil Rights experiment that would shatter social norms and put me on a path to learning history not taught in textbooks. At first, I never expected to look back at this fraught time. Then I had children. The more I tried to tell them about my past, the more I wanted to understand the context. Why did we fall so short of America’s founding ideals? I have been reading and writing about American history ever since, completing a master’s degree and publishing books, essays, and poems.

Clara's book list on memoirs from the front lines of standing up to racism

Clara Silverstein Why did Clara love this book?

Raised in a working-class white family in segregated Richmond in the 1930s and 1940s, Peeples grows up to challenge the racism around him. His transformation – how he learned to think critically and become a “traitor to the race” – is both unusual and compelling. He spends the rest of his life fighting for racial equality, first in the U.S. Navy and later at the university where he teaches. His perspective as someone who rejects his upbringing and energetically defends equal treatment for all races, as well as broader human rights, shows how much one individual can do to overcome the hate in his past and improve the world.

By Edward H. Peeples, Nancy MacLean (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Scalawag tells the surprising story of a white working-class boy who became an unlikely civil rights activist. Born in 1935 in Richmond, where he was sent to segregated churches and schools, Ed Peeples was taught the ethos and lore of white supremacy by every adult in his young life. That message came with an equally cruel one-that, as the child of a wage-earning single mother, he was destined for failure.

But by age nineteen Peeples became what the whites in his world called a ""traitor to the race."" Pushed by a lone teacher to think critically, Peeples found his way…


Book cover of Why We Can't Wait

Christina Hawatmeh Author Of The Year Time Stopped: The Global Pandemic in Photos

From my list on to change your view on the world.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have spent 10 years building Scopio, which stands for “Scope It Out” to build an accessible platform for anyone, anywhere to tell their story and share their images. I have used technology to change stereotypes and archive historical moments to our everyday imagery. I like to consume information easily and actionably and these are my recommendations! We did that in writing The Year Time Stopped so people can enjoy and get value out of 200 images and stories for the next century.

Christina's book list on to change your view on the world

Christina Hawatmeh Why did Christina love this book?

Why We Can't Wait is an easy way to get into the psychology of MLK. It is a 1964 book by Martin Luther King Jr. about the nonviolent movement against racial segregation in the United States, and specifically the 1963 Birmingham campaign. The way it is written makes it understandable from a 1:1 perspective. I am connected to this because it helps a person be actionable in their own way about causes they care about. No frills, just action!

By Martin Luther King, Jr.,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Why We Can't Wait as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'He changed the course of history' Barack Obama

'Lightning makes no sound until it strikes'

This is the momentous story of the Civil Rights movement, told by one of its most powerful and eloquent voices. Here Martin Luther King, Jr. recounts the pivotal events in the city of Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 that propelled his non-violent campaign for racial justice from a movement of lunch counter sit-ins and prayer meetings to a phenomenon that 'rocked the richest, most powerful nation to its foundations'.

As inspiring and resonant as it was upon publication, Why We Can't Wait is both a unique…


Book cover of On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail

Paul Lauter Author Of Our Sixties: An Activist's History

From my list on how we made change in the 1960's.

Why am I passionate about this?

Over the past 50 years, I've been one of those “tenured radicals” the right-wing loved to bash. But before that, during the 1960s, I worked, often full-time, in the social movements that did change America: civil rights, anti-war, feminism. I was older, so I became a “professor-activist.” As a teacher, I applied what I had learned in the movements to reconstruct ideas about which writers mattered—women as well as men, minorities as well as whites: Zora Neale Hurston, Frederick Douglass, Adrienne Rich as well as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway. Using that principle, I led a team that created a very successful collection, The Heath Anthology of American Literature.     

Paul's book list on how we made change in the 1960's

Paul Lauter Why did Paul love this book?

In a clever move, Charlie Cobb uses the form of a travel guide—I love it better than a Lonely Planet—to introduce the events and people of the 1960s Civil Rights struggles. An active participant, Cobb takes us into, behind, and around the sit-ins, the formation of SNCC, campaigns for voting rights, Mississippi Summer of 1964, and other day-by-day battles for Civil Rights. We meet close up and learn about the work of the young people, many unknown and unsung, whose determination and daring carried the Movement forward. And, yes, the book also provides many pictures and documents, as well as a “guided tour” of the homes, churches, shops, and bars where the real action happened.   

By Charles E. Cobb Jr.,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On the Road to Freedom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Award-winning journalist Charles E. Cobb Jr., a former organizer and field secretary for SNCC (Student Non violent Coordinating Committee), knows the journey intimately. He guides us through Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, back to the real grassroots of the movement. He pays tribute not only to the men and women etched into our national memory but to local people whose seemingly small contributions made an impact. We go inside the organizations that framed the movement, travel on the "Freedom Rides" of 1961, and hear first-person accounts about the events that inspired Brown…


Book cover of Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision

Keisha N. Blain Author Of Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer's Enduring Message to America

From my list on Black women in the Civil Rights Movement.

Why am I passionate about this?

I first learned about Fannie Lou Hamer more than a decade ago, and I have been deeply inspired by her life story and her words. I didn’t initially think I would write a book about her. But the uprisings of 2020 motivated me to do so. Like so many people, I struggled to make sense of everything that was unfolding, and I began to question whether change was possible. The more I read Hamer’s words, the more clarity I found. Her vision for the world and her commitment to improving conditions for all people gave me a renewed sense of hope and purpose.

Keisha's book list on Black women in the Civil Rights Movement

Keisha N. Blain Why did Keisha love this book?

This is a book that inspired me as a historian and in my approach to activism. Barbara Ransby’s biography of Ella Baker excavates the activist’s life, placing the reader at the nexus of some of the most important moments in civil rights history. Ella Baker’s life also provides a blueprint for local activism and group-centered leadership. It’s a compelling story of how Ella Baker became a mentor, inspiring, listening to, and supporting local activists. 

By Barbara Ransby,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the most important African American leaders of the twentieth century and perhaps the most influential woman in the civil rights movement, Ella Baker (1903-1986) was an activist whose remarkable career spanned fifty years and touched thousands of lives. In this deeply researched biography, Barbara Ransby chronicles Baker's long and rich political career as an organizer, an intellectual, and a teacher, from her early experiences in depression-era Harlem to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Ransby paints a vivid picture of the African American fight for justice and its intersections with other progressive struggles worldwide across…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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