81 books like Black Gotham

By Carla L. Peterson,

Here are 81 books that Black Gotham fans have personally recommended if you like Black Gotham. 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 Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict

Anna Mae Duane Author Of Educated for Freedom: The Incredible Story of Two Fugitive Schoolboys Who Grew Up to Change a Nation

From my list on Black New Yorkers you wish you had learned about in history class.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an associate professor of English at the University of Connecticut. I’ve spent most of my career thinking about the role children have played in American culture. Adults, past and present, often overlook the intelligence and resilience of children who have managed to change both their immediate circumstances, and the world around them. I seek out these children and do my best to honor their stories. I’ve written or edited four other books on race and childhood, and have a podcast on children in history.

Anna's book list on Black New Yorkers you wish you had learned about in history class

Anna Mae Duane Why did Anna love this book?

This book surprised the scholarly community when the manuscript was first obtained at an estate sale.  A handwritten memoir that had lain largely unread for over a hundred and fifty years, this narrative depicts the sort of child we rarely see in the history books. A defiant apprentice, a runaway truant, a bartender, a prisoner, and author, Austin Reed offers us one plot twist after another. As a free person of color in the nineteenth century, Reed offers a compelling view into the life of one man who was determined to maintain his own sense of self, even in the face of a quickly growing carceral state that imprisoned him both as a child and as a man.

By Austin Reed, Caleb Smith (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The earliest known prison memoir by an African American writer—recently discovered and authenticated by a team of Yale scholars—sheds light on the longstanding connection between race and incarceration in America.

“[A] harrowing [portrait] of life behind bars . . . part confession, part jeremiad, part lamentation, part picaresque novel (reminiscent, at times, of Dickens and Defoe).”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

In 2009, scholars at Yale University came across a startling manuscript: the memoir of Austin Reed, a free black man born in the 1820s who spent…


Book cover of In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863

Anna Mae Duane Author Of Educated for Freedom: The Incredible Story of Two Fugitive Schoolboys Who Grew Up to Change a Nation

From my list on Black New Yorkers you wish you had learned about in history class.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an associate professor of English at the University of Connecticut. I’ve spent most of my career thinking about the role children have played in American culture. Adults, past and present, often overlook the intelligence and resilience of children who have managed to change both their immediate circumstances, and the world around them. I seek out these children and do my best to honor their stories. I’ve written or edited four other books on race and childhood, and have a podcast on children in history.

Anna's book list on Black New Yorkers you wish you had learned about in history class

Anna Mae Duane Why did Anna love this book?

The history of colonial and antebellum New York, in Harris’s hands, becomes a map of Black activism. This book moves beyond a history of slavery and abolition to offer a sweeping historical narrative of Black life in New York City, starting with the arrival of the first enslaved people in 1626 and culminating in the brutally violent draft riots of 1863. Harris works creatively with little-studied sources to chronicle how, even in the direst of circumstances, Black New Yorkers created vibrant communities. While Harris certainly depicts the obstacles that Black New Yorkers faced in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, she also showcases individual lives, marked by sharp ambition and myriad achievements. In this narrative, talented political operatives create national movements, argue with white abolitionists, and create institutions and traditions that influence racial politics to the present day. 

By Leslie M. Harris,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Shadow of Slavery as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The black experience in the antebellum South has been thoroughly documented. But histories set in the North are few. In the Shadow of Slavery, then, is a big and ambitious book, one in which insights about race and class in New York City abound. Leslie Harris has masterfully brought more than two centuries of African American history back to life in this illuminating new work."-David Roediger, author of The Wages of Whiteness

In 1991 in lower Manhattan, a team of construction workers made an astonishing discovery. Just two blocks from City Hall, under twenty feet of asphalt, concrete, and rubble,…


Book cover of Freedom Fire

Anna Mae Duane Author Of Educated for Freedom: The Incredible Story of Two Fugitive Schoolboys Who Grew Up to Change a Nation

From my list on Black New Yorkers you wish you had learned about in history class.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an associate professor of English at the University of Connecticut. I’ve spent most of my career thinking about the role children have played in American culture. Adults, past and present, often overlook the intelligence and resilience of children who have managed to change both their immediate circumstances, and the world around them. I seek out these children and do my best to honor their stories. I’ve written or edited four other books on race and childhood, and have a podcast on children in history.

Anna's book list on Black New Yorkers you wish you had learned about in history class

Anna Mae Duane Why did Anna love this book?

This middle-grade novel introduces us to a real place—the Colored Orphan Asylum in New York City—and invites us to imagine the historical children who lived there as freedom fighters. Those fights for freedom, it turns out, take place on the back of dinosaurs! While the surprising addition of dinosaur battles might seem like a diversion from the hard work of learning about slavery’s painful history, in Older’s hands, the dinos offer young readers a way to meditate on power and its abuses. Viewed in the context of a Black radical tradition that insists on alternate timescapes, Freedom Fire’s dinosaurs do not function as a bit of whimsical unreality that overwrites difficult historical truths. Instead, their discordant presence actually offers a space for readers—children and educators both—to better inhabit the surreal, disorienting history of enslavement and freedom in the United States.

By Daniel José Older,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Freedom Fire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

"An unforgettable historical, high-octane adventure." -- Dav Pilkey, author-illustrator of the Dog Man series

Magdalys and the squad are flying south on pteroback. South to rescue her older brother. South to war.The squad links up with the dino-mounted troops of the Louisiana Native Guard, an all-black regiment in the Union Army fighting to free their people. They're led by General Sheridan, surrounded by enemy forces in Tennessee and desperate for any edge to sway the tide of battle. Magdalys's burgeoning powers might be the Union's last hope. But she doesn't want to abandon the search for her brother. And she…


Book cover of Stories of Freedom in Black New York

Anna Mae Duane Author Of Educated for Freedom: The Incredible Story of Two Fugitive Schoolboys Who Grew Up to Change a Nation

From my list on Black New Yorkers you wish you had learned about in history class.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an associate professor of English at the University of Connecticut. I’ve spent most of my career thinking about the role children have played in American culture. Adults, past and present, often overlook the intelligence and resilience of children who have managed to change both their immediate circumstances, and the world around them. I seek out these children and do my best to honor their stories. I’ve written or edited four other books on race and childhood, and have a podcast on children in history.

Anna's book list on Black New Yorkers you wish you had learned about in history class

Anna Mae Duane Why did Anna love this book?

This beautifully written history focuses on another nineteenth-century Black New Yorker who defies expectations and deserves our attention. Like Educated for Freedom and Black Gotham, White’s story places us in historical moments surrounding the 1827 law ending slavery in New York State. White puts us on the vibrant, noisy, streets of the city, inviting us to see both hope and defiance in how Black people dressed, how they walked down the street, and what they did at the theater. At the center of this history emerges James Hewlett, a man whose life is worthy of at least one feature film, but has remained largely unknown outside of specialists in the field. Hewlett was a Black Shakespearean actor who insisted on his right to interpret Shakespeare for himself and for the community, even as white tastemakers sought to keep the bard’s words to themselves.

By Shane White,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stories of Freedom in Black New York as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Stories of Freedom in Black New York recreates the experience of black New Yorkers as they moved from slavery to freedom. In the early decades of the nineteenth century, New York City's black community strove to realize what freedom meant, to find a new sense of itself, and, in the process, created a vibrant urban culture. Through exhaustive research, Shane White imaginatively recovers the raucous world of the street, the elegance of the city's African American balls, and the grubbiness of the Police Office. It allows us to observe the style of black men and women, to watch their public…


Book cover of Moral Minorities and the Making of American Democracy

Jerry Mikorenda Author Of America's First Freedom Rider: Elizabeth Jennings, Chester A. Arthur, and the Early Fight for Civil Rights

From my list on history of the Civil Rights Movement.

Why am I passionate about this?

History is learned in the worst way by most, through textbooks. Textbooks are written heavy on dates, timelines, and synopsizing events for multiple-choice, maybe a few, essay questions in schools. Whose facts are they? To paraphrase Frederick Douglass, what does the Fourth of July mean when you’re black? History is taught in these fact silos. But that’s not how it happens. History happens in layers that build under pressure, erupt, and shift like rock sediment evolving over time. I chose these five nonfiction books because they unapologetically show the fault lines and pressures that make American history. These books also uncover the hidden gems created by those societal pressures.       

Jerry's book list on history of the Civil Rights Movement

Jerry Mikorenda Why did Jerry love this book?

The United States was born out of a revolution, but the civil rights of its citizens were created by evolution over the country’s nearly 250-year history. In this book, author Kyle G. Volk traces how various minorities elbowed their way to the American rights table and changed our democratic political system. 

What made the book resonate with me was the well-researched examples of how minorities got their voices heard by the majority. He sticks to the meat and potatoes issues that matter to regular people, such as transportation, education, and booze–wet regulations, as it were.

By Kyle G. Volk,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Moral Minorities and the Making of American Democracy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Should the majority always rule? If not, how should the rights of minorities be protected? In Moral Minorities and the Making of American Democracy, historian Kyle G. Volk unearths the origins of modern ideas and practices of minority-rights politics. Focusing on controversies spurred by the explosion of grassroots moral reform in the early nineteenth century, he shows how a motley but powerful array of self-understood minorities reshaped American democracy as they battled laws regulating Sabbath observance, alcohol, and interracial contact. Proponents justified these measures with the "democratic" axiom of majority rule. In response, immigrants, black northerners, abolitionists, liquor dealers, Catholics,…


Book cover of The Essence of Liberty: Free Black Women During the Slave Era

Jerry Mikorenda Author Of America's First Freedom Rider: Elizabeth Jennings, Chester A. Arthur, and the Early Fight for Civil Rights

From my list on history of the Civil Rights Movement.

Why am I passionate about this?

History is learned in the worst way by most, through textbooks. Textbooks are written heavy on dates, timelines, and synopsizing events for multiple-choice, maybe a few, essay questions in schools. Whose facts are they? To paraphrase Frederick Douglass, what does the Fourth of July mean when you’re black? History is taught in these fact silos. But that’s not how it happens. History happens in layers that build under pressure, erupt, and shift like rock sediment evolving over time. I chose these five nonfiction books because they unapologetically show the fault lines and pressures that make American history. These books also uncover the hidden gems created by those societal pressures.       

Jerry's book list on history of the Civil Rights Movement

Jerry Mikorenda Why did Jerry love this book?

What I found most rewarding about this book by Wilma King is the way she widened the research net to include the ways women communicated with each other through diaries, letters, and various church records. This makes sense and creates tremendous value because newspaper reporters of this period weren’t knocking on the doors of Maria Stewart or other black female leaders for their opinions.

Thanks to King's diligent work, I got a much better sense of the important role these underrepresented women played in the antislavery and early civil rights movement.

By Wilma King,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Before 1865, slavery and freedom coexisted tenuously in America in an environment that made it possible not only for enslaved women to become free but also for emancipated women to suddenly lose their independence. Wilma King now examines a wide-ranging body of literature to show that, even in the face of economic deprivation and draconian legislation, many free black women were able to maintain some form of autonomy and lead meaningful lives. ""The Essence of Liberty"" blends social, political, and economic history to analyze black women's experience in both the North and the South, from the colonial period through emancipation.…


Book cover of The Ghost Ship of Brooklyn: An Untold Story of the American Revolution

Jerry Mikorenda Author Of America's First Freedom Rider: Elizabeth Jennings, Chester A. Arthur, and the Early Fight for Civil Rights

From my list on history of the Civil Rights Movement.

Why am I passionate about this?

History is learned in the worst way by most, through textbooks. Textbooks are written heavy on dates, timelines, and synopsizing events for multiple-choice, maybe a few, essay questions in schools. Whose facts are they? To paraphrase Frederick Douglass, what does the Fourth of July mean when you’re black? History is taught in these fact silos. But that’s not how it happens. History happens in layers that build under pressure, erupt, and shift like rock sediment evolving over time. I chose these five nonfiction books because they unapologetically show the fault lines and pressures that make American history. These books also uncover the hidden gems created by those societal pressures.       

Jerry's book list on history of the Civil Rights Movement

Jerry Mikorenda Why did Jerry love this book?

Watching reenactors wearing tricorne hats and stockings, I never associated the American Revolution with war atrocities until I read this book. What’s worse is it happened in my own backyard. After the British landed and routed Washington’s fledging army, they occupied Manhattan. 

Their biggest problem was prisoners of war. They were housed in twenty-something “hulked” ships with cannon and sails removed in Wallabout Bay off Brooklyn. Watson focuses on the most infamous of these floating prisons, the HMS Jersey.

His vivid descriptions of the thousand or so men and boys shackled there make for claustrophobic reading. After the war, the Bill of Rights was issued in response to our treatment by the British. The HMS Jersey was sunk–a ghostly reminder of our past.

By Robert Watson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Ghost Ship of Brooklyn as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Moored off the coast of Brooklyn, the derelict HMS Jersey was a living hell for thousands of Americans either captured by the British or accused of disloyalty. Crammed below deck without light or fresh air, the disease-ridden prisoners were scarcely given food and water. More Americans died in its ghastly hold than on all the war's battlefields. Throughout the colonies, the mere mention of the ship sparked a fear and loathing of British troops that, paradoxically, helped rally public support for the war.

Utilizing hundreds of accounts culled from old newspapers, diaries, and military reports, award-winning historian Robert Watson follows…


Book cover of Speak Out In Thunder Tones: Letters And Other Writings By Black Northerners, 1787-1865

Jerry Mikorenda Author Of America's First Freedom Rider: Elizabeth Jennings, Chester A. Arthur, and the Early Fight for Civil Rights

From my list on history of the Civil Rights Movement.

Why am I passionate about this?

History is learned in the worst way by most, through textbooks. Textbooks are written heavy on dates, timelines, and synopsizing events for multiple-choice, maybe a few, essay questions in schools. Whose facts are they? To paraphrase Frederick Douglass, what does the Fourth of July mean when you’re black? History is taught in these fact silos. But that’s not how it happens. History happens in layers that build under pressure, erupt, and shift like rock sediment evolving over time. I chose these five nonfiction books because they unapologetically show the fault lines and pressures that make American history. These books also uncover the hidden gems created by those societal pressures.       

Jerry's book list on history of the Civil Rights Movement

Jerry Mikorenda Why did Jerry love this book?

I found this book while researching my own history book. I purchased a used copy complete with the underlined text and notes of other people that I always find interesting. It’s an old book, first published more than fifty years ago. I see it as the perfect companion piece to King’s book. 

Here, late author/editor Dorothy Sterling (quite an agitator herself) includes African American leaders' letters, speeches, songs, and news articles. Sterling covers heavyweights such as Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Henry Highland Garnet, along with overlooked figures Ira Aldridge (Shakespearean actor), poet Phillis Wheatley, merchant Paul Cuffe, and opera singer Elizabeth Greenfield, the Black Swan. Reading Speak Out expanded my knowledge of the breadth and scope of the early Civil Rights Movement.

By Dorothy Sterling,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Speak Out In Thunder Tones as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This impressive collection, drawn from a wealth of original research into previously untapped sources,including letters, diaries, memoirs, speeches, poems, songs, newspaper articles, advertisements, a ship's log, and official documents,allows African Americans to speak afresh across more than two centuries. Besides the expected voices of Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, this book makes vivid the experiences and views of a diverse range of lesser-known but equally fascinating personalities: Ira Aldridge, one of the great Shakespearean actors of his day William Allen, the first black college professor in the country the astronomer and mathematician Benjamin Banneker Paul Cuffe, owner of a fleet…


Book cover of Like One of the Family

Micki McElya Author Of Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America

From my list on antidotes to the unrelenting poison of “Aunt Jemima”.

Why am I passionate about this?

Stories of the past are always about making claims to the present and future. These claims include which stories—whose stories—are persistently silenced, ignored, or made very hard to hear, see, and know in the dominant culture. I am a cultural historian of U.S. political history, broadly imagined. My work is almost always driven by the same question: Why didn’t I already know this? Quickly followed by: What has it meant that I didn’t know this? Invariably, the answers are found in the histories of women, gender, race, sexuality, class, and immigration.

Micki's book list on antidotes to the unrelenting poison of “Aunt Jemima”

Micki McElya Why did Micki love this book?

Childress’s novel is a compilation of short pieces originally published serially in two different Black-owned newspapers. In each story, Mildred, a Black domestic worker in New York City, recounts to her friend, Marge, the humorous, infuriating, and all too familiar experiences of working for various white families across the city. She also describes her refusal to remain silent in the face of white employers’ micro-aggressions, outright venom, and fantasies that she’s their loving mammy. Childress’s stories were a powerful salve to the Black household workers and others who first read them in a newspaper. Most of them daily confronted similar situations and worse, but lacked the safety or resources to resist in the same direct ways. 

By Alice Childress,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Like One of the Family as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Recommended by Entertainment Weekly

The hilarious, uncompromising novel about African American domestic workers—from a trailblazer in Black women’s literature and now featuring a foreword by Roxane Gay

First published in Paul Robeson’s newspaper, Freedom, and composed of a series of conversations between Mildred, a black domestic, and her friend Marge, Like One of the Family is a wry, incisive portrait of working women in Harlem in the 1950s. Rippling with satire and humor, Mildred’s outspoken accounts vividly capture her white employers’ complacency and condescension—and their startled reactions to a maid who speaks her mind and refuses to exchange dignity for…


Book cover of I Love Myself When I am Laughing: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader

Why am I passionate about this?

If five gentlemen from Mexico, a colored/negro woman from Eatonville, Florida, a former President who happened to be white, with historical privilege, from Plains, Georgia, and two Professors of History can use their knowledge, training, God’s gifts to help us to understand history better, why shouldn't I also be passionate and excited to write. Telling stories, writing, contributing, and unearthing lies and truths so that a child who looks like me – or who does not look like me – is provided a better world. Let me hokey about this – maybe the word is dorky – whatever, the privilege is mine.

Anthony's book list on history books which weave a wonderful tale, while making us laugh, scream, cry and think, while we are bowing and saying bravo at the same time!

Anthony Paul Griffin Why did Anthony love this book?

This work is not a history book but a collection of Zora Neal Hurston’s writings. Hurston wrote fiction and nonfiction and was a trained anthropologist. Her work taught me that history is oft-times found in the strangest places. This reader did this for me – a writer and anthropologist Hurston was. When I read the reader, I wanted to raise my hand and ask questions. Other times, I remained silent, only talking to myself and thinking.

In my former life as a trial lawyer, I remember quoting her writings in a final argument to explain language and culture. As my voice broke, tears flowed – this was the first time I explained the power of this book. They understood, and some of my jurors cried with me.  

By Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I Love Myself When I am Laughing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The foundational, classic anthology that revived interest in the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God—"one of the greatest writers of our time"—and made her work widely available for a new generation of readers (Toni Morrison).

During her lifetime, Zora Neale Hurston was praised for her writing but condemned for her independence and audacity. Her work fell into obscurity until the 1970s, when Alice Walker rediscovered Hurston's unmarked grave and anthologized her writing in this groundbreaking collection for the Feminist Press.

I Love Myself When I Am Laughing... And Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive established Hurston…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in New York City, African Americans, and the Civil Rights Movement?

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