100 books like I've Got the Light of Freedom

By Charles M. Payne,

Here are 100 books that I've Got the Light of Freedom fans have personally recommended if you like I've Got the Light of Freedom. Shepherd is a community of 9,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Simple Justice

By Richard Kluger,

Book cover of Simple Justice: The History of Brown V. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality

Claudia Smith Brinson Author Of Stories of Struggle: The Clash over Civil Rights in South Carolina

From the list on revealing what is hidden, lost, forgotten.

Who am I?

I lived in sixteen places by the time I was twenty-two. A peripatetic youth may teach you that different is interesting, that stereotypes don’t hold, that the emperor has no clothes. When I moved South and worked as a journalist, I found black elders’ stories so different from the official stories of white authorities. Horrified that these men and women would die with their heroism untold, I interviewed more than 150 black activists for Stories of Struggle. I want to know what is missing; I want it found. Like a detective, an anthropologist, a scientist, and yes, a journalist, I want to know, and I want others to know.

Claudia's book list on revealing what is hidden, lost, forgotten

Why did Claudia love this book?

Monumental, extraordinary, a landmark: only superlatives would do in 1975 to praise Simple Justice by Richard Kluger.

If you want to understand education in America, race in America, the absence of equity in America, Simple Justice gets you there. The book begins with the South Carolina heroes of Briggs v. Elliott, impoverished rural petitioners who filed the first of five lawsuits composing Brown v. Board of Education. The book ends with the 1954 and 1955 US Supreme Court’s decisions declaring unconstitutional the legal segregation of public schools.

Kluger focuses on people, beginning with tenant farmers and sharecroppers who defied the white men controlling their every breath and petitioned for “equal everything.” Kluger’s vivid storytelling was among my inspirations, forty years after Brown, to seek South Carolina’s forgotten heroes. 

By Richard Kluger,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Simple Justice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Simple Justice is generally regarded as the classic account of the U.S. Supreme Court's epochal decision outlawing racial segregation and the centerpiece of African-Americans' ongoing crusade for equal justice under law.

The 1954 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Brown v. Board of Education brought centuries of legal segregation in this country to an end. It was and remains, beyond question, one of the truly significant events in American history, "probably the most important American government act of any kind since the Emancipation Proclamation," in the view of constitutional scholar Louis H. Pollak. The Brown decision climaxed along, torturous…

Dividing Lines

By J. Mills Thornton,

Book cover of Dividing Lines: Municipal Politics and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma

David J. Garrow Author Of Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama

From the list on U. S. Black freedom struggle of the 1950s & 1960s.

Who am I?

I’m a legal historian, best-known for Bearing the Cross, my Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., but I’ve also written the standard history of Roe v. Wade (Liberty and Sexuality) as well as books on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (Protest at Selma) and the FBI’s pursuit of Dr. King (The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr.). I’ve been a top advisor for both the landmark PBS documentary series Eyes on the Prize and for the Library of America’s two-volume Reporting Civil Rights. More recently I’ve been featured in both the Academy Award-shortlisted documentary film MLK/FBI (Hulu) and in the Emmy Award-nominated documentary series Who Killed Malcolm X? (Netflix)

David's book list on U. S. Black freedom struggle of the 1950s & 1960s

Why did David love this book?

Black southern mass action against segregation commenced in Montgomery, AL with the 1955-56 bus boycott that catapulted Martin Luther King, Jr., to national fame, then finally broke through U. S. presidential ambivalence with the 1963 protests in Birmingham that were met with heavily-photographed police violence, and culminated with the 1965 Selma marches that led to the enactment of the Voting Rights Act. These three Alabama cities represent the cornerstones of that dramatic 1955-1965 decade, and Thornton’s magisterial account of those movements’ local roots make it perhaps the most interpretively significant work of civil rights history ever written. A very close second is Adam Fairclough’s Race and Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana, 1915-1972.

By J. Mills Thornton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

With this bold offering from two decades of research, J. Mills Thornton III presents the story of the civil rights movement from the perspective of community-municipal history at the grassroots level. Thornton demonstrates that the movement had powerful local sources in its three birth cities - Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma. There, the arcane mechanisms of state and city governance and the missteps of municipal politicians and civic leaders - independent of emerging national trends in racial mores - led to the great swell of energy for change that became the civil rights movement.

Malcolm X

By Manning Marable,

Book cover of Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

Paul Bass Author Of Murder in the Model City: The Black Panthers, Yale, and the Redemption of a Killer

From the list on Black protest and government resistance.

Who am I?

Paul Bass is the co-author with Douglas W. Rae of Murder in the Model City: The Black Panthers, Yale, and the Redemption of A Killer. Paul has been a reporter and editor in New Haven, Conn., for over 40 years. He is the founder and editor of the online New Haven Independent.

Paul's book list on Black protest and government resistance

Why did Paul love this book?

This was political scientist Marable's life work, finished right before his death --  and what an accomplishment! Marable dives so deeply into and verifies previously unknown territory. Though supportive of his subject, Marable offers complex and sometimes embarrassing information with no apologies. As a result, he produces the fullest portrait of Malcolm X to date, and the best case about why both the man and his ideas matter.

By Manning Marable,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History and a New York Times bestseller, the definitive biography of Malcolm X

Hailed as "a masterpiece" (San Francisco Chronicle), Manning Marable's acclaimed biography of Malcolm X finally does justice to one of the most influential and controversial figures of twentieth-century American history. Filled with startling new information and shocking revelations, Malcolm X unfolds a sweeping story of race and class in America. Reaching into Malcolm's troubled youth, it traces a path from his parents' activism as followers of Marcus Garvey through his own work with the Nation of Islam and rise in the…

Family Properties

By Beryl Satter,

Book cover of Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America

Deborah Dash Moore Author Of Urban Origins of American Judaism

From the list on Jewish lives in urban America.

Who am I?

I grew up in New York City on the corner of 16th Street and 7th Avenue in an apartment on the 11th floor. I loved the city’s pace, diversity, and freedom. So, I decided to study New York Jews, to learn about them from not just from census records and institutional reports but also from interviews. After publishing my first book, I followed New York Jews as they moved to other cities, especially Miami and Los Angeles. Recently, I’ve been intrigued by what is often called street photography and the ways photographs let you see all sorts of details that potentially tell a story. 

Deborah's book list on Jewish lives in urban America

Why did Deborah love this book?

The key to Beryl Satter’s book lies in her title, Family Properties. The book grew out of a daughter’s desire to know her father, who died when she was young. Satter peels back layers of her Jewish father’s fierce advocacy for Blacks in Chicago, his relentless effort to uncover and hold accountable the white men (both Jewish and Christian) who were profiting from the housing segregation that made Blacks desperate to move out of the ghetto. Satter follows her father’s ultimate failure to prevent the exploitation of Blacks. She also reveals the anger directed at him by many Jews who were on the other side. Satter writes with empathy, showing her father’s complexity (he was a landlord as well as a lawyer), and resists the impulse to judge him. 

By Beryl Satter,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“Beryl Satter's Family Properties is really an incredible book. It is, by far, the best book I've ever read on the relationship between blacks and Jews. That's because it hones in on the relationship between one specific black community and one specific Jewish community and thus revels in the particular humanity of all its actors. In going small, it ultimately goes big.” ―Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic

Part family story and part urban history, a landmark investigation of segregation and urban decay in Chicago -- and cities across the nation

The "promised land" for thousands of Southern blacks, postwar Chicago quickly…

For Freedom's Sake

By Chana Kai Lee,

Book cover of For Freedom's Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer

Katherine Mellen Charron Author Of Freedom's Teacher: The Life of Septima Clark

From the list on women in the civil rights movement.

Who am I?

Having studied the civil rights movement for over twenty years, I can attest that it is infinitely more complex, more nuanced, and more inspiring than how it has come to be remembered and celebrated. Students in my civil rights seminar always ask “Why did we never learn this in high school?!” They do so because they discover what becomes possible when ordinary people united around the goals of freedom and justice undertake extraordinary challenges. For those concerned about our contemporary historical moment, both the movement’s successes and shortcomings help explain how we got here. Yet they also suggest how we might best adapt the lessons from that era to our own as the struggle continues.

Katherine's book list on women in the civil rights movement

Why did Katherine love this book?

Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) rose from obscurity as a sharecropper and plantation time-keeper to become a key player in the Mississippi movement. After joining the Student Non-Violent Committee in 1962, she helped with voter registration; arrested a year later, Hamer endured a horrible beating in a jail in Winona that left her with permanent injuries. In 1964, she helped organize Freedom Summer and co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which challenged the seating of the state’s all-white delegation at the Democratic National Convention that fall. Seeking to empower her rural African American neighbors, and drawing on long-standing traditions of self-determination, Hamer founded the Freedom Farm Cooperative in 1969. Lee’s biography of this one incredible activist underscores the everyday racial and sexual violence—including forced sterilization—that accompanied life as a Black woman in the segregated South. It also demonstrates how they overcame it.

By Chana Kai Lee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked For Freedom's Sake as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The youngest of twenty children of sharecroppers in rural Mississippi, Fannie Lou Hamer witnessed throughout her childhood the white cruelty, political exclusion, and relentless economic exploitation that defined African American existence in the Delta.

In this intimate biography, Chana Kai Lee documents Hamer's lifelong crusade to empower the poor through collective action, her rise to national prominence as a civil rights activist, and the personal costs of her ongoing struggle to win a political voice and economic self-sufficiency for blacks in the segregated South. Lee looks at Hamer's early work as a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee…

Until I Am Free

By Keisha N. Blain,

Book cover of Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer's Enduring Message to America

Judith Reifsteck Author Of Memoried and Storied: Healing our Shared History of Racial Violence

From the list on the power of memory to heal racial trauma.

Who am I?

I love writing and teaching about topics that help me understand my life and my community better. And I love to contemplate the question - How do we come to care about the same things? As a psychotherapist I have firsthand experience in the disruption that any type of violence causes until it's repaired. One way to advocate for the vulnerable who do not have protection in their communities is to tell the story of the silent, unknown victims of lynching and other acts of racism and racial violence. Only by memorializing the stories of the victims of racial injustice can we repair the trauma and tell the true story of structural racism in America today.

Judith's book list on the power of memory to heal racial trauma

Why did Judith love this book?

After reading this book, I felt closer to the remarkably courageous Fannie Lou Hamer and better able to talk with others about race and the history of the civil rights movement in the United States.

We cannot promote tolerance and heal racism unless we know each other's life stories and come to care about the same things. In sharing Mrs. Hamer’s life story in great detail, Keisha Blain made me a co-owner of the trauma experienced by this inspirational historical figure.

This book details the mundane and the heroic aspects of one racial justice warrior's life. It describes the beatings, injustice, forced sterilizations, sexual assaults, and other degradations Mrs. Hamer and her fellow racial justice advocates suffered and lived to tell about. They did this so that we could change such injustice and live in a country that lives up to its creed and follows the rule of law.


By Keisha N. Blain,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Until I Am Free as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

National Book Critics Circle 2021 Biography Finalist

53rd NAACP Image Award Nominee: Outstanding Literary Work - Biography/Autobiography

“[A] riveting and timely exploration of Hamer’s life. . . . Brilliantly constructed to be both forward and backward looking, Blain’s book functions simultaneously as a much needed history lesson and an indispensable guide for modern activists.”—New York Times Book Review

Ms. Magazine “Most Anticipated Reads for the Rest of Us – 2021” · KIRKUS STARRED REVIEW · BOOKLIST STARRED REVIEW · Publishers Weekly Big Indie Books of Fall 2021

Explores the Black activist’s ideas and political strategies, highlighting their relevance for tackling…

A Voice That Could Stir an Army

By Maegan Parker Brooks,

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 the list on Black women in the Civil Rights Movement.

Who am I?

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

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…

An Easy Burden

By Andrew Young,

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 the list on memoirs of the civil rights movement.

Who am I?

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

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…


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

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

Who am I?

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

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…

Why We Can't Wait

By Martin Luther King, Jr.,

Book cover of Why We Can't Wait

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

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

Who am I?

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

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…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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