100 books like Origins of the Civil Rights Movements

By Aldon D. Morris,

Here are 100 books that Origins of the Civil Rights Movements fans have personally recommended if you like Origins of the Civil Rights Movements. 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 Among the Thugs

Zachary M. Schrag Author Of The Fires of Philadelphia: Citizen-Soldiers, Nativists, and the 1844 Riots Over the Soul of a Nation

From my list on mob violence.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am fortunate not to have witnessed any major riots myself; the worst I’ve endured was a 1993 street fight in Moscow between parading Communists and the police, with bricks on one side and clubs and water cannon on the other. But even a relatively gentle protest march that draws a police response can be an astonishing spectacle, transforming a familiar, modern city into a medieval battlefield of massed crowds confronting armored men on horseback. And I am fascinated by the place of crowd actions in democratic societies. The right to assemble is embedded in our constitution, but there’s a fine line between public expression and mob rule.

Zachary's book list on mob violence

Zachary M. Schrag Why did Zachary love this book?

Whatever rhetoric leaders deploy, they depend on others—usually teenagers and young men—who will fight for the joy of it. “Violence is one of the most intensely lived experiences,” writes Buford. “For those capable of giving themselves over to it, is one of the most intense pleasures.” He reaches this conclusion after years of observing the largely apolitical English football hooligans who follow their favorite teams around Europe, plundering and brawling as they go. The crime is brutal and pointless, but, Buford explains, the thugs thrill to the mayhem, the naughtiness, and the sound of broken glass. 

By Bill Buford,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Among the Thugs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The author of this book has spent most of his spare time "among the thugs", the hooligans whose violence scars the face of English football. He has written a work of investigative journalism and a meditation on the violence that lies just beneath the surface of English life.


Book cover of Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy

James M. Jasper Author Of The Emotions of Protest

From my list on what drives protestors.

Why am I passionate about this?

James M. Jasper has written a number of books and articles on politics and social movements since the 1980s, trying to get inside them to see what participants feel and think. In recent years he has examined the many emotions, good and bad, involved in political engagement. He summarizes what he has learned in this short book, The Emotions of Protest, taking the reader step by step through the emotions that generate actions, to those that link us to groups, down to the emotional and moral impacts of social movements. The book is hopeful and inspiring but at the same time also clear-eyed about the limitations of protest politics.

James' book list on what drives protestors

James M. Jasper Why did James love this book?

Since ancient times people have gathered outdoors to celebrate all sorts of things, generating joy through dancing, marching, singing, and feasting. In the past most had some religious aura, but in the present, many are political gatherings, deeply satisfying ways of expressing moral visions. In this romp through history Ehrenreich shows us the sheer fun of political (and other) gatherings, which modern elites have tried hard to suppress.

By Barbara Ehrenreich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dancing in the Streets as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the bestselling social commentator and cultural historian comes Barbara Ehrenreich's fascinating exploration of one of humanity's oldest traditions: the celebration of communal joy

In the acclaimed Blood Rites, Barbara Ehrenreich delved into the origins of our species' attraction to war. Here, she explores the opposite impulse, one that has been so effectively suppressed that we lack even a term for it: the desire for collective joy, historically expressed in ecstatic revels of feasting, costuming, and dancing.

Ehrenreich uncovers the origins of communal celebration in human biology and culture. Although sixteenth-century Europeans viewed mass festivities as foreign and "savage," Ehrenreich…


Book cover of Freedom Is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements

James M. Jasper Author Of The Emotions of Protest

From my list on what drives protestors.

Why am I passionate about this?

James M. Jasper has written a number of books and articles on politics and social movements since the 1980s, trying to get inside them to see what participants feel and think. In recent years he has examined the many emotions, good and bad, involved in political engagement. He summarizes what he has learned in this short book, The Emotions of Protest, taking the reader step by step through the emotions that generate actions, to those that link us to groups, down to the emotional and moral impacts of social movements. The book is hopeful and inspiring but at the same time also clear-eyed about the limitations of protest politics.

James' book list on what drives protestors

James M. Jasper Why did James love this book?

Internal dynamics, especially decisionmaking, often become more important to protest groups than the impact they are having on the outside world. Through vivid cases in twentieth-century America, Polletta relates the internal and the external, showing that groups decide what to do and who they are -- strategy and identity -- at the same time. She is especially good on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee of the early 1960s.

By Francesca Polletta,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Freedom Is an Endless Meeting as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Freedom Is an Endless Meeting offers vivid portraits of American experiments in participatory democracy throughout the twentieth century. Drawing on meticulous research and more than one hundred interviews with activists, Francesca Polletta challenges the conventional wisdom that participatory democracy is worthy in purpose but unworkable in practice. Instead, she shows that social movements have often used bottom-up decision making as a powerful tool for political change.

Polletta traces the history of democracy in early labor struggles and pre-World War II pacifism, in the civil rights, new left, and women's liberation movements of the sixties and seventies, and in today's faith-based…


Book cover of Missing Class

James M. Jasper Author Of The Emotions of Protest

From my list on what drives protestors.

Why am I passionate about this?

James M. Jasper has written a number of books and articles on politics and social movements since the 1980s, trying to get inside them to see what participants feel and think. In recent years he has examined the many emotions, good and bad, involved in political engagement. He summarizes what he has learned in this short book, The Emotions of Protest, taking the reader step by step through the emotions that generate actions, to those that link us to groups, down to the emotional and moral impacts of social movements. The book is hopeful and inspiring but at the same time also clear-eyed about the limitations of protest politics.

James' book list on what drives protestors

James M. Jasper Why did James love this book?

Meetings are one of the main activities of social movements, and plenty of misunderstandings occur based on the way people talk due to different backgrounds. This amusing book focuses on the effects of social class, which both activists and scholars have tended to forget about in recent years. If nothing else, it will give you something to think about during your next meeting.

By Betsy Leondar-Wright,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Many activists worry about the same few problems in their groups: low turnout, inactive members, conflicting views on racism, overtalking, and offensive violations of group norms. But in searching for solutions to these predictable and intractable troubles, progressive social movement groups overlook class culture differences. Missing Class looks through a class lens and discovers that members with different class life experiences tend to approach these problems differently. Using this class lens enables readers to envision new solutions, solutions that draw on the strengths of all class cultures to form the basis of stronger cross-class and multiracial movements.

In Missing Class,…


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…


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 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 Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement

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?

There is a spiritual quality in Lewis’ beautiful writing as he remembers a historic life. Lewis’ testament is of his journey from an Alabama farm to meeting a young Dr. King to becoming a leader in the Nashville sit-in movements and SNCC, all the way to the White House after speaking at the March on Washington. This book should be read forever.

By John Lewis, Michael D'Orso,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Walking with the Wind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An award-winning national bestseller, Walking with the Wind is one of our most important records of the American Civil Rights Movement. Told by John Lewis, who Cornel West calls a “national treasure,” this is a gripping first-hand account of the fight for civil rights and the courage it takes to change a nation.

In 1957, a teenaged boy named John Lewis left a cotton farm in Alabama for Nashville, the epicenter of the struggle for civil rights in America. Lewis’s adherence to nonviolence guided that critical time and established him as one of the movement’s most charismatic and courageous leaders.…


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

Why am I passionate about this?

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

David J. Garrow 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.


Book cover of Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down

Mara Rockliff Author Of Sweet Justice: Georgia Gilmore and the Montgomery Bus Boycott

From my list on civil rights heroes.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a children’s author best known for digging up fascinating stories about famous people—and forgotten people who deserve to be famous again. As a kid, I loved reading about the old days, but I wasn’t very interested in “history,” which seemed to be dull facts about a few Great Men. In college, though, I studied social movements and discovered that we all make history together, and that it takes the combined efforts of countless unsung heroes—just as brave, hardworking, and persistent as the big names everybody knows—to achieve real change. 

Mara's book list on civil rights heroes

Mara Rockliff Why did Mara love this book?

Joseph McNeil. Franklin McCain. David Richmond. Ezell Blair. These aren’t household names, but they should be. These four college boys—still in their teens—organized the 1960 sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. This book shows how their daring not only drew in more protestors to join them, but set off a wave of sit-ins all across the South, and ultimately led to the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, with the slogan “We are all leaders.” Pinkney even squeezes in a shout-out to the grassroots organizer Ella Baker. 

By Andrea Davis Pinkney, Brian Pinkney (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A picture book celebration of the 50th anniversary of the momentous Woolworth's lunch counter sit-in, when four college kids staged a peaceful protest that became a defining moment in the struggle for racial equality and the growing civil rights movement. Andrea Davis Pinkney uses poetic, powerful prose to tell the story of these four young men, who followed Dr Martin Luther King Jr.'s words of peaceful protest and dared to sit at the 'whites only' Woolworth's lunch counter. Brian Pinkney embraces a new artistic style, creating expressive paintings filled with emotion that mirrors the hope, strength and determination that fueled…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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