The best books about African Americans 📚

Browse the best books on African Americans as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880

Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880

By W.E.B. Du Bois

Why this book?

Black Reconstruction places the struggle for African American equality at the center of American democracy. Written a century ago, it remains among the best books - not just on the period after the Civil War when the end of US slavery made the ideals of US democracy potentially realizable - but on the founding of the nation. Generations of scholars have followed the pioneering path that W.E.B. Du Bois forged documenting the ways in which the “failure” of Reconstruction was in fact the failure of the state to intervene when groups of white Americans violently excluded Black Americans from the…

From the list:

The best books on how African Americans shaped democracy in America

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Book cover of Stuck in Place: Urban Neighborhoods and the End of Progress Toward Racial Equality

Stuck in Place: Urban Neighborhoods and the End of Progress Toward Racial Equality

By Patrick Sharkey

Why this book?

Pat Sharkey draws on a rich longitudinal dataset (the Panel Study of Income Dynamics) that follows individuals and households over decades and keeps track of them as they change, move, and form new households. He uses it to show that Black Americans are unique in the degree to which they are confined to poor and disadvantaged neighborhoods across time and the generations, and how neighborhood disadvantage works so powerfully to perpetuate poverty and stymie upward mobility.

From the list:

The best books on how neighborhoods perpetuate inequality

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Book cover of Censoring Racial Ridicule: Irish, Jewish, and African American Struggles over Race and Representation, 1890-1930

Censoring Racial Ridicule: Irish, Jewish, and African American Struggles over Race and Representation, 1890-1930

By M. Alison Kibler

Why this book?

A unique and insightful look at how three groups fought back against their widespread stereotyping in the media of the early 20th century, and how two of them largely succeeded in changing these portrayals. The reasons why African-Americans were much less successful than Irish and Jews in fighting stereotypes are complex and fascinating, and hold lessons for us today.

From the list:

The best books to understand the minstrel show

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Book cover of Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom

Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom

By Lawrence W. Levine

Why this book?

Though the title suggests a rather exclusive focus on black culture, this incisive yet impassioned book shows that culture continually evolving and adapting, as traditional African practices and beliefs interacted with those of the whites who first enslaved African peoples and later consigned them to the hardship and humiliation of the Jim Crow system. The result is a brilliant, engaging, almost seamless narrative of the ongoing cultural synthesis that shaped the identities of both blacks and whites, in the South, and ultimately, throughout the nation.
From the list:

The best books that "tell about the South"

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

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

By Leslie M. Harris

Why 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,…

From the list:

The best books about 19th-century Black New Yorkers you wish you had learned about in history class

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Book cover of Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City

Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City

By Carla L. Peterson

Why this book?

Part history, part memoir, part detective story, the capacious, impeccably researched Black Gotham depicts an author’s engagement with her own ancestry, as she traces her family’s achievements in nineteenth-century New York City. Starting with the name and a family story about one great-grandfather, Peterson weaves a vibrant tapestry that details the lives of a community of elite Black New Yorkers who attended schools, started businesses, generated national conventions, and lived cosmopolitan lives. In addition to chronicling the lives of these accomplished ancestors, Peterson offers a compelling meditation on the determination and creativity required to excavate the lives of Black…

From the list:

The best books about 19th-century Black New Yorkers you wish you had learned about in history class

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