404 books directly related to African Americans 📚

All 404 African Americans books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers

By Joseph T. Glatthaar,

Book cover of Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers

Why this book?

The decision to recruit Black soldiers made an enormous difference in the war and in politics. Black recruits to the U.S. Army equaled all the northern men lost in the first two years of fighting and proved themselves on many battlefields. Their sacrifice also made an irrefutable case for Black rights. Joseph Glatthaar’s book admirably tells the story of these soldiers and their white officers.

Bloods: Black Veterans of the Vietnam War: An Oral History

By Wallace Terry,

Book cover of Bloods: Black Veterans of the Vietnam War: An Oral History

Why this book?

This was the first collection of oral histories that I ever read from the Vietnam War. Reading history done this way, with the men speaking for themselves, opened a new world for me. It allowed me to understand that it is only by talking to and with our veterans that the true depth of the combat experience can be delved. Terror, camaraderie, death, honor, humor, compassion, and boredom – the full human story of Vietnam and war is on display in Bloods. And it was this book that taught me to be an oral historian. 

On top of that, Bloods also, of course, makes clear the uniqueness of the Black experience in Vietnam – fighting a war for America while the country wrestled with its eternal question of race. This book is good and important for so many reasons. 

Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880

By W.E.B. Du Bois,

Book cover of Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880

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 body politic. Du Bois warned that we should not permit the history of slavery and the realities of racism to be “explained as a sort of working out of cosmic social and economic law”.

The Vanishing Half

By Brit Bennett,

Book cover of The Vanishing Half

Why this book?

This is one of the most unusual and memorable books about sisters I’ve ever read. It’s the story of Black twins, Desiree and Stella, who are separated in early adulthood in the 1950s, one returning to her hometown in the South after escaping an abusive marriage, the other passing as White in the White world she’s chosen to inhabit. The choices Desiree and Stella make that cause their paths to diverge haunt the sisters, each in her own way. But what never changes is the deep bond that exists between them even in absentia. I loved this book. Read it, then call your sister. 


By Nella Larsen,

Book cover of Passing

Why this book?

Although Clare Kendry and Irene Redfield are only old childhood friends, their relationship has intense sister vibes. Each woman’s mix of jealousy and curiosity about the other’s life, the latent homoerotic desire that serves as an undercurrent for so much of the rising action, a suspected affair, and the explosive ending to Clare’s ruse all illustrate the kind of sibling rivalry I love to explore in my critical as well as my creative work. Not to mention, one of my favorite literary flexes of all time occurs near the end when Irene’s plucky friend Felise has to check a white man who has the audacity to yell the word “nigger” at a house party filled with Black people. It is a moment, as is the entire book. 

Self-Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom

By Heather Andrea Williams,

Book cover of Self-Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom

Why this book?

Williams is another beautiful writer and what I love most about this book is it dispels the very harmful myths about Black intelligence during and after slavery. The author shares the many ways that enslaved Africans taught each other to read even though reading or teaching a Black person to read was illegal in all of the southern states. Reading, storytelling, and passing on knowledge across generations is part of the African American tradition and Williams captures all of this and more in this beautiful book.

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

By Richard Rothstein,

Book cover of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

Why this book?

When I was trying to figure out how the city of Charlotte became segregated, this book was a godsend. Rothstein explodes the myth that segregation in America grew primarily from individual choices, such as White people fleeing a neighborhood when a Black family moved in. He shows how local, state, and federal governments passed laws and made policies that created the housing and school segregation that much of the nation lives with today.  

Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television

By Donald Bogle,

Book cover of Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television

Why this book?

Film historian and professor Bogle does a deep dive on the history of Black characters and series on television, from the early days of the medium and stereotyped portrayals on series like Amos ‘n’ Andy through groundbreaking ‘70s shows like Sanford & Son and The Jeffersons, ‘80s juggernaut The Cosby Show, and the sitcoms of UPN and The WB in the mid-1990s. Bogle shares his opinions throughout the compelling chronicle, and does not suffer foolish performances or material gladly, making this a must read for any TV fan seeking a truly comprehensive account of TV history.

In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose

By Alice Walker,

Book cover of In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose

Why this book?

This anthology of some of Walker’s most powerful works with a focus on discovering ourselves through studying those who came before us is both incredibly informative and emotional. It explores motherhood not only through the biological role but also in a sense of community mothering and foremothers. There is much to learn about our present by examining lessons laid out for us by generations past.

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches

By Audre Lorde,

Book cover of Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches

Why this book?

Classic essays on Black women, Caribbean resistance, language, anger, and the combinations of race, class, gender, sexuality. These essays are now fundamental as we think through issues of sexual difference, the ways that poetry and the creative are accessible once we open ourselves to experience and express our deep feelings, and how it re-names the erotic as a place for women that is not wholly sexual but is orgasmic if we are able to reach that zone of creativity.

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

By Edward E. Baptist,

Book cover of The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

Why this book?

What psychologists like me and historians have in common is a deep understanding that the past matters.  Past events shape our perceptions of the present and our expectations for the future. To understand the contemporary persistence of racism and racial inequality you have to know what happened in the past. Learning more about the establishment of slavery as a business practice foundational to the American economy is a good place to start. The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward Baptist is a riveting historical account of both the brutal realities of enslavement and the way today’s U.S. economy was profoundly shaped by the American system of slavery. Before I read this book, I thought I already knew a lot about this subject, but as the title suggests, “the half has never been told…” I learned a lot, you will, too!

Songs in Black and Lavender: Race, Sexual Politics, and Women's Music

By Eileen M. Hayes,

Book cover of Songs in Black and Lavender: Race, Sexual Politics, and Women's Music

Why this book?

Featuring an Introduction by artist Linda Tillery, the book offers a timely critique of white-centered women’s music events and the possibility of Black women’s music festivals. The author looks at the different experiences of Black audiences in primarily white feminist festival spaces and the role of Black lesbian artists across several generations.

Framing Blackness: The African American Image in Film

By Ed Guerrero,

Book cover of Framing Blackness: The African American Image in Film

Why this book?

I am recommending this book because it is a foundational text in Black film studies. Guerrero focuses primarily on the 1970s-1990s, but he also articulates how early U.S. films like Birth of a Nation set the stage for how African Americans would be portrayed on screen from that point forward. I love this book, because it is one of the earliest studies that charted the emerging tropes, conventions, and challenges of representation as African Americans gained more opportunities on the screen and behind it.

Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877

By Eric Foner,

Book cover of Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877

Why this book?

If most Americans are like me, Reconstruction is vaguely remembered from high school history classes as a time when corrupt and incompetent Carpetbaggers and Scalawags reigned while the South struggled to recover from the devastation of the Civil War. Historians have rescued Reconstruction from this neglect and misunderstanding, revealing it as a second American revolution – but one that failed. It was a time of stunning progress in the rights of Black Americans, a reconceptualization of the role of government in society, and staggering violence to preserve white supremacy. Pulitzer Prize-winning Historian Eric Foner’s book is the Bible for this era–lucidly written, carefully researched, and painful in its assessment of this lost moment in American history.

Living for the Revolution: Black Feminist Organizations, 1968-1980

By Kimberly Springer,

Book cover of Living for the Revolution: Black Feminist Organizations, 1968-1980

Why this book?

Springer’s book was one of the first to outline the multiple Black women’s feminist organizations that developed in the late 1960s and 1970s. Situating now fairly well-known groups like the Combahee River Collective alongside lesser-known organizations like the Third World Women’s Alliance, Springer’s brief book is a fabulous primer to Black women’s feminism in an era when many people still think such a thing didn’t exist.

Selected Poems

By Gwendolyn Brooks,

Book cover of Selected Poems

Why this book?

Everyone should read this book and own this book, which contains key poems from A Street in Bronzeville, Annie Allen (the book for which Gwendolyn Brooks won the Pulitzer Prize in 1950), The Bean Eaters, as well as new poems. Brooks’s sonnets are like a knife in a heart made vulnerable. I could read these poems—especially “The Sundays of Satin-Legs Smith”—again and again. Gwendolyn Brooks was the best American poet of the twentieth century, bar none.

African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song: A Library of America Anthology

By Kevin Young,

Book cover of African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song: A Library of America Anthology

Why this book?

Kevin Young’s anthology is the latest in a long line of Black poetry anthologies; the first was James Weldon Johnson’s Book of American Negro Poetry (1922), which Young duly acknowledges. Most of Young’s choices I agree with; some I don’t (at least one of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s great sonnets should have been included); but in the main it is a terrific anthology of poets historical up to the present day. I counted almost 40 sonnets among the poems included. Readers who are interested in the dates the poems were published can turn to an extensive set of notes in the back, which are really helpful.

Black Power, Jewish Politics: Reinventing the Alliance in the 1960s

By Marc Dollinger,

Book cover of Black Power, Jewish Politics: Reinventing the Alliance in the 1960s

Why this book?

There are many wonderful, useful and thoughtful books on the subject from local studies to broader political and philosophical overviews, and while I wish I could recommend them all, I want to highlight Marc Dollinger’s book because he turns so many widely held beliefs on their heads. He argues that far from alienating Jewish allies, Black Power actually animated them and spurred them to rethink “Jewish Power,” revitalizing Jewish political action within a civil rights context. If there has been a divide between African American and (white) Jewish American leaders or agendas, it has at least partly been caused by losing sight of that story and ignoring the impact of white privilege on Jewish communal responses to civil rights challenges.

Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped Into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home

By Richard Bell,

Book cover of Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped Into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home

Why this book?

Because the buying and selling of enslaved people was enormously profitable and entirely legal in the United States before the Civil War, even free Black people lived in fear that they might be kidnapped, sold illegally as slaves, and never heard from by their friends and families again. Though many Americans are familiar with the experience of Solomon Northup, as relayed in his memoir Twelve Years a Slave and the film of the same name, Richard Bell demonstrates how kidnapping was widespread in the nineteenth century and how thin the line could be between freedom and slavery.

The Undefeated

By Kwame Alexander, Kadir Nelson (illustrator),

Book cover of The Undefeated

Why this book?

Kwame Alexander is a creative force of nature, an award-winning author of poetry and children’s fiction, such as Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, Becoming Muhammad Ali, co-authored with James Patterson, and The Crossover, soon to be a Disney+ television series. In The Undefeated, Alexander displays masterful lyrical language skills, and by telling us what we are not, shows us what we are: resilient, strong, and brave. Read this book to Black children and bask in the love.

Blacktop Wasteland

By S.A. Cosby,

Book cover of Blacktop Wasteland

Why this book?

This is a high-octane thriller that never lets you relax—and I enjoyed every thrilling minute of it. Beauregard Montage, the fastest driver you’ll ever meet in prose, tries to get ahead through one daring con after another, and has us rooting for him all the way. I loved the slick, urbane, Southern voice of the narrator, the dizzying pace of the narrative, and the heartfelt passion of all the characters. It’s a joy ride I’ll never forget!

Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment

By Parker Curry, Jessica Curry, Brittany Jackson (illustrator)

Book cover of Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment

Why this book?

This picture book truly shows the importance of art and how it can empower kids when they see themselves in art. This is one reason why I like writing picture books! Art can speak volumes when the viewer connects, and this story of an African American child named Parker seeing Michele Obama as a queen in her portrait is so beautiful in many ways. You’ll be inspired to bring your child to an art museum.

Last Stop on Market Street

By Matt de la Peña, Christian Robinson (illustrator),

Book cover of Last Stop on Market Street

Why this book?

CJ begins his weekly bus journey around the city with disappointment and dissatisfaction, wondering why he and his family can't drive a car like his friends. Through energy and encouragement, CJ's nana helps him see the beauty and fun in their routine.

This is a stunning book about a Nana who creatively teaches her grandson to look deeper than face value – to see the beauty in every element of the world around them. It’s a rich story of humility and gratitude. Beautifully illustrated by Christian Robinson with bold, graphic shapes in a lovely retro style.  

This beautifully illustrated, emotive picture book explores urban life with honesty, interest, and gratitude. Last Stop on Market Street has won multiple awards and spent time at the number one spot on the New York Times Bestseller List.

Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine

By Emily Bernard,

Book cover of Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine

Why this book?

Faithful to its title, this brilliant book starts with the body — an unspeakable injury to the narrator’s body, a crime, a horror. Bernard writes with a specificity that is gut-wrenching without being sensational. And all along, running alongside the sensory language is the author’s intellectual river, constantly washing over and over a moment, a scene, a feeling, a thought. This book includes twelve interconnected essays, each building on the other despite how many years – and miles – separate them.

Let the Children March

By Monica Clark-Robinson, Frank Morrison (illustrator),

Book cover of Let the Children March

Why this book?

Beautifully written and illustrated, this book portrays the story and the outcome of thousands of African American children who volunteered to march for their civil rights after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak. I think it will be inspiring to children to find out that kids their own age were so brave and were able to make a significant impact on our history.

Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors

By Carolyn Finney,

Book cover of Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors

Why this book?

American nature-lovers are just Americans who love nature? Not exactly, Finney reminds us. She showcases the baked-in whiteness of American environmentalist ideas and advocacy historically, and carves out space for how African Americans have imagined, enjoyed, experienced, and fought for the “great outdoors”—and draws on both scholarship and her own experiences to do so.

The Wide Circumference of Love

By Marita Golden,

Book cover of The Wide Circumference of Love

Why this book?

When 68 year-old Gregory Tate is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, his family members reckon with the past and try to move toward an unexpected future with love and honesty. This beautifully written novel offers readers a chance to see the crisis from varying points of view and encourages empathy for every member of the family. In addition, Golden works to raise awareness of the way Alzheimer’s disproportionately affects Black and Latino communities. African Americans are more than twice as likely as whites to develop the disease, and yet, are gravely underrepresented in research and clinical trials. Part of a diverse chorus represented by #AlzAuthors, Golden is a vital voice to follow.

Like One of the Family

By Alice Childress,

Book cover of Like One of the Family

Why 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. 

Nobody Knows My Name

By James Baldwin,

Book cover of Nobody Knows My Name

Why this book?

Baldwin first opened my eyes to the possibilities of memoir. When English teachers held up fiction as the literary ideal, I was drawn to Baldwin’s essays instead. I was a New Yorker, living not far from the author’s Harlem, and growing up at the time of the civil rights movement. Baldwin was writing autobiographical non-fiction that, knitted together individual temperament and social history. “I left America because I doubted my ability to survive the fury of the color problem here,” he wrote in Nobody Knows My Name. I read that paragraph as the daughter of Czech Jewish immigrants, white people who had survived both Nazism and Stalinism. Baldwin’s voice was like the voices I heard at home telling stories of the Second World War. It was both compelling and trustworthy. Fifty years later, I still think so.


By Jacqueline Woodson,

Book cover of Hush

Why this book?

Evie Thomas and her family are forced to move away from her childhood home, leaving behind family and friends to protect her father from his fellow officers. Evie has to get used to a new name, life without her older sister, and most importantly, life with her father, whose deep depression has transformed him from a lively, protector to a sad man who sits by the window, gazing at nothing. Tackling depression using an African American protagonist, Woodson has written a moving coming of age novel that shines the light on what it means to live with someone suffering from mental illness. I felt a kinship with Woodson because both of our characters have fathers whose mental health deeply affects how they move about in the world. 

Around Harvard Square

By Christopher John Farley,

Book cover of Around Harvard Square

Why this book?

Speaking of outsiders, Around Harvard Square follows a superstar student-athlete from small-town USA who assumes he’s made it big when he’s admitted to Harvard University. However, as a young, Black man, Tosh Livingston soon discovers the ways in which he does not belong and finds that admissions committees aren’t the only gatekeepers. This novel really digs deep into issues of race and class, insiders and outsiders. And while the topics feel timely, they are also timeless—not only in the world at large but also in that microcosm, the campus. There have always been those who are kept out and always those with special access, such as legacies and athletes. The protagonist in this novel also comes up against a secret society, an underground facet of campus life and the epitome of exclusivity, which really set my own creative juices in motion. Funny and fast-paced, this novel epitomizes a protagonist’s struggle to learn the secret handshake.  

The Ways of White Folks

By Langston Hughes,

Book cover of The Ways of White Folks

Why this book?

The most famous short story in this collection is about Cora, whose whole life is spent in drudgery first to her own family, and then to the locally prominent Studevants. In her own life, Cora is somewhat unconventional—she feels no shame for having an illegitimate child at a time when that was frowned upon, to say the least—but she’s quietly obedient to her difficult employers. Until, that is, one of them causes a tragedy, and Cora feels compelled to speak up very publicly. And, oh, when she does it is immensely satisfying! (TW: racially charged language and abortion)

Dread Nation

By Justina Ireland,

Book cover of Dread Nation

Why this book?

Dread Nation is an alternate history in which the dead rise from the battlefields of Gettysburg. As the states struggle to deal with the undead crisis, black and native children are forced into combat schools and trained to defend wealthy white patrons. If you’re itching for a classic zombie apocalypse story with a twist, this is your book. Ireland’s writing is sharp, tight, and unflinching. This book is a fast-paced adventure full of ravenous zombie hoards and bold heroines. One thing I especially love about Dread Nation is the fight scenes which are frequent, bloody, and a whole lot of fun.

Beyond Retention: Cultivating Spaces of Equity, Justice, and Fairness for Women of Color in U.S. Higher Education

By Brenda L. H. Marina (editor), Sabrina N. Ross (editor),

Book cover of Beyond Retention: Cultivating Spaces of Equity, Justice, and Fairness for Women of Color in U.S. Higher Education

Why this book?

Beyond Retention is a non-fiction title that has the same narrative as my novel Resilience. Through various stories of lived experience, this title brings to light all the issues of race and gender inequality in higher institutions. What makes this book special is that it doesn't focus only on faculty but deals with administrators as well. Every woman who is interested in a career in academia should have and read Beyond Retention, as it offers ways through which one can thrive and not just survive in higher education.

Dead Dead Girls

By Nekesa Afia,

Book cover of Dead Dead Girls

Why this book?

The reason I’m flinging this debut historical mystery at everyone who reads books is because of its main character, Louise Lloyd. Lou is a tiny, determined, fierce Black lesbian who lives in 1920s Jazz-Age Harlem and really does not want to keep solving crimes, but crimes keep happening and who else is going to solve them? If you like your heroines ferociously competent, your murder mysteries fast-paced, and your stories to be equal parts harsh tragedy and unstoppable joy, this one’s for you. Plus, it’s the first in a series!

Sistuhs in the Struggle: An Oral History of Black Arts Movement Theater and Performance

By La Donna Forsgren,

Book cover of Sistuhs in the Struggle: An Oral History of Black Arts Movement Theater and Performance

Why this book?

We tend to think about the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s as dominated by militant male voices. This book explores the rich contributions of black women artists to the movement—by amplifying the voices of women artists in their own words. The book is a collection of oral histories, drawing on dozens of interviews with influential Black women artists. Some of them are recognizable, like playwrights/poets Sonia Sanchez and Ntozake Shange. Others are less familiar names whose influence should be appreciated more fully. This is a rich celebration of the impact of women artists during a key period of African American cultural change.

The Sonic Color Line: Race and the Cultural Politics of Listening

By Jennifer Lynn Stoever,

Book cover of The Sonic Color Line: Race and the Cultural Politics of Listening

Why this book?

The author points to the ways American media designated sound as “black” or “white” even as “colorblindness” became the dominant paradigm for liberal attitudes towards race. While Americans claimed that they didn’t “see race”, they were exposed to an increasingly segregated soundscape and media environment. Stoever opens up new ways for us to listen to familiar voices, such as those of WEB du Bois, Lena Horne, Lead Belly, Richard Wright, and many more.

Claire Blair's Unruly Hair: A Curly-Girl Tale (Brown Hair)

By Tara Cavosie, Shereen Said (illustrator),

Book cover of Claire Blair's Unruly Hair: A Curly-Girl Tale (Brown Hair)

Why this book?

I have always believed that in a perfect children’s book, young readers are able to identify with the characters, perhaps even visualizing themselves in the story. This book goes above and beyond this belief. The main character has curly hair but, like most girls, thinks the grass is greener (or the hair is straighter) on all of the other girls. As Claire struggles to accept her big, unruly, curly hair, she embarks on a journey to find ways to change it. With the story’s charming illustrations and delightful rhyming text, this is a sweet story of acceptance and inclusion. But what really sets this book apart from other books is that it is available in 4 different versions! Readers can choose from African American Claire, Brunette Claire, Blonde Claire, or Redhead Claire! Wow!

So Done

By Paula Chase,

Book cover of So Done

Why this book?

When Tai’s useless, always-high dad touches her best friend, Mila, where he shouldn’t, the girls’ friendship is challenged and changed. Tai, already ashamed of her father, wants to pretend the moment never happened. But, Mila can’t pretend because she lives every day with the fear and shame of that moment. After a summer apart, the two friends struggle to reconnect while also competing for acceptance into the same gifted-and-talented arts program. As both work to be seen for who they want to be, they must also learn to look back together at what really happened. I loved the portrayal of the girls’ friendship and the honesty of a story in which the “happy ending” doesn’t mean a return to the way things were.

Lost in the City

By Edward P. Jones,

Book cover of Lost in the City

Why this book?

There is great beauty to the concrete and close-space urban worlds generated by Edward P. Jones. We descend with him into an ever more compassionate world in which people love and hate one another, seek one another, find one another, and bring about uncommon transcendence of heart, mind, and spirit. An artist whose books never fail to forward the depths of American literary gravity, he is a wonder to read and his art a joy to behold. Lost in the City, his first book of short stories, garnered the PEN/Hemingway award. His second book, The Known World, was granted the Pulitzer Prize. The words of social philosopher bell hooks provide the same grounding found in reading Jones’ beautiful powerful stories, it’s “all about love.”

The 1619 Project: Born on the Water

By Nikole Hannah-Jones, Renée Watson, Nikkolas Smith (illustrator)

Book cover of The 1619 Project: Born on the Water

Why this book?

An outgrowth of the 1619 project, this masterful picture book traces a family’s roots from Africa through generations of enslavement in the United States to today. A young girl’s grandmother tells stories in the form of poems that convey joy, terror, heartache, persecution, struggle, and triumph. Illustrations move from light during the times in Africa to dark during the decades of enslavement and back to light in the present. The book ends on a positive note with the girl drawing an American flag—the flag of the country that her ancestors helped build and “that I will help build, too.”

The Music of Black Americans: A History

By Eileen Southern,

Book cover of The Music of Black Americans: A History

Why this book?

One day Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln presented me with a thick, intense book saying: ”Here Lil, it’s one of the most important books ever written on our music. You might say it’s our bible! You’re going to love it!” They were right, I opened the heavy book, set it on my lap, and was smoothly led away into a magic world of slave ships, English colonies; then music, artists, and composers, all the way to the black liberation movement. As Dr. Southern makes clear: Despite the burden of social injustice, to the people, music has always played a central role in the life of the nation. And today the music of Black Americans is definitely universal.

The 1619 Project

By Nikole Hannah-Jones,

Book cover of The 1619 Project

Why this book?

This is the definitive book on racism in America. It provides the 400-year history of the ways in which we have exploited and undermined the well-being of black people. The book makes clear how slavery was central to the very development of the United States. Slavery was a critical component of the economic development of the nation. Throughout our history, disadvantaged white people have supported slavery and later forms of racist control of Black people and thereby maintained the power of the white elites. The book convinces me that we must get a significant portion of the white population to address the continuing inequities of racism and that it will be very challenging to do so. 

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life

By Ashley Bryan,

Book cover of Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life

Why this book?

Based on actual slave documents, Ashley Bryan, through his accomplished paintings and poetry, imagines the lives of eleven men and women sold at auction in 1828. We learn the market prices of the eleven, but Bryan goes deep, showing us the true value of each unique individual. The soul and spirit of this lovely book lay in the astounding resilience, the survival of hope and dreams in the hearts and minds of these enslaved people. Amidst the ugliness of slavery, Bryan manages to leave me uplifted, even joyful — joyful about the unwavering human belief in and desire for freedom.  


By Beverly Jenkins,

Book cover of Captured

Why this book?

Captive is another romance with pirates and passion. It’s part of a larger series featuring the LeVeq family. In this story, privateer Dominic LeVeq, frees and falls for slave Clare Sullivan. Soon they become desperate to have each other. I loved the relationship between these two characters and the devotion that develops between them.  

Beyond the Boundaries of Childhood: African American Children in the Antebellum North

By Crystal Lynn Webster,

Book cover of Beyond the Boundaries of Childhood: African American Children in the Antebellum North

Why this book?

Historians have charted the long, slow process of emancipation in Northern states. But no one has looked before at how children fared during this process. Webster’s ground-breaking work shows that it was virtually impossible for Black children in ostensibly free states to escape politics: as individuals living in a racist society, and as symbols of African Americans’ future, whatever they did or said was invariably surveilled, dissected, and judged. Racist thinking and racialised structures also severely curtailed freedom for the young.

Many Black Northern children were indentured or bound out, often in exploitative labor arrangements that restricted future possibilities. Others were confined to institutions like reformatories or orphanages, usually segregated based on pseudoscientific understandings of race that marked Black children as deviant, violent, or inferior. Circumventing the way Black suffering has been obscured in historical records, Webster manages to piece together archival fragments that show widespread victimization of Black children alongside the creative methods they used to resist their subjugation.

For Us, the Living

By Myrlie Evers Williams, William Peters,

Book cover of For Us, the Living

Why this book?

This was the book, which truly drew me into the world of the Civil Rights struggle in America, a personalized account by Myrlie Ever’s of her life (and that of their children), with her civil rights worker husband and father, until his untimely assassination in 1963.

It is a very personal and moving account of their family life, their passion, and pursuit of the American Dream of equal rights for their family, set against the backdrop of a deeply segregated social order of their time in the Deep South. 

I found this book compelling, enlightening, and touching.

Somebody's Daughter: A Memoir

By Ashley C. Ford,

Book cover of Somebody's Daughter: A Memoir

Why this book?

Like all the young girls in this shortlist of coming-of-age stories, Ashley C. Ford (one of Angelou’s literary children) is a survivor hell-bent on finding a life better than the one she was handed, and, like the others, she is remarkably sensitive, imaginative, and able to paint her world for us in the most tender and unique shapes and colors. How does a young girl weather such brutal realities, experience beauty, and splice together a space for her soul? Ford’s memoir is one such contemporary story. 

Re-Imagining Black Women: A Critique of Post-Feminist and Post-Racial Melodrama in Culture and Politics

By Nikol G. Alexander-Floyd,

Book cover of Re-Imagining Black Women: A Critique of Post-Feminist and Post-Racial Melodrama in Culture and Politics

Why this book?

This is a brilliant book about race, gender, and politics in the United States. While there is a lot of work on racial inequality this book stands out in its focus on the ways in which culture shapes our politics and responses to inequality. It does so by centering Black women. It is also very timely and analyzes the way in which public figures like Michelle Obama and Condoleeza Rice have shaped the American political imagination.  

Music of the Common Tongue: Survival and Celebration in African American Music

By Christopher Small,

Book cover of Music of the Common Tongue: Survival and Celebration in African American Music

Why this book?

In this utterly unique book, Small contends that music does not consist of “works” but is rather an activity called “musicking” that enacts relationships – between sounds but also among the participants, including the audience. Through musicking we learn about ourselves in relationship to others, and that relationship can be one of submission (sitting quietly listening to an orchestra) or equality (jazz musicians improvising in response to each other while the audience shouts encouragement). In Small’s view, African American music enacts democratic relationships, in which all participate as equals, and individuality is enhanced rather than hindered by group solidarity.  

The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-Consciousness

By Paul Gilroy,

Book cover of The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-Consciousness

Why this book?

Gilroy sees in black music a democratic “ethos” embodied in features like “call and response” and improvisation. This ethical sensibility unites disparate parts of the African diaspora, but Gilroy also insists that the music is irrevocably “hybrid” and “Creole,” connecting African-derived cultures with European and other ones as well. Gilroy argues that black music’s connective ability creates an intersubjective, democratic community which he calls an “alternative public sphere.”

Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family

By Paul Murray,

Book cover of Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family

Why this book?

This is a must-read memoir about the childhood of one of America’s most important and least recognized human rights heroes, Pauli Murray. After the loss of her mother in 1914, Murray moved to Durham, NC to live with her aunt and grandparents. The family was Black, White, and Indigenous, giving Murray a unique perspective on what it means to be an American and grapple with what she described as both the “degradation and dignity” of her ancestors. We might now call Murray transgender since she later came to believe that she should have been born a man. I go back to this book frequently and can almost feel how this passionate advocate for human rights found her calling in her own family’s struggle and history. There is also a fabulous documentary, My Name is Pauli Murray, that delves into her human rights advocacy and gender identity.

Transforming Scriptures: African American Women Writers and the Bible

By Katherine Clay Bassard,

Book cover of Transforming Scriptures: African American Women Writers and the Bible

Why this book?

Drawing upon her expertise in African American literature, Katherine Clay Bassard writes about the ways Black women poets, novelists, preachers, and orators from the 1700s through the 1900s used biblical themes and images to challenge the dominant culture’s oppression of women and people of color. African American women used a variety of scriptural images, including the Queen of Sheba and the “black but comely” female speaker in the Song of Songs, to argue for Black women’s dignity. Bassard celebrates African American women’s creativity and their shrewd employment of scriptural passages to engage in resistance to racism and sexism.   

I Am Every Good Thing

By Derrick Barnes, Gordon C. James (illustrator),

Book cover of I Am Every Good Thing

Why this book?

Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James are the award-winning team behind Crown: Ode to a Fresh Cut. Barnes is also the author of The King of Kindergarten and The Queen of Kindergarten. I Am Every Good Thing is a powerful counterpunch to the negative societal messaging Black boys receive throughout their lives. This book celebrates the chi of Black boys; affirms the beauty, spirit, and vulnerability of Black boyhood, and helps create children proud of everything they are: human.

Second Chance on Cypress Lane

By Reese Ryan,

Book cover of Second Chance on Cypress Lane

Why this book?

Small town romance + coming home + second chance? This book was like catnip to me. Dakota and Dexter felt like real people I would know. I love any story that explores how our needs and ambitions change as we grow older, and this book delivered. Dexter made choices when they were young. Dakota made some career choices that have set her life in a tailspin. I also very much enjoyed the friendship between Dakota and her best friend, Sinclair (Sin). Enduring friendships are another facet of a character’s ability to love that I enjoy seeing in a good romance. 

Go Gator and Muddy the Water: Writings From the Federal Writers' Project by Zora Neale Hurston

By Pamela Bordelon,

Book cover of Go Gator and Muddy the Water: Writings From the Federal Writers' Project by Zora Neale Hurston

Why this book?

Today, most people know Zora Neale Hurston as a novelist, thanks to her classic Their Eyes Were Watching God. But she was also an accomplished folklorist, anthropologist, playwright, and essayist. And yet, by the late 1930s, she was broke, and she found work with both the Federal Theater Project and Federal Writers’ Project. This book collects Hurston’s writing for the FWP in her home state of Florida, along with an incisive essay by Pamela Bordelon. The sheer variety of material on display here wasn’t unusual for the FWP: you’ll find essayistic meditations on folklife and art, collections of tall tales and children’s songs, and sketches of labor in the turpentine camps and citrus groves—as well as a chilling report on a racist massacre in Ocoee. 

In the Key of Us

By Mariama J. Lockington,

Book cover of In the Key of Us

Why this book?

This sweet summer camp love story charts the burgeoning relationship between two girls, Andi and Zora. It’s a book that deals with a lot of heavy stuff—grief, the pressure of parental expectations, mental health, racism—but it also is so enjoyable to read because of Lockington’s warm writing and the beautifully rendered summer camp setting. Also, we even at some points in the book hear from the summer camp itself—so creative and cool! 

Miss Ophelia

By Mary Burnett Smith,

Book cover of Miss Ophelia

Why this book?

Part coming-of-age story, part slice of adult drama and misbehavior, this book impressed itself on my memory with its deceptive sweetness and heart-wrenching likability. It touches on teenaged pregnancy while examining infidelity stemming from a faulty marriage between a likable man and a bitter woman. I loved its honest examination of problematic, complex relationships—husband to wife, and child to adult. It is beautifully drawn, complex, and definitely on my "Books I can Re-Read Endlessly” list.

Looking for Hope

By Mbinguni,

Book cover of Looking for Hope

Why this book?

I’ve always been an avid reader despite not having peer-aged characters who resembled or represented me when I was a child. Fast forward to when my children were little: suddenly, there existed a plethora of African-American children’s literature. With pure delight, I indulged my little ones in magnificent books featuring characters that reflected them. Want to know a secret? I read those books for myself as well as for them. Recently, when finding a young African American girl at the center of Looking for Hope, I felt a delightful connection with my inner child. Make no mistakes. The young protagonist, Hannah “Mouse” Maynard, endures a horrific life event that alters her existence, interrupts her innocence, and thrusts her into a perilous, mature journey that fails to diminish her abiding sweetness. 

A History of Me

By Adrea Theodore, Erin Robinson (illustrator),

Book cover of A History of Me

Why this book?

A History of Me is a poetically-told story of trial and struggle, but ultimately of triumph and celebration of self. This book is deeply rooted in the author’s experience as a Black child who attended a predominantly white school. Yes, I love this book for its words and illustrations, but I also love it because I share the same experience. This book is one I wish I could hand to the child I once was. Theodore directly addresses the challenges but also provides encouraging words of connection to past generations. These words empower the little girl in the story and readers who find themselves in this book. We need more stories that consider the impact racial injustice can have on identity formation. A History of Me is one such story. 

Song of Solomon

By Toni Morrison,

Book cover of Song of Solomon

Why this book?

You don’t have to choose what you like most about reading when you read Morrison because she has it all. Stirring plots, elegant language, realistic and gorgeously full characters. Song of Solomon, set in a fictional Michigan town, begins with a death but tells the story of the life of Macon Dead III, from the 1930s to the 1960s. It’s been called “The Great American Novel” and it is. It’s hard sometimes for a writer or an avid reader to get the feeling of getting lost in a book because, being so familiar with the structure of a novel and some of the tropes, there’s so much that can take you "out of it." But I got lost in Song of Solomon. I just dove right in and didn’t come up for air until I was finished and I’m so grateful for that feeling.

Their Eyes Were Watching God

By Zora Neale Hurston,

Book cover of Their Eyes Were Watching God

Why this book?

Their Eyes Were Watching God is a book that I read every year with my students and no matter what age I am when I read it, I come away with something new I’ve discovered. I think what draws me to this book is the main character, Janie Crawford. She is such a complex mix of thoughts and experiences, and the way Hurston lets her grow over the course of the book is a stroke of pure brilliance. When Janie returns to Eatonville, barefoot, wearing coveralls, the townspeople think she’s been defeated, but they don’t even begin to know the two things she’s learned about life: “They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves,” (Hurston, 192). 


By Toni Morrison,

Book cover of Beloved

Why this book?

"124 was spiteful. Full of a baby's venom." These are the brilliant opening lines of Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel—and yes, we soon realize she is talking about a house. This was the first novel I read which blew my mind open in regards to the limitless possibilities of fiction. Plus, there is now an audio version of the book available in which Morrison narrates—absolute gold. Check it out!

Sing, Unburied, Sing

By Jesmyn Ward,

Book cover of Sing, Unburied, Sing

Why this book?

Jojo in this novel breaks my heart. His mother neglects him, his father is in prison, and he must take care of his three-year-old sister Kayla on his own. He and the other characters in the fictional town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi are haunted by drugs, poverty, and backwoods racism. They are also haunted by ghosts. Jojo’s mother Leonie sees the phantasmic presence of brother Given, and Jojo is followed by the ghost of a boy who was cruelly murdered in Parchman prison. Apparitions wait in the tall trees. 

Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice

By Adam Makos,

Book cover of Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice

Why this book?

The true story of two men (one I knew), a son of a poor Mississippi sharecropper Jessie Brown and Thomas Hudner. Brown was the Navy’s first black pilot, and Hudner was a Medal of Honor recipient in his squadron who tried to rescue him when he was shot down at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea.

Blanche on the Lam: A Blanche White Mystery

By Barbara Neely,

Book cover of Blanche on the Lam: A Blanche White Mystery

Why this book?

I get a kick out of a story that presents a main character who doesn’t fit the expected norms of a hero or heroine. A feisty, middle-aged African-American housekeeper/cook is not your typical amateur sleuth. When her checks bounce because her rich employer fails to pay her, Blanche goes on the lam. Hiding as a maid for a wealthy family, things look bleak when a murder occurs in the home.  Blanche calls on her savvy and wit to discover the truth. As the story unfolds, the author uses humor and biting sentences to present a glimpse into the foibles of southern society toward domestic help. This is the first of this cozy mystery series featuring a very memorable character, Balance White. An enjoyable read!  

Once you read Blanche on the Lam, I believe you won’t hesitate to search out book two of the series to see what further adventures Blanche may stumble into.

Warriors Don't Cry: The Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High

By Melba Pattillo Beals,

Book cover of Warriors Don't Cry: The Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High

Why this book?

We all know the iconic photograph of the Little Rock Nine; the nine black students who first integrated Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas. In the picture, you see a young black female, walking stoically towards school, clutching books, hidden behind dark glasses as a mob of white people screams at her. What is behind that face?

This is that story. The story of how the American legal system creates fear and loathing. Her truth stares you in the face, her strength resonates in your backbone. Rather than curse her oppressors, she reveals the heroes, the villains, the people, and the law who tried to tear down the Little Rock Nine - and stand them up. Equal time is given to humanity and humiliation. 

This book discusses integration, laws, discrimination, and human kindness all interwoven into an excellent historical account. It doesn’t reduce the 9 to photos, but rather people who could be anyone experiencing the nastiness of discrimination.

Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells

By Ida B. Wells,

Book cover of Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells

Why this book?

You may have heard of Ida B. Wells, the fierce anti-lynching campaigner of the late-1800s and early 1900s, who used journalism to expose these crimes when many larger papers ignored them. Wells won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 2020 and was well-known in her day. But Crusade for Justice, her engaging autobiography, detailing conversations and the decisions behind her uncommon bravery, was only published in 1970, almost forty years after she died. And it was only re-released in 2020. Her story, and its recovery, is a reminder of how easily the most significant historical figures can be forgotten.

Fallen Prince: William James Edwards, Black Education, and the Quest for Afro-American Nationality

By Donald P. Stone,

Book cover of Fallen Prince: William James Edwards, Black Education, and the Quest for Afro-American Nationality

Why this book?

William James Edward is the grandfather of the author Donald Stone. The author does a great job of highlighting the importance that William J. Edward placed on lineage at the beginning of the book. The author shows the forgotten legacy of Edwards as one of Tuskegee’s first graduates. Edwards goes on to start a secondary school in Wilcox county Alabama, following the legacy of Booker T. Washington. The school was called the Snow Hill Institute and in its prime employed over 20 teachers and had over a dozen buildings on the campus. The curriculum was like Tuskegee, where the students learned trades and received a formal education. Under the leadership of William James Edwards, the school thrived until it was forced to close in the 1960s. Donald Stone mostly uses primary sources to paint a picture of the opposition that Edwards faced in trying to operate a school outside of the powers that be. Through his research, he also changes the narrative of black independent success in the south.

Slaves Without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South

By Ira Belin,

Book cover of Slaves Without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South

Why this book?

This book uses census data and other historical facts to highlight the 250,000 free blacks who were in the south post-Civil War. It shows the struggles black people faced in regards to their community, liberty, education, and economic independence inside an oppressive society. Berlin does a good job at depicting the interaction between Blacks and Whites both free and enslaved. He offers a better understanding of the complex race relations that existed in the south. He gives one of the best accounts on record, of the wealth black people accumulated during slavery and 20 years after despite the pushback they faced.

Colored People: A Memoir

By Henry Louis Gates,

Book cover of Colored People: A Memoir

Why this book?

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is a renowned Harvard professor and author of a series of deeply insightful books on African American history. He has also become one of the most recognizable public figures in the nation, from the PBS series Finding Your Roots and Reconstruction to a cameo in Watchmen in which he played the United States Treasury Secretary. It can be easy to forget that “Skip” Gates was raised in the hills of West Virginia, part of a tight-knit, quirky, distinctly African American community. In Gates’ affectionate memoir detailing his growing up, a series of fascinating characters leap from the page—some Churchgoing, some anything but; some strait-laced; some definitely not; some ambitious, some content to do as little as possible to get by.  Everyone we meet in Colored People is both recognizable and a revelation, and Gates has created a moving and nostalgic look at African American culture that is at once unique yet universal. 

The Fire Next Time

By James Baldwin,

Book cover of The Fire Next Time

Why this book?

Again, not so much an explicit memoir (though it is framed by Baldwin’s “Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation”) but a portrait of a community, and the values it stands for, values heralded by everyone from Zora Neale Hurston to Albert Murray to Paul Laurence Dunbar to... Sam Cooke, the subject of my biography. The world that Baldwin described possessed, he wrote, “a zest and a joy and a capacity for facing and surviving disaster… very moving and very rare. Perhaps we were, all of us – pimps, whores, racketeers, church members, and children—bound together by the nature of our oppression, the specific and peculiar complex of risks we had to run.” If so, it was that inescapably shared heritage, Baldwin went on, that helped create the dynamic that allowed one “to respect and rejoice in… life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread.” That was what I tried to evoke most of all, that sense of communal “presentness,” in the pages of my book.

This Promise of Change: One Girl's Story in the Fight for School Equality

By JoAnn Allen Boyce, Debbie Levy,

Book cover of This Promise of Change: One Girl's Story in the Fight for School Equality

Why this book?

A collaborative book written in verse by award-winning Debbie Levy and JoAnn Allen Boyce who was one of twelve African American students who desegregated Clinton High School in eastern Tennessee in 1956. Brown vs. Board of Education ruled to integrate schools in 1954, but integration didn’t happen easily or quickly. We tend to know more about the Little Rock Nine of 1957 because national journalists published what became iconic photos of the tense struggle of courageous Black teenagers breaking through white hostility to attend a white high school. The earlier event in Tennessee was equally fraught (but less photographed). To have Boyce’s memory of events and her ability to articulate her feelings and Levy’s lyrical bent makes this an enlightening read.

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot

By Mikki Kendall,

Book cover of Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot

Why this book?

As much as I like to poke fun to express the angst of fighting for equal rights with men, we can’t overlook the fact that so many women aren’t equal to other women. The title of this book refers to the fight for women of color to get basic necessities of access to food and shelter. Kendall combines her own personal struggle for health care with challenges of generations born into “the hood” where the struggle has always been real. In researching A Boob’s Life, I already knew that the suffragettes fought for civil rights long before they got the vote and when they did, women of color were left behind. But Hood Feminism brings us right up to the present, as voting patterns continue to undermine progress. It proves the importance of inclusive feminism, the need to work together for the good of all. Only then can any of us truly put the fun in feminism. 

Parable of the Sower

By Octavia E. Butler,

Book cover of Parable of the Sower

Why this book?

Octavia E. Butler is a pillar of science fiction literature, regardless of gender and ethnicity. Parable of the Sower holds this… special place in my heart, however. The initial proposition? A fifteen-year-old black girl develops a new religious belief system that could save her shattered world. It is centered around one watchword: change.

Being an environmentalist myself (love your planet!) and a man of faith, I found the central plot relatable, provocative, and eye-opening. A masterpiece. As an author, the first thought that crosses my mind when I sit down, ready to write, is… how can I challenge my readers? Octavia E. Butler seems to be taking the same angle, the same axial route in her works. 

Is she a source of inspiration for the path I carve for myself? Absolutely.

Notes of a Native Son

By James Baldwin,

Book cover of Notes of a Native Son

Why this book?

Baldwin writes both fiction and non-fiction beautifully and intimately and if you don’t know his non-fiction work then this is a very good place to start. Across a number of essays, he elegantly sets out the deep struggle faced by Black Americans and articulates how a different humanity, in America and beyond, and a different future can be realized. 


By Toni Morrison,

Book cover of Sula

Why this book?

No other novel is more important to me than this one. A college professor introduced it to me in my sophomore year and, as the third Toni Morrison book I’d read, it just spoke to me in a way no other book has before or since. Sula and Nel grow up in Depression-era Ohio, but limitations on black people’s and women’s lives necessitate their different paths: Sula goes rogue to the big Ohio city while Nel succeeds as a housewife in their all-Black birthplace known as “The Bottom.” You would never know an approximately 150-page book could deliver so much spectacular drama and so many unforgettable characters across three generations in America. When Sula returns to The Bottom after a ten-year absence, she and Nel’s friendship endures the ultimate test.

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

By Lawrence W. Levine,

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

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.

Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic: A Materia Magica of African-American Conjure

By Catherine Yronwode,

Book cover of Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic: A Materia Magica of African-American Conjure

Why this book?

If you want to know about some of the earliest forms of magic that originated in America, this book is for you. This book focuses on folk magic, with an emphasis on Hoodoo, the magic of enslaved black people, with practices that include nature and the elements as sources of power. The text provides botanical information on magic plants, and spell recipes for healing and protection. As a plus, the book is lavishly and beautifully illustrated with extensive how-to guides on creating your own charms for good luck and fortune.

Finding Charity's Folk: Enslaved and Free Black Women in Maryland

By Jessica Millward,

Book cover of Finding Charity's Folk: Enslaved and Free Black Women in Maryland

Why this book?

What does it mean to be free—and how can you prove that you are? Millward’s utterly engrossing book demonstrates how significant Black women’s reproductive sexuality was to their pursuit of freedom. Following the formal end of US participation in the international slave trade in 1808, white enslavers placed unprecedented demands on enslaved Black women to bear more children. Because the laws defined the child according to the mother’s free or unfree status, enslaved women literally birthed the property of white enslavers. But what if a currently enslaved person proved that the womb from which they entered the world belonged to a free person? Millward shows how Black women and their descendants paved their own pathways to freedom.

Race Rebels : Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class

By Robin D. G. Kelley,

Book cover of Race Rebels : Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class

Why this book?

This book is a brilliant collection of essays highlighting “race rebels,” where Kelley looks outside of traditional politics and organized movements to find Black resistance to forces such as white supremacy, labor exploitation, and war. Kelley focuses in on the everyday lives of working-class Black men and women, highlighting a “hidden transcript” of expression and resistance in things like music, language, dance, and choice of dress.  He elevates the political potential found in these cultural elements, urging historians to see these “style politics” in the social and economic contexts which give rise to them, for they are powerful and worthy of our attention.

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

By Carla L. Peterson,

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

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 Americans whom traditional historians had long neglected.

Stitchin' and Pullin': A Gee's Bend Quilt

By Patricia McKissack, Cozbi A. Cabrera (illustrator),

Book cover of Stitchin' and Pullin': A Gee's Bend Quilt

Why this book?

Patricia McKissack introduces the quilts of Gee’s Bend to young readers in this charming picture book. McKissack not only read about Gee’s Bend but she visited and learned how to quilt. Her text is written in poems that capture the lilt and rhythm of Gee’s Bend women. The speaker, “Baby Girl,” describes how she learned how to quilt from her grandma. The soft, painterly illustrations by Cozbi A. Cabrera resemble Gee’s Bend quilts, and depict the colorful scraps of material the women used. The story includes the visit of Dr. Martin Luther King to “the Bend” on his way to Camden, then Selma, to march for the right to vote. And the aftermath of that march. A superb picture book full of history and hope for readers of all ages.

Behind the Scenes: Or Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House

By Elizabeth Keckley,

Book cover of Behind the Scenes: Or Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House

Why this book?

The stars had to align perfectly for this autobiography to have been written. Born into slavery in the American South, Elizabeth Keckley learned to read and write at a time when laws forbade it. Her skills as a seamstress allowed her to buy her freedom and later become Mary Todd Lincoln’s dressmaker. She also became a close confidant of the First Lady, gaining an unfiltered view of life in the White House during one of the most crucial times in our nation’s history. After Lincoln’s assassination, Keckley published this autobiography and was widely criticized for relaying intimate conversations and private moments she shared with the Lincoln family. In addition, Keckley’s unflinching account of slavery was difficult for many to read. However, this book has endured as one of the best accounts of life as a slave and of the Lincolns’ time in the White House.

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

By Carole Boston Weatherford, Eric Velasquez (illustrator),

Book cover of Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

Why this book?

As my kids are getting older, I keep my eyes open for longer, more complex picture books – and this book attracted my attention. It’s a great non-fiction biography for kids who like learning about notable historical personalities. It took roughly 45 minutes to read this book with the kids, and we all learned so much about Schomburg and his quest to collect literature by and about people of African descent worldwide. One thing that really impressed the kids and me was how he managed to keep this humongous collection in his home. (The kids and I were wondering if the whole family was sleeping on books instead of beds)!

The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial

By Susan E. Goodman, E.B. Lewis (illustrator),

Book cover of The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial

Why this book?

The First Step tells an important and lesser-known story about Sarah Roberts, a schoolgirl who was not allowed to attend school in Boston in 1847 because of her skin color. Sarah and her family persisted by fighting this injustice; they took the City of Boston to court! Roberts v. City of Boston was the first case to challenge the United States’ legal system to outlaw segregation in schools. The Roberts family lost the battle, but their case was the first step toward desegregating schools. It’s important for children to learn that even if you don’t win, it’s vital to speak up and fight against injustice and that every step forward counts!

12 Million Black Voices

By Richard Wright,

Book cover of 12 Million Black Voices

Why this book?

In this moving work, writer Richard Wright offers a personal and eyewitness testimony of the Black experience during the Roosevelt years. The text is emotional and functions simultaneously as art and history; as poetry and social criticism. A celebration of Black perseverance, he explores Black life in the farm belt and in urban areas. Born in Mississippi and a Chicago resident, Wright was uniquely positioned to offer this holistic expose on American racism and the New Deal’s failure to address discrimination and Black poverty. During the Great Depression, the Work Progress Administration’s Federal Writers Project supported him as he wrote his acclaimed novel Native Son. Accompanied by Edwin Rosskam’s photographs, Wright documents suffering, remembrance, resilience, and resistance: “What we want, what we represent, what we endure is what America is.”

Black Culture and the New Deal: The Quest for Civil Rights in the Roosevelt Era

By Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff,

Book cover of Black Culture and the New Deal: The Quest for Civil Rights in the Roosevelt Era

Why this book?

Sandwiched between the creative outpourings of the Harlem Renaissance and the Cold War, Black cultural expression during the Roosevelt years is often overlooked. Lauren Skalroff corrects this by exploring the various venues where Black artists contributed during the New Deal era. Black cultural workers encountered overwhelming discrimination as they navigated the world of art, theater, music, writing, radio, film, and other cultural outlets that were controlled by white Americans. But the New Deal’s arts programs did offer some opportunities for Black artistic autonomy and genuine expression. In some cases, Black artists were able, to a degree, to challenge negative stereotypes. Sklaroff builds the story chronologically and takes the reader through WWII showing how culture and political activism were intricately linked during two of the nation’s most historically challenging times.

Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership

By Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor,

Book cover of Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership

Why this book?

Race for Profit connects all the dots on the imbalances in housing in the United States today.  As someone who bought a first home right before the mortgage meltdown, I’ve always wondered about the experiences of Black homebuyers historically.  This is an expertly researched look at predatory inclusion, the nefarious ways that institutions—in this case the banks and real estate industry—extended opportunities for homeownership to poor, Black families to purchase homes in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Rather than create high-quality public housing or enforcing the principles of fair housing laws, the federal government supported home buying schemes that ultimately imperiled buyers.  Taylor places emphasis on how discourses about Black women and housing planted the seeds for backlash against people who received public assistance and housing program users.

Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound

By Daphne A. Brooks,

Book cover of Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound

Why this book?

Black feminist scholar and cultural critic Daphne A. Brooks has a solution to the vexing conundrum of the simultaneous centrality of African American women to the development of 20th and 21st-century music and the persistent devaluation of their contributions: she listens closely to their work in its historical, social, and aesthetic context. In her dazzling discussions of the cultural productions of an expansive array of musicians, artists, and critics—Pauline Hopkins, Zora Neale Hurston, Lorraine Hansberry, Abbey Lincoln, Valerie June, Janelle Monáe, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Beyoncé, Carrie Mae Weems, and Wangechi Mutu make appearances—Brooks offers incisive and provocative readings that highlight the transformative intellectual and creative labor of African American women. This luminous book reveals and exemplifies the radical possibilities of Black women’s sound.

You May Plow Here: The Narrative of Sara Brooks

By Sara Brooks,

Book cover of You May Plow Here: The Narrative of Sara Brooks

Why this book?

Sara Brooks was one of seventeen children raised by landowning African American farmers in Alabama. Hers is a lively and evocative account of growing up on the land in a loving family and a harsh coming of age at the hands of an abusive man. Like many southern black women of the era, Brooks is able to escape the bleak conditions of her life by moving first to Mobile and then to Cleveland where she worked as a domestic, eventually acquiring her own home and reuniting with the children she had been forced to leave behind. Hers is a hopeful and richly textured story of resistance and resilience.

All God's Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw

By Theodore Rosengarten,

Book cover of All God's Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw

Why this book?

Historian Ted Rosengarten assembled this riveting account from hours of conversation with 84-year-old Nate Shaw. Born to a former slave, Shaw began picking cotton for white landowners at the age of nine. Independent and proud, Shaw resisted the Jim Crow system, ultimately joining the interracial Alabama Sharecroppers Union (SCU), organized in the 1930s with the support of the Communist Party. The SCU demanded rights to sell surplus crops and to cultivate gardens, an act often forbidden in order to keep sharecroppers dependent on landowners for food.

When Shaw was 47, he faced down a group of armed white law enforcement officers who had come to confiscate a neighbor’s harvest. For this act of defiance, Shaw served 12 years in prison. This is the moving tale of a man who concluded “I was the man I wanted to be, the man my masters didn't want to say was real.”

Brave in the Water

By Stephanie Wildman, Jenni Feidler-Aguilar (illustrator),

Book cover of Brave in the Water

Why this book?

This book has one of my favorite covers which only accentuates the story of Diante overcoming his fears of swimming. With the help of his wise grandmother, Diante learns breathing techniques to help settle his mind in order to put his face in the water and learn to swim.

The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County

By Janice N. Harrington, Shelley Jackson (illustrator),

Book cover of The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County

Why this book?

I love the author’s use of language, “wash away the dreaming,” “as still as sunlight,” “plump as a Sunday purse,” and my favorite, “I stand so still even my shadow gets bored and starts to walk off.” And the bright artwork incorporating bits & pieces of textiles and buttons and a variety of papers is just the right background for a story about a girl determined to achieve her ultimate goal—catching the elusive Miss Hen. The facial expressions, both human and hen, are fabulous—especially Miss Hen’s sly look at the reader when she eludes her captor yet again. The way a self-declared chicken chaser’s attitude can change when faced with a brood of chicks is a sight to see!

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville

By Pat Zietlow Miller, Frank Morrison (illustrator),

Book cover of The Quickest Kid in Clarksville

Why this book?

This is another book about Wilma Rudolph, but this one focuses on how Wilma inspired two young girls in Clarksville, Tennessee, Wilma’s birthplace. Alta is The Quickest Kid in Clarksville, but worries about Charmaine, the new girl with brand-new, “stripes down the sides” shoes. The author’s writing is fast-paced with a rhythm to it, perfect for a running book about winning, losing, and friendship. Yes, friendship, as when Wilma Rudolph arrives for a parade to celebrate her Olympic wins, the girls finally agree to carry Alta's big banner to the parade in a relay race like Wilma won at the Olympics.

The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver

By Gene Barretta, Frank Morrison (illustrator),

Book cover of The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver

Why this book?

The first chapter book I checked out from the school library when I was in third grade (in 1980) was a biography of George Washington Carver. I have always remembered how inspiring I found his story. This new picture-book biography is a beautiful addition to what is now a very large number of children’s book tributes to Carver’s legacy. Morrison’s use of light and color results in stunning images to illustrate Carver’s motto and the book’s central theme, “Regard nature. Revere Nature. Respect nature.”

The story follows Carver from childhood, when he first learned to experiment by gardening in a secret plot tucked in the woods of the farm where he grew up, to his days as a young scientist in the laboratories of Iowa Agricultural College and the Tuskegee Institute, the time he spent traveling through the southern countryside bringing new agricultural knowledge to poor farmers, and finally his elder years when he had become a nationally respected and internationally renowned figure who remained “always ready to serve humanity.”

The Complete Tales of Uncle Remus

By Uncle Remus,

Book cover of The Complete Tales of Uncle Remus

Why this book?

This recommendation might be construed by some as dated and possibly insensitive, but the wisdom of the trickster derived from African folktales in the Antebellum Deep South are worth consideration. The story of the Tar Baby is ubiquitous, and teaches to respect brains over brawn…“What ever you do, don’t throw me in the briar patch!”

The Middle Passage: White Ships / Black Cargo

By Tom Feelings,

Book cover of The Middle Passage: White Ships / Black Cargo

Why this book?

This stunning book was published in 1995, but it is still one of my favorites. Tom Feelings’ black and white illustrations are haunting and powerful. It wordlessly tells and shows the story of the tortuous journey of the slaves brought from Africa to the Americas. Words are not needed with images this powerful.


By Octavia E. Butler,

Book cover of Kindred

Why this book?

It's a fantasy novel, or is it horror? A Black woman is transported back in time to the slave plantation where her ancestors labored. The story has the reader asking vital questions from the beginning. The knife's edge tension almost never lets up—and when it boils over, the results are explosive.

A Piece of Cake: A Memoir

By Cupcake Brown,

Book cover of A Piece of Cake: A Memoir

Why this book?

Wow, this story I found incredible. It was probably one of the very first true stories involving addiction and dysfunction that I had ever read. A memoir of descent into teenage prostitution and drug addiction, orphaned at 11 years old Cupcake entered into the child welfare system and moved from one disastrous place to another. Incredibly frank I found her world harrowing and terrifying and yet through it emerged a woman who turned her entire life around and showed me that anything is possible if you want it enough. Sometimes you just have to read about someone who has had it hard and changed every single thing about the circumstances they found themselves in. Cupcake went from child prostitute to solicitor and if that’s not inspiring, what it? They always make me feel alive when I read such stories. 

Assata: An Autobiography

By Assata Shakur,

Book cover of Assata: An Autobiography

Why this book?

You can’t truly know what activism, social revolution, and political freedom mean until you’ve read this book. Assata Shakur is a Black revolutionary woman who barely escaped U.S. police corruption, systemic racism, and state oppression, in order to find political asylum in Cuba. To know her story is to acknowledge how White supremacy and anti-Black oppression play out in the lives of Black Americans.

Layla's Happiness

By Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, Ashleigh Corrin (illustrator),

Book cover of Layla's Happiness

Why this book?

The author was inspired by her daughter to write this book, with the hope that it would help Black children and other children of color feel seen. Each time I turned a page my heart swelled a bit more as I read about all the ways that Layla finds happiness and strength in family, community, and living things all around. The playful and colorful illustrations paired with the lyrical narrative convey joy and remind us to take notice of the beauty that’s there to be found if we only pay attention. I also loved the reminder of some of my favorite things, like dancing, ladybugs, and climbing trees. 

Before She Was Harriet

By Lesa Cline-Ransome, James E. Ransome (illustrator),

Book cover of Before She Was Harriet

Why this book?

Did I save the best for last? I may have (although I recommend all of these books). This book appeals to me on so many levels. First, it tells the story of an important woman of history who was dauntless in her mission to help others to safety and freedom. Second, the dreamy, lyrical narrative is so different from how so many picture book biographies are written, yet incredibly effective. Third, the art is amazing – especially in its depiction of Harriet as an old woman when her strength was still so evident. And fourth, the story is told in reverse chronology. What a great decision! I use this book often when I teach about nonfiction picture book writing because of this creative approach. Hands down. I love this book.

Maya and the Rising Dark

By Rena Barron,

Book cover of Maya and the Rising Dark

Why this book?

I read books for all ages, because good stories transcend age, gender, race, etc. I love books that teach me something new, especially those with smart, sassy, and determined female protagonists. Maya and the Rising Dark is a delightful middle-grade read, with an empowered 12-year-old girl leading the way. Rich with diversity, I loved journeying into the mythology of the Orisha gods with Maya and her friends

Black Is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy

By Nikhil Pal Singh,

Book cover of Black Is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy

Why this book?

We often learn about African American history in the 20th Century in terms of a conflict between nonviolent resistance vs. violent radicalism, integrationism vs. separatism, Martin vs. Malcolm. But this is an over-simplification of a complex and dynamic moment in the history of our nation. More than any other work, Black is a Country helped me think differently about the period that I study, and see African American history and culture of the mid-20th Century in a new way.

The Hate U Give

By Angie Thomas,

Book cover of The Hate U Give

Why this book?

The Hate U Give is a best-seller and a blockbuster movie. The former English teacher in me would say it’s a perfect balance of character, setting, plot, and theme. The writer in me would say each scene is crafted to draw me in and carry me along. Beyond the storylines of searing systemic racism and the collision of Starr Carter’s two worlds (the white suburban prep school she attends and the volatile black neighborhood in which she lives), the interactions between sixteen-year-old Starr and her parents, her peers, the police, and the Garden Disciples and the Cedar Grove King Lords are jaw-dropping. THUG is one of those rare books I pick up, open to a page, and lose myself in the dialogue every time.

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree

By Ann Weisgarber,

Book cover of The Personal History of Rachel DuPree

Why this book?

This powerful, unflinching book brought me closer to the homesteading experience in South Dakota than I ever thought possible. Rachel’s struggles as a Black homesteader in 1917 and her fierce devotion to her family echoed with me long after I finished the book, and it was particularly meaningful to read about the complicated racial dynamics of that place and time. Rachel is an unforgettable character, and Weisgarber’s descriptive passages are magnificent.

The Spook Who Sat by the Door

By Sam Greenlee,

Book cover of The Spook Who Sat by the Door

Why this book?

In the late ’60s, Dan Freeman, a Black token hire at the CIA shares spy-craft with Black revolutionaries. The book may claim to be a satire, but it demands to be taken seriously. The historical implications of the novel are obvious; there are plenty of exhilarating thrills, and the writing bops with a jazz-like cool. The mystery, however, is subterranean and internal. Freeman has perfected many masks to survive in America, to infiltrate the CIA, and to earn the respect of revolutionaries. The amazing thing is that there is so much suspense in discovering which identity will truly take hold.

Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices

By Walter Dean Myers,

Book cover of Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices

Why this book?

Here in Harlem pays homage to the people of Harlem in the first half of the 20th century. I loved how the rhythmic, musical verse brings the setting to life. It’s modeled on Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, but in a completely unique way that will really speak to YA readers.

The voices depicted in this poetry collection—especially Clara Brown’s recurring testimonies—make the book feel like a fully alive story rather than simple moments captured in time.

Finding Langston

By Lesa Cline-Ransome,

Book cover of Finding Langston

Why this book?

This is a warm hug book. The kind that sneaks up on you when you’re reading words. Langston is a lovable main character. His story is rich with family, tradition, loss, and poetry. He is eleven when his mother dies, and his dad decides they must leave Alabama. So many changes for this boy as he is bullied and deals with segregation in 1940s Chicago. But he discovers the library that welcomes all. Such a sweet story and perfect for younger middle grade readers.

A Good Kind of Trouble

By Lisa Moore Ramée,

Book cover of A Good Kind of Trouble

Why this book?

A Good Kind of Trouble is the beautiful story that follows the main character, Shayla, as she learns to use her voice and speak up for things that matters to her. The book has everything I love in a middle grade novel like humor and heart (Lisa is a master at describing junior high friendships and crushes!), but also engages honestly with the reader about important things like racism and social justice. This book can serve as a fantastic conversation starter for kids and parents and kids and teachers.

The Parker Inheritance

By Varian Johnson,

Book cover of The Parker Inheritance

Why this book?

AKA the book I wish I’d written. but I’m not a colored boy from the 1910s nor a 1940s Negro tennis player nor a contemporary Black girl.

Varian Johnson has so expertly woven rich heritage and unique characters in these three time periods that this book is a master class in writing. More than that, it’s a compelling story that centers on a girl who temporarily moves to her late grandmother’s house, where she finds a letter revealing the first clue to a puzzle, one that may lead to a fortune. The excitement of the plot, a page-turning mystery, also showcases a remarkable depth of culture that has brought me a greater understanding of the Black South then and now.

Bayou Magic

By Jewell Parker Rhodes,

Book cover of Bayou Magic

Why this book?

Maddy is a city kid spending her first summer alone at her Grandmère’s house on the bayou in Louisiana. Her grandmother is a little bit strange, but she and Maddy get along perfectly and can even read each other’s minds. At Grandmère’s side, Maddy learns to cook, to care for her chickens, to make healing potions, study the weather and tides, but she also learns not to stare, not to mumble, not to be quick to judge. And when an environmental and emotional disaster occurs, Maddy is called on to lead and to heal all on her own. Her triumph is thanks to what she learned from Grandmère. This multigenerational story, gorgeously written by Coretta Scott King award-winner Rhodes, is heartwarming and exciting and Maddy’s survival skills are impressive.

One Crazy Summer

By Rita Williams-Garcia,

Book cover of One Crazy Summer

Why this book?

My favorite MG historical novels all seem to have certain things in common. A setting that offers a poignant slice of history. Challenging family dynamics. Protagonists called to be stronger than they ever imagined. One Crazy Summer checks every box and adds a bonus of bittersweet humor and an empathy-rich plot. My heart ached for all of the characters: the little sisters, the Black Panthers, Big Mama and the father, the mother who chose art over mothering, and Delphine, stuck in the middle of them all. A book like this, one that’s able to offer a deeply-immersive experience of slipping your own skin and for a while, wearing someone else’s, feels like a rare, enlightening, incredible gift.

I Got the School Spirit

By Connie Schofield-Morrison, Frank Morrison (illustrator),

Book cover of I Got the School Spirit

Why this book?

This picture book gives off such a positive feeling that it’s impossible not to let it fill you to the brim with excitement and joy. It’s perfect to read with children at the end of the holidays for a gentle but enthusiastic introduction to the new school year. It made me want to go back to school!

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky

By Kwame Mbalia,

Book cover of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky

Why this book?

This is a fast-paced, funny, thought-provoking, page-turner. Tristan, grieving the death of a friend, and the loss of an important boxing match, is navigating guilt, anger, and loss. But his friend’s journal sparks a high-stakes adventure to win over Anansi, the West African weaver god, with famous friends like Gum Baby and Brer Rabbit at his back. 

I loved being in this expansive new world of Tristan Strong. With characters that some kids may have heard a lot about…and some nothing at all, the story draws on African mythology as well as rich and complicated folk history to give readers tons to chew on. The adventure alone is worth the read, but what stood out most to me was the way Tristan is forced to grow. He learns what it means to be truly strong—what it takes to be strong for others and for himself—and how to let go. 

The Gilda Stories

By Jewelle Gomez,

Book cover of The Gilda Stories

Why this book?

Gilda begins her life as a runaway slave in pre-Civil War Louisiana and this beautifully-written novel explores her life over the next two hundred years as she faces danger, love, and loss. It’s memorable not only for the lens of Black and LGBTQ history that it brings to the vampire myth, but for the main character’s commitment to maintaining her connection to community, both vampire and mortal, and her openness to the world that transforms around her. 

From the Desk of Zoe Washington

By Janae Marks,

Book cover of From the Desk of Zoe Washington

Why this book?

A fan of reality baking shows, I was first drawn to this book because the protagonist Zoe dreams of becoming a star baker and wants to audition for the Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge. Once I learned that the author was inspired by true stories of wrongful convictions, it went to the top of my TBR pile and became my favorite 2020 read. This middle-grade contemporary meets mystery follows Zoe who’s determined to uncover if her father—who she’s never met because he’s been in prison—is innocent of the crime. For those looking for an engaging, heartwarming story tackling the tough topic of social justice from the POV of a twelve-year-old, look no further. 

Blanche Cleans Up: A Blanche White Mystery

By Barbara Neely,

Book cover of Blanche Cleans Up: A Blanche White Mystery

Why this book?

This is the third of Barbara Neely’s mysteries about a peppery African-American housekeeper, Blanche White, and the dirt she finds while she’s cleaning other people’s houses. It’s a different house in each of the novels – and a tough task to choose just one, I can tell you. This time, we find Blanche in Boston working for the Brahmin-ish Brindle family, who have got “too-good-to-be-true” written all over them. There’s a nifty plot, but what I love (and this can’t be a surprise after the first four books, surely) is Blanche’s take on everything from how a spice-rack is organised, to why rich people have such ugly art. She is irresistible. I wish somehow she could meet Frances Wray (from The Paying Guests) and share some of her moxie. I’d kind of love to hear her thoughts on the Mortmains too.

My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies

By Resmaa Menakem,

Book cover of My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies

Why this book?

I love this book because it helps us understand the context for how we feel and what is going on with us from ancestral trauma. Many teens feel like they are crazy or messed up for feeling what they feel when they are having a normal human reaction to a situation. This book will help them see that and guides a way forward in healing it. It also addresses racism in such a helpful and necessary way! 

Creating Their Own Image: The History of African-American Women Artists

By Lisa E. Farrington,

Book cover of Creating Their Own Image: The History of African-American Women Artists

Why this book?

If you want to learn about the history of African American women artists from the era of slavery to the 21st century, this is the book to read. Lisa E. Farrington astutely analyzes this fraught history with a style of writing that’s available to both scholars and non-scholars alike. It’s for anyone who has an interest in how images of Black women have evolved over time from racist stereotypes in art and popular culture to empowering images created by Black women artists who “contested society’s insistence on their subservience and vulgarity.” Farrington’s groundbreaking book, which was published in 2005, makes it clear that when Black women artists control their own images, it changes the trajectory of both art history and popular culture. 

Your House Will Pay

By Steph Cha,

Book cover of Your House Will Pay

Why this book?

While this novel is a suspenseful psychological thriller in its own right, the story also tackles racial tensions and contemporary family dynamics. I admire the way Steph Cha explores grief, revenge, violence, racism, and justice over the course of Your House Will Pay’s fast-paced plot. This is absolutely a must-read.

The Vow

By Denene Millner, Angela Burt-Murray, Mitzi Miller

Book cover of The Vow

Why this book?

After attending a New Year’s Eve wedding, three friends decide that they are going to either become engaged or get married by the same time next year. With a premise like that, you know it’s destined to include a plethora of dating and relationship shenanigans. Plus, with three main characters, it gives the reader a great and complex look into the lives of Black professional women. Throughout, the friendships kept me enthralled, and I found it to be a wonderful look into Black sisterhood. 

Waiting to Exhale

By Terry McMillan,

Book cover of Waiting to Exhale

Why this book?

When this book premiered in the mid-nineties, I was fairly young but absolutely shook by these grown thirtysomething women’s stories of not just finding romance but finding themselves with a lot of help from their friends. You will be hard-pressed to pick a favorite character among Savannah, Robin, Bernadine, and Gloria but I will give you a tip: Don’t even try. They are all strong, exuberant, and self-determined professional women at the centers of their families and communities. The search for real, true, lasting love plays out across one year in Arizona that changes their lives. On nearly every page, McMillan will entertain you or break your heart but never let you forget the power of best girlfriends.

The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States

By Walter Johnson,

Book cover of The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States

Why this book?

Beginning with the uprising in Ferguson over the police shooting of Michel Brown, which helped catalyze the national Black Lives Matter movement, a long and disheartening narrative unfolds of redlining and urban renewal, persistent racism, support of slavery, Indian removal, and other exploitive acts in support of “manifest destiny.” Not an easy or uplifting read, but an essential one: a reminder of a city’s parallel history, a city also justifiably proud of its 19th-century growth and prosperity, as a haven for immigrants, progressive labor movements, the fulcrum of Mississippi River trade, and as the gateway to the settlement of the West.  

The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study

By Stefano Harney, Fred Moten,

Book cover of The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study

Why this book?

I first read The Undercommons in a virtual reading group during the early months of the COVID pandemic and was quite taken by its poetics and unfolding conceptual terrain. Beginning with an analysis of academia as a significant ideological state apparatus, Moten and Harney also discuss multiple forms of state violence and capture in racial capitalist formations. From the notion of the settler-capitalist garrison responding to “the surround” of the colonized and marginalized, to the connection between policy and policing, to the logic of reified colonial conquest, to logistics and professionalization, The Undercommons is a meditation on methods of state repression and forms of resistance. Arguing that recognition of the “general antagonism” that underlies the state is necessary for revolutionary politics, Moten and Harney end up echoing Lenin’s insights about class antagonism and false reconciliation in The State and Revolution.

The People Could Fly: The Picture Book

By Virginia Hamilton, Leo Dillon (illustrator), Diane Dillon (illustrator)

Book cover of The People Could Fly: The Picture Book

Why this book?

“They say the people could fly. They say that long ago in Africa some of the people knew magic. And they could walk up on the air like climbin on a gate. And they flew like blackbirds over the fields.” These beautiful words and those that follow have remained in my heart from the moment I first discovered this story in Hamilton’s 1985 folktale collection. The inspiring messages of hope, faith, and the innate desire for freedom are powerfully conveyed through Hamilton’s fine storytelling and the Dillons’ elegant art. I love the feeling of triumph as “old and young who were called slaves” join hands, rise in the air, and fly away to freedom.

The Help

By Kathryn Stockett,

Book cover of The Help

Why this book?

The Help stayed with me. I could relate to the mixed emotions of loving parts of your job, but hating other parts, and shoving down that uncomfortable feeling you get when you know you’re not treated right, but could lose everything if you speak out. I can only imagine how this must feel when it’s because of racism and segregation.

It’s about how even small acts of resistance can change the world. A story about women who question the status quo, and who, at the risk of their own livelihoods, say, enough!

African American Women of the Old West

By Tricia Martineau Wagner,

Book cover of African American Women of the Old West

Why this book?

Thanks to Hollywood, we tend to think of the Old West as being populated primarily by white people and Native Americans. This book helps dispel that mistaken concept by highlighting the role of African-Americans in the American West during the 1800s. Showcasing the true diversity of that era is something I am passionate about learning more about and including in my own books.

This book brings to life the biographies of ten African American women who bravely tackled life on the frontier. Among them are teachers, businesswomen, civil rights crusaders, and a stagecoach driver! Each story is very different, but they all serve to show how important African American women were to the settling of the West.

The South Strikes Back

By Hodding Carter,

Book cover of The South Strikes Back

Why this book?

While many books are written after the event or events contained in the book, this book is contemporary to the events it relates to. In this case the birth and growth of the Citizens Councils in the Deep South in the mid-1950s. 

The author and then managing editor of the Greenville Democratic Times sets out, in a clear and readily understood way, the mood of the day among the white-collar political and business classes in the months and years immediately following the Brown v Board of Education decision.

It’s a worthy read and a touchstone of the rising political temperatures of those times.  

The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now

By Naomi Beckwith (editor), Dieter Roelstraete,

Book cover of The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now

Why this book?

Naomi Beckwith and Dieter Roelstraete’s book shares its title with the book described above, but its subject is completely different. Instead of focusing on the AACM’s music, this book centers on visual art related to the AACM, including paintings, sculptures, and installations created by AACM members such as Muhal Richard Abrams, Douglas Ewart, and Roscoe Mitchell. Published in conjunction with a major exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Beckwith and Roelstraete’s book is a visual feast and a tribute to the AACM’s boundless creativity.

This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us

By Cole Arthur Riley,

Book cover of This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us

Why this book?

I normally don’t read personal essays, but from the moment I cracked open this book, I was sucked in by the lyrical words. Each chapter had something I could personally relate to and brought me to tears. Riley weaves so much emotion into every sentence, highlighting very personal struggles and generational pain in such a poignant way that you have to slow down to savor every word. This is by far my favorite nonfiction book.

Lovecraft Country

By Matt Ruff,

Book cover of Lovecraft Country

Why this book?

I first read H.P. Lovecraft when I was in college. His Cthulhu Mythos instantly grabbed my imagination. Lovecraft was a large part of the reason I started writing horror. Even back then, his disdain for foreigners and Black people and anyone else whose ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower, the way his did, was apparent. In recent years, Lovecraft’s racism has become a hot topic. That’s why I like this book: because it urns the usual Lovecraft trope of evil monsters from another dimension on its head by bringing the monsters closer to home, in the form of the horrors of the Jim Crow era. 

In The Game

By Nikki Baker,

Book cover of In The Game

Why this book?

Nikki Baker is the first African-American writer of lesbian mysteries and her character Virginia Kelly—who works as a financial analyst in Chicago—is the first African-American lesbian sleuth. This makes it important, but what makes the book outstanding is the writing, especially the voice of the protagonist. The plots are slick and entertaining, but it is Virginia’s internal musings and interpersonal relationships that make this—and the other 3 books in the series—a clear 5-star winner. 

Silver Rights

By Constance Curry, Marian Wright Edelman (illustrator),

Book cover of Silver Rights

Why this book?

When I was twelve, my father said to me, “Stick and stones might break your bones, but words will never hurt you. You are going to a white school.” It was with those words that I became a part of a complicated integration plan called “Freedom of Choice.” Connie Curry, one of the first white members of SNCC, the student-run civil rights activist group, writes beautifully of the Carter family as they integrate the schools of Sunflower County, Mississippi. The book emphasizes that access to education was a cornerstone of the Civil Rights Movement. The Carter children learned, as I did, that words can both hurt and heal.

Family Reunion

By Chad Richardson, Dad Richardson, Ashleigh Corrin (illustrator)

Book cover of Family Reunion

Why this book?

Written by a father and son duo, Family Reunion starts with a boy’s reluctance to join a family reunion and ends with him having a change of heart after bonding with a cross-generational group of relatives. Personally, the mini-scenarios throughout the book were so relatable, it made me wonder if the Richardsons were at one of my family reunions! Ashleigh Corrin’s bright cheerful illustrations seal the deal.

The Electric Slide and Kai

By Kelly J. Baptist, Darnell Johnson (illustrator),

Book cover of The Electric Slide and Kai

Why this book?

I don’t know if this book necessarily takes place in summer, but it’s centered around one of my favorite ‘African-American Joy Rituals’ - the Electric Slide! Kai agonizes over his failure to get a dance nickname from his very cool grandfather because of his two left feet. When his aunt gets married, he’s determined to conquer the Electric Slide at her reception.

Who doesn’t love a good, all-inclusive line dance? I still remember learning the Electric Slide when I was 6– to this day if I’m at a party and it’s playing, you’ll know where to find me (the dance floor!). Fun book.

Together We Ride

By Valerie Bolling, Kaylani Juanita (illustrator),

Book cover of Together We Ride

Why this book?

The book itself is so simple, pure, and universal - it’s about the joy of a little girl learning how to ride a bike with her father’s help. Valerie Bolling masterfully uses spare text to communicate such emotion and excitement around this independent pursuit, while Kaylani Juanita’s illustrations are a contemporary, visual delight. Besides, who wouldn’t be inspired to ride their bike with such a spectacular view of the Golden Gate bridge?

Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: Stories from the Harlem Renaissance

By Zora Neale Hurston,

Book cover of Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: Stories from the Harlem Renaissance

Why this book?

Everyone recognizes ZNH’s iconic novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, but Hurston is a master short story writer. She reminds me of the artist Van Gogh, who devoted his work to the common man as Hurston centers her stories on simple folk whose experiences exemplify the human struggle. Profound and pleasing to read, you will smell the flowers, hear the bees buzzing, and occasionally laugh out loud at these beautifully told stories of real life. Although your life may be different from these, you will be reminded of what bonds us more than what divides us. No better time to think about that. 

Up From Slavery

By Booker T. Washington,

Book cover of Up From Slavery

Why this book?

Theodore Roosevelt read the book and loved his philosophy and way of telling a life story. Autobiography is at the heart of American literature. Washington, the founder of the Tuskegee Institute and Roosevelt’s contemporary in age and thinking, was the first writer the President invited to lunch at the White House, controversial as that invitation came to be. We love the book because, in this day of reconsidering Black history, the reader can see how Washington’s notion of self-reliance, captured in his famous admonition, “Cast down your bucket where you are,” helps to define the quest for economic and social freedom for people of color in the early 20th century. Readers will discover a compelling man with an engaging writing style who speaks to the struggles within American society that persist to this day.

Felon: Poems

By Reginald Dwayne Betts,

Book cover of Felon: Poems

Why this book?

I read so much poetry in prison—words about survival, and loss, and absence. But one thing I did not read was poetry about people who’d been in prison like me, and wish I had. This poetry collection wasn’t out then, but I think I would have loved it if it were. 


By Bernice L. McFadden,

Book cover of Sugar

Why this book?

Once upon a time, I was the founder and president of a book club, Literary Ladies Alliance. Many moons ago, LLA chose Sugar as our monthly reading selection. I was absolutely floored by this unlikely, unconventional heroine of the same name as the novel set in a small southern town that wasn’t ready for this seductive storm, i.e. Sugar. I found her shockingly bold and beautifully unapologetic despite her disreputable past and “questionable morals.” She hungered for love, endured dangerous risks and scandal; and yet for me, Sugar moved with an air of voluptuous freedom that captivated my church girl imagination and respect. While Dianne McKinney Whetstone is my favorite author, Sugar is undoubtedly my favorite novel! I’ve read the book twice and would readily devour it again for its captivating journey back in time and its uncharacteristic, boldly unforgettable heroine. 

Mrs. Wiggins

By Mary Monroe,

Book cover of Mrs. Wiggins

Why this book?

Clearly, I’m a fan of small, southern town tales depicting amazing African American females who make magic out of the injustices stacked against them. Well, meet Maggie Wiggins. She and her best friend, Hubert, turn life tragedies and situations into a “perfectly suited” marriage of deception. Outwardly, they live an enviable existence; but only they know the cost of their happiness. I love Mary Monroe’s ability to infuse humor into the most chilling situations, as well as her small town cosmoses and complicated, “countrified” characters. They frustrate me to no end, yet I find myself rooting for them, just as I rooted for Maggie to win. She does in the end but at such a horrific cost that I’ll never look at a bowl of gumbo the same way again. 

The Other Side

By Jacqueline Woodson, E.B. Lewis (illustrator),

Book cover of The Other Side

Why this book?

I’m a big fan of the art of E. B. Lewis, especially his award-winning picture books. (He illustrated my book.) This book is one of my favorites that he’s illustrated. It’s a story about growing up. And friendship. And how kids know what’s right and wrong even if we as adults get it muddled at times.

Major Taylor, Champion Cyclist

By Lesa Cline-Ransome, James E. Ransome (illustrator),

Book cover of Major Taylor, Champion Cyclist

Why this book?

I love reading and learning about great achievements by amazing people. Major Taylor was one of these people whose life story is an inspiration to us all. Plus, this story about his achievement as a cyclist is exciting for kids (and adults!) to experience! You can hear the crowd roar as Major Taylor comes from behind to soar across the finish line and win!

Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature

By Farah Jasmine Griffin,

Book cover of Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature

Why this book?

Although her father died when she was only nine, the great scholar of African American life and literature, Farah Jasmine Griffin has never forgotten his admonition to her: “Read until you understand.” In this beautiful book, Professor Griffin guides us to an understanding of the U.S. Constitution, Malcolm X, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder, the artist Romare Bearden, and writers as different as the enslaved 18th-century poet Phillis Wheatley and Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison. As educators, we have read and re-read and read again. Every read reveals a new level of understanding and we are grateful for the journey on which Professor Griffin leads us.

Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South

By Stephanie McCurry,

Book cover of Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South

Why this book?

McCurry’s book opens up the remarkable story of angry white southern women using their power to make the Confederate and state governments responsive to their wartime needs. McCurry writes about women householders from families disrupted when mostly non-slaveholding farmers were drafted to fight a war for slavery while wealthier plantation owners were exempt. Building on her original work on southern yeoman families and the way gender shaped their practices and ideas, McCurry depicts the political actions and riots that women organized, that sprung from their shared ideas of community justice

A Domestic Cook Book: Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen

By Malinda Russell,

Book cover of A Domestic Cook Book: Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen

Why this book?

Until 2000, What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking (1881) was considered the first cookbook authored by a Black American. It was then that historians chanced upon an incredibly lucky finding: a copy of A Domestic Cookbook at the bottom of a box. As far as we know, there’s only ONE copy left of this little 39-page collection of recipes, which was first published in 1866.

Historians and researchers have delved deep into the mystery of author Malinda Russell, but we barely know more than she tells us in her introduction -- a life story laid out in stark, gripping first-person over just two short pages. As a business owner who specialized in pastry, Russell’s book has upended assumptions about 19th-century Black women and African American cuisine. In such a slim volume, she still includes 70+ kinds of cake and comments that “a great many ladies have wished to know how I have such good success in making my cakes so light.” (She reveals her tips on page 15!)

Until Justice Be Done: America's First Civil Rights Movement, from the Revolution to Reconstruction

By Kate Masur,

Book cover of Until Justice Be Done: America's First Civil Rights Movement, from the Revolution to Reconstruction

Why this book?

This is a groundbreaking analysis of how free Blacks and women fought for racial equality before the Civil War and how that fight shaped the Fourteenth Amendment. Professor Masur focuses on states such as Ohio and Illinois where laws discriminating against blacks were commonplace. The political effort to repeal these laws brought together an unprecedented coalition that included many future leaders of Reconstruction, but the critical point is that the people who were the objects of the discrimination found ways to make their voices heard even though they could not vote.

Middle Passage

By Charles Johnson,

Book cover of Middle Passage

Why this book?

“Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I’ve come to learn, is women.” 

So starts this classic American novel, winner of the 1990 National Book Award, which tells the tale of Rutherford Calhoun, a loveable rogue and newly-emancipated slave in 1830s New Orleans. In an attempt to escape his matrimonially-minded girlfriend, he stows aboard the Republic and finds himself on a voyage to traffic captives from a legendary African tribe, the Allmuseri.

What follows is part adventure novel, part slavery narrative, part fable – and a disastrous sea voyage of epic proportions. But what can you expect when you kidnap and enslave a real-life African god?

Middle Passage is brutal and gruesome, featuring cannibalism, rape, murder, and pedophilia alongside the misery of human trafficking. (As Captain Ebenezer Falcon says: ‘There’s not a civilized law that holds water once you’ve put to sea.’) 

It’s almost too memorable. Some of these characters and images will never leave you - however much you want them to. Above all, it’s a dazzling, wild ride; a novel of big ideas about morality and responsibility and an inventive commentary on the creaking American republic itself.

Radicalizing the Ebony Tower: Black Colleges and the Black Freedom Struggle in Mississippi

By Joy Ann Williamson-Lott,

Book cover of Radicalizing the Ebony Tower: Black Colleges and the Black Freedom Struggle in Mississippi

Why this book?

Joy Williamson-Lott has a powerful voice and perspective the permeates every sentence in this book. She doesn’t waste a word. And, her research skills are superb. For anyone wanting to learn how to write beautiful history, this book is a model. She is also particularly good at showcasing the voices of African American students who were instrumental to the Black freedom struggle. You can feel their energy and frustration in her passages, and their commitment to freedom and justice comes alive.

How Sweet It Is: A Songwriter's Reflections on Music, Motown and the Mystery of the Muse

By Lamont Dozier, Scott B. Bomar,

Book cover of How Sweet It Is: A Songwriter's Reflections on Music, Motown and the Mystery of the Muse

Why this book?

If you know the music of the 1960s, you know that Lamont Dozier was at the heart of the hit-producing machine that was Motown Records. He was one-third of the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team that came up with hit after hit for an amazing number of celebrated artists. Later, after leaving Motown, Dozier continued to be a creative musical force (and still is today). He contributed his song-writing talents to over 100 Top 10 singles and was inducted into both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. This book is a window into Dozier’s musical world—in the 1960s and beyond. Dozier recalls what it was like to grow up in Detroit when he did and then reveals his experiences collaborating with some of the greatest musical talents of the era.

Heavy: An American Memoir

By Kiese Laymon,

Book cover of Heavy: An American Memoir

Why this book?

This wildly important book is about what it takes to become a fully realized black man in racist white America. On top of that already monumental struggle are more struggles: anorexia, sexual violence, abuse, obesity, gambling, the construction of identity, and excavating the self and others, to get at the truth. I’d say that this is perhaps one of the best books on trauma that I’ve read. The sentences themselves, the rhythmic syntax of their musicality, is just one emotional heartbeat of this stunning, painfully honest, and vulnerable work of art. 

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

By Malcolm X,

Book cover of The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Why this book?

This was the first book that I ever read that wasn’t assigned to me. I read it when I was 13 years old because the movie was about to come out that year and my cousin made me read it. At its core, it’s a story of self-discovery, race, and evolution. It’s filled with lessons that fathers, especially those with children of color, should definitely be teaching to their kids.

Black Software: The Internet & Racial Justice, from the Afronet to Black Lives Matter

By Charlton D. McIlwain,

Book cover of Black Software: The Internet & Racial Justice, from the Afronet to Black Lives Matter

Why this book?

Black software, McIlwain writes, “refers to the programs we desire and design computers to run. It refers to who designs the program, for what purposes, and what or who becomes its object and data.” The book is a much needed examination of the role that Black entrepreneurs, engineers, designers, and users contributed in building the internet.

Jackie & Me

By Dan Gutman,

Book cover of Jackie & Me

Why this book?

Kids who love the minutiae of sport - collecting the cards, following the stats, learning the teams and their star players - are often drawn to history as well. Dan Gutman gets this, and the Baseball Card Adventures is a brilliant series for giving young readers a way into a nuanced US history. In Jackie and Me, the hero, Stosh, is thrown out of Little League for attacking a pitcher who mocked his Polish heritage - “You know you can’t hit me, Stoshack. Because you’re a big, slow, ugly, dumb Polack!” Back at school, Stosh elects to write a book report on Jackie Robinson, and uses his magical baseball card to travel back in time. Stosh experiences Robinson’s first Major League game and the breaking of the color bar in baseball, finding a new perspective on difference and discrimination. Gutman writes colorful dialogue that kids really respond to, and he doesn’t dumb down the history, either. The inclusion of historical photos and news articles is a really clever invitation for kids to think about the interweaving of fiction and history.

Complete Writings

By Phillis Wheatley,

Book cover of Complete Writings

Why this book?

In 1761, the slave ship Phillis departed from Africa and headed toward America. Among the human cargo was a young girl. Judging by her missing incisors, she was seven or eight years old. Soon after the ship’s arrival in Boston, John and Susann Wheatley purchased the girl and named her after the ship that had delivered her to them. Mrs. Wheatley taught their servant to read and write and introduced her to classical and English literature, including revered poets. Around 1765, Phillis began writing poetry, and her first poem, “On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin,” published in 1767, when she was only about fourteen years old, rendered her the first black person in America to publish a poem. Carretta’s collection of Wheatley’s work includes a fascinating, thoroughly researched introduction.

Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II

By Douglas A. Blackmon,

Book cover of Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II

Why this book?

I’ve spent recent years discovering all the American history I never learned in school. Blackmon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Slavery By Another Name was a major revelation. After the Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery, White people found creative ways around it, including convict leasing. Black men, arrested on dubious charges such as vagrancy or breaking curfew, were then leased to employers, such as railroads, mines, and plantations. Conditions were inhumane, even worse than in slave times, because these companies didn’t have a stake in keeping their labor alive. 

Birthing Justice: Black Women, Pregnancy, and Childbirth

By Julia Oparah (editor), Alicia Bonaparte (editor),

Book cover of Birthing Justice: Black Women, Pregnancy, and Childbirth

Why this book?

A crucial read not only for understanding the unique obstacles facing Black birthing parents but also for celebrating the work of organizers who have fought for our reproductive justice. This book explains how key moments in history have led to where we are today and fills gaps of understanding that many have when it comes to Black maternal health.

Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia

By Sabrina Strings,

Book cover of Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia

Why this book?

This book completely changed the way I thought about diet culture and anti-fat bias. It helped me to better understand the racial origins of fatphobia and how our modern diet culture began hundreds of years ago. It is a must-read to understand how racism and colonialism impact all of our thoughts and beliefs about bodies to this day.

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present

By Harriet A. Washington,

Book cover of Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present

Why this book?

Medical Apartheid is the one book that I urge all of my medical students to read. In a compelling narrative laced with shocking details, Washington reveals the way various forms of racial segregation and bias have shaped the American medical system – from the ghastly 19th century experiments of surgeon J. Marion Sims to the systemic exploitation of the government’s MK-ULTRA program in the 1950s to ongoing discrimination today.  

The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome

By Alondra Nelson,

Book cover of The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome

Why this book?

The book explores the impact of home DNA testing for ancestry in the Afro-American community. One of the best and focused essays on the social consequences of DNA technology, rich with telling examples. 

Sojourner Truth's America

By Margaret Washington,

Book cover of Sojourner Truth's America

Why this book?

Find a performance of Truth’s speech, “A’rn’t I a Woman,” and the actress inevitably slips into a southern accent. Margaret Washington’s book, along with Nell Irvin Painter’s Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol, will tell you that Truth actually spoke with a Dutch accent and that the more famous version of that speech was a revision by a white abolitionist woman. Truth was born and raised in New York, not the south, and she slipped through the cracks of the state’s Emancipation laws, remaining a slave well into adulthood. Her life tells a national story of slavery and shows the complicated relationships of religion, abolition, women, and class.

Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness

By Simone Browne,

Book cover of Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness

Why this book?

This revelatory set of essays insists on the long, intertwined histories of anti-blackness and surveillance stretching all the way from the Atlantic slave trade to the present. Browne’s wide-ranging cases—from the plan of a slave ship, to the use of brands, passes, and lantern laws to monitor enslaved people, to post-9/11 security checks at airports—unearth the foundational role of racism in driving systems of identification and documentation intended to regulate those “out of place.” After reading Dark Matters, it is impossible to see surveillance technologies, whether centuries-old or brand new, as separable from the policing of black bodies and lives.

Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All

By Martha S. Jones,

Book cover of Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All

Why this book?

Painting a broad picture of African-American women’s political advocacy and activism, Martha S. Jones presents women fighting for a voice in our political system from the early days of the Republic through women’s suffrage to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Many of the women and their contributions to racial and gender equality were familiar to me. Others less so, including three generations of Jones’s own foremothers who worked for democratic participation in their day. Bringing home how very personal the political is, Jones finds Black women’s politics in parties, elections, government, and beyond. In churches and community institutions, in careers as teachers and journalists, they pursued an expansive vision of human rights and dignity.

It’s an informative, inspiring history, with hard-won gains contextualized with hard truths about our impaired democracy, and reminded me that the obligation to repair it belongs to us all.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

By Isabel Wilkerson,

Book cover of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

Why this book?

There has been no more searing account of the indignities and humiliations, the powerlessness and sheer terror that marked Black life in the American South in the early twentieth century than The Warmth of Other Suns; no other book has so powerfully recorded the litany of injustices that led millions to embark on the journey north that became known as the Great Migration. But the life-giving, beating heart of this book lies in the narratives that Isabel Wilkerson offers of three participants in that migration – Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, George Swanson Starling, and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster. Like characters in an epic novel, the three endure tragedy, seek solace in love and family, and confront as best they can the unforgiving circumstances of their lives. Meticulously recounted and beautifully written, The Warmth of Other Suns is the very model of engaged scholarship: almost miraculously, a book worthy of its great subject matter.

The Secret Life of Bees

By Sue Monk Kidd,

Book cover of The Secret Life of Bees

Why this book?

Grieving over the loss of her mother and the relentless abuse of her father, Lily goes in search of clues about her mother, hoping to find answers in a place she thinks her mother may have been connected with. During this quest, she finds herself having to examine her attitudes about interracial relationships. Kidd includes information about beekeeping and the black Madonna, both bodies of knowledge that symbolically contribute to the theme about roles that females play in the social order.

Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

By David J. Garrow,

Book cover of Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

Why this book?

Garrow’s Pulitzer-prize winning biography is the first complete, almost minute-by-minute, account of King’s life based on extensive research in the King documents, interviews with dozens of his associates, and a deep understanding of American history in that period. Garrow picks up the story just as King comes to Montgomery, and there are other books to read about the young King before 1954, but from there forward, Garrow’s is the indispensable account, and was the first book to really delve into the FBI’s surveillance of King.

Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge

By Erica Strong Dunbar,

Book cover of Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge

Why this book?

This best-selling book tells an important story about Black women's struggles for freedom and autonomy at the founding of the American nation. And tells it so well! One of my favorite things about this book is that the title is a bit misleading: this is not actually (another) book about the Washingtons.The book centers on Ona Judge, a woman who freed herself after the Revolution and forged a new life in the tumultuous world of the newly independent United States. Dramatic and suspenseful as her personal story is, this book also tells a bigger story about how it was enslaved people themselves who made the North free. Heartbreaking, heroic, dramatic, suspenseful, inspiring.

W. E. B. Du Bois's Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America

By The W E B Du Bois Center at the Universi,

Book cover of W. E. B. Du Bois's Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America

Why this book?

W.E.B. Du Bois is widely acknowledged as the leading activist for racial equality of his generation. But until very recently little had been known of his deep commitment to the pursuit of equality within and through data technology. As Du Bois was preparing notes for his famous 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk, he was also preparing an exposition of what we would today call “infographics” (or what the editors of this volume aptly call “data portraits”) for exhibition at the 1900 Paris Exposition world’s fair. This volume handsomely reproduces for the first time a full-color complete set of Du Bois’s charts, graphs, maps, and ingenious spirals. A beautiful book to live with, it also subtly transforms one’s understanding of the history of racial progress and inequality in America.

A Chance for Change: Head Start and Mississippi's Black Freedom Struggle

By Crystal R. Sanders,

Book cover of A Chance for Change: Head Start and Mississippi's Black Freedom Struggle

Why this book?

Sanders offers a most compelling portrait of how working-class Black women harnessed civil rights activism to education and the War on Poverty. In 1965, the Child Development Group of Mississippi became one of the earliest Head Start programs in the nation. Sanders focuses on how activists deployed it to enhance educational opportunities for Black children and to secure economic independence from white employers for Black women. She also tracks how the state’s white supremacist political leaders and those in Washington D.C. undermined this successful program. In so doing, Sanders demonstrates the precariousness of civil rights victories, especially when activists sought economic justice that required fundamentally remaking the structure of U.S. society.  

Ida: A Sword Among Lions

By Paula J. Giddings,

Book cover of Ida: A Sword Among Lions

Why this book?

To understand American race relations today, the history of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era is a vital starting point. In the wake of the Reconstruction, legalized segregation formalized institutional racism. With no federal lynch law, many states and municipalities refused to prosecute lynchings, striving instead to perpetuate myths of lynching as the only appropriate response to naturally lascivious Black men who desired inherently pure and virtuous white women. This exceptional biography traces the fascinating life of journalist and women’s suffrage advocate Ida Wells, who fearlessly fought against racism, segregation, and, especially, lynching. She was a leader in progressive era reform, despite the discrimination she endured even from many progressives due to her sex and her race.

Half in Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Nellie Y. McKay

By Shanna Greene Benjamin,

Book cover of Half in Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Nellie Y. McKay

Why this book?

Benjamin’s Half in Shadow is an excellent exploration of the life of Nellie Y. McKay (1930-2006), a pioneering scholar of black women’s literature. Fearing it could damage her career in the academy, McKay declined to be caricatured as an older, divorced, black single mother of two children. So, she hid this from all her academic colleagues and friends, including her closest ones. The driving force of Benjamin’s book is trying to make sense of the private life and professional motivations of McKay’s choice to live her life “half in shadow.” Benjamin suggests that black women in the academy face similar pressures to achieve in and conform to predominantly white spaces in ways that do not easily allow them to bring their entire selves into the light.

Marked, Unmarked, Remembered: A Geography of American Memory

By Andrew Lichtenstein,

Book cover of Marked, Unmarked, Remembered: A Geography of American Memory

Why this book?

Photographer Andrew Lichtenstein and historian Alex Lichtenstein offer readers compelling visual expression of the instability of public memory. The authors ask who and what gets remembered and forgotten, and where and how? What is consigned to oblivion and why? What do such choices reveal about what national stories we prize and those we find uncomfortable, even indigestible? The powerful photographs suggest how volatile historic sites can be marked by absence as well as presence.

From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Struggle for Economic Justice

By Thomas F. Jackson,

Book cover of From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Struggle for Economic Justice

Why this book?

Every year now on King’s holiday, politicians and public figures reproduce the same one or two quotations from King’s most famous speech, and almost always completely distort and bowdlerize him in doing so. Jackson’s classic book shows how King was an economic radical from his youngest years, an advocate of a European-style social democracy, and a critic of the systemic racism in American society that we now identify as “critical race theory.” King’s words now are often taken out of context to show how he was a peaceful moderate who would have been in opposition to Black Lives Matter and other contemporary movements, but in fact, just exactly the opposite is the case. King was the true forerunner of these contemporary movements, and Jackson shows that in stunning detail.

Rootwork: Using the Folk Magick of Black America for Love, Money, and Success

By Tayannah Lee McQuillar,

Book cover of Rootwork: Using the Folk Magick of Black America for Love, Money, and Success

Why this book?

Another book on American magic, but with a focus on the folk magic practices of black people. This is an immensely readable guide to the venerable tradition of African American magic, a gift made possible only by the perseverance and determination of those who maintained the old ancestral ways. This book contains gems of wisdom, wit, and lots of information for readers who want the basics on how magic is applied for well-being and happiness.

Transatlantic Cultural Exchange: African American Women's Art and Activism in West Germany

By Katharina Gerund,

Book cover of Transatlantic Cultural Exchange: African American Women's Art and Activism in West Germany

Why this book?

This impressively well-researched study focuses on the reception of Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker in post-World War II Germany. Although it only marginally references the Black German perspective (for that I recommend among others the work of Tina Campt, Tiffany Florvil, and Fatima El-Tayeb), it skillfully shows how Europeans perceive notions of race and racism through the prism of (African) Americanization.

Gerund illuminates particularly how White Germans’ interactions with (Black) America can provide pivotal insights into the meaning of ‘Whiteness’ and ‘citizenship’ in a European national context. This matters, because this in turn shapes (mis)understandings of the Black European plight and thus what anti-racism activists are up against. Like the works by Black scholars on the Netherlands, such as Gloria Wekker’s White Innocence and Philomena Essed’s edited volume Dutch Racism, Gerund’s study contributes to our understanding of how (fighting) notions of race must include grasping White (national) self-perceptions and the ways in which not just the European colonial past, but also the American racial status quo function within these.

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

By Leslie M. Harris,

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

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, 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. 

Luminous Isle

By Eliot Bliss,

Book cover of Luminous Isle

Why this book?

Eliot Bliss was a Jamaican born Anglo-Irish woman; she was also gay. Her stance as a Creole gay writer interests me. I also think she’s largely forgotten and should be read more. I related to her return to Jamaica (depicted in this novel) and her search for her sort of childhood home—that brings the realization that she both does and doesn’t fit in. She is white, she is gay so she doesn’t fit in British society where she feels out of place because of her Creole childhood and her sexuality, and she can’t fit in Jamaica because she is white and gay. And she sees clearly now the white oppressive colonials who were her family. It is a deeply felt search for home, both geographically but also in her body.

Talking to Faith Ringgold

By Faith Ringgold,

Book cover of Talking to Faith Ringgold

Why this book?

Faith Ringgold, an acclaimed Black artist who grew up in Harlem, tells about her childhood and explains the process of creating her extraordinary painted quilts such as Tar Beach, Sonny’s Quilt, and Dancing at the Louvre. Each tells a story. “When I was starting out,” she wrote, “there were hardly any galleries that showed the work of black women, or women at all.”  Her quilts are now housed in museums and public collections nationwide. Full-color reproductions of her work, as well as vintage photos, illustrate this inspiring book.

Gee's Bend: The Women and Their Quilts

By William Arnett (editor), Alvia Wardlaw (editor), Jane Livingston (editor), John Beardsley (editor)

Book cover of Gee's Bend: The Women and Their Quilts

Why this book?

This huge volume was another reference book for me as I researched The Quilts of Gee’s Bend.  The large reproductions of the quilts showed how the women with the same material used it in different waysStartling to see so many imaginative versions of a pattern called Housetop. Two quilts titled Flower Garden shown side by side are dazzling. And this book contains more photos of the quilters and provides information about their lives and struggles against poverty and racism. The art they produced despite their limited resources and hardships is truly an inspiration. A miracle!

Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890-1940

By Grace Elizabeth Hale,

Book cover of Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890-1940

Why this book?

In this academic work, Hale explores what she terms as “spectacle lynchings” and the shift from private to public violence. Hale considers how newspapers, photographs, and radio broadcasts brought news of these brutal scenes to an audience of tens of thousands. Through her careful examination, Hale lays out how the media shaped a national narrative that is relevant for both understanding conversations about racial violence and for considering how mass media shapes our current perspectives.

The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America

By Nicholas Lemann,

Book cover of The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America

Why this book?

The first journalist and popular historian to devote an entire volume to the Great Migration, Nicholas Lemann is particularly insightful about how the exodus changed the demographics and politics of Northern cities, and by extension the shape of the modern Democratic and Republican parties and the great social policy battles of the post-World War II era. Written a decade before this New Orleans native became the Dean of the prestigious Columbia School of Journalism, Lemann’s book provides a master class in explanatory reporting.

Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America

By James Allen,

Book cover of Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America

Why this book?

Not for the faint of heart, this collection of lynching images bears witness to the extreme violence used to enforce segregation. Leon Litwack’s introduction contextualizes these displays as violence aimed to reinforce white supremacy and leads the reader through the reality of these events and their lasting consequences on race relations. The photographs are irrefutable evidence of how such events must be recorded to ensure they never again occur. Despite the horror of the images within, this book will forever change your understanding of our past.

Days of Hope: Race and Democracy in the New Deal Era

By Patricia Sullivan,

Book cover of Days of Hope: Race and Democracy in the New Deal Era

Why this book?

In a pathbreaking examination of the New Deal and race, Patricia Sullivan does a deep dive into how the Roosevelt administration’s policies played out and, in most cases, failed Black people. While that story is a disappointing one, she also shows how the era created opportunities for a biracial coalition of Black and white progressives to come together to push for a vision of a revitalized American Democracy based in racial equality. Sullivan offers compelling accounts of the dynamic leadership provided by the NAACP, Black New Dealers, and Black activists in challenging American racism as they worked with white allies. It was these interracial crusades that began to flourish during the Roosevelt era that would provide a model for later collaboration during the Freedom Movement campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s.

Liberalism, Black Power, and the Making of American Politics, 1965-1980

By Devin Fergus,

Book cover of Liberalism, Black Power, and the Making of American Politics, 1965-1980

Why this book?

When I teach students about the Civil Rights Movement, many of them had previously learned that the freedom struggle ended after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968. I disabuse them of this notion by highlighting all the political work that was inspired—rather than stymied—by King’s passing. In this book, Fergus provides a provocative idea: What if the radicals of the late 1960s and 1970s were able to influence liberals and conservatives alike? By showing the ways that Black Power actually resonated with the leaders of pre-Reagan America, Fergus recovers the various approaches to capitalism, political participation, and compromise that can’t be easily categorized as Left or Right.

The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap

By Mehrsa Baradaran,

Book cover of The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap

Why this book?

While researching my book, I saw how some residents in poor Black neighborhoods protected and revered monied drug dealers who gave back to their communities. Baradaran’s The Color of Money explains the stark racial wealth gap behind this dynamic. I learned, for example, about the Freedman’s Bank, created to help newly freed slaves build wealth. While White bankers exhorted Black people to limit their spending to build savings, these same bankers made risky railroad and real estate investments. These investments ultimately spelled the demise of the bank – and of the hard-earned savings of its Black customers. And White bankers’ poor decisions sowed Black distrust of financial institutions for generations to come. 

Represented: The Black Imagemakers Who Reimagined African American Citizenship

By Brenna Wynn Greer,

Book cover of Represented: The Black Imagemakers Who Reimagined African American Citizenship

Why this book?

By looking at the role of influential Black marketing researchers and advertisers, Represented delves into the murky relationship between activist politics and the marketplace through the ads for cars and colas that featured African-Americans. By looking at the dissonance between segregated lunch counters and photographs representing happy, Black consumers, Greer links the ways that advertising fuels fantasies about individual and communal progress.

Patricia's Vision: The Doctor Who Saved Sight

By Michelle Lord, Alleanna Harris (illustrator),

Book cover of Patricia's Vision: The Doctor Who Saved Sight

Why this book?

Having experienced several eye operations, I really connected with this story about a female African American ophthalmologist who pioneered laser surgery and received a patent for the ingenious device used to perform the delicate procedure of removing cataracts. An important book on so many layers, Patricia's Vision is a mirror for children in marginalized groups to see themselves as successful professionals, a window for other children to observe a diverse person in the role of an inventor and a doctor, and a sliding glass door for all to envision their own endless possibilities. The story also shows how young Patricia Bath grew up with hopes and dreams, and plans of what might be – and it will empower young readers today to build their dreams into reality.

Frederick Douglass

By Benjamin Quarles,

Book cover of Frederick Douglass

Why this book?

Written at a time when the racist belief that Black authors could not be trusted to write African-American history was still prevalent even in the upper echelons of academia, this deft 1948 portrait of Douglass launched the career of Benjamin Quarles, the pioneering African-American historian whose body of work (including The Negro in the American Revolution and Lincoln and the Negro) transformed thinking about the role African-Americans played in the formation of the United States.

Colored Travelers: Mobility and the Fight for Citizenship Before the Civil War

By Elizabeth Stordeur Pryor,

Book cover of Colored Travelers: Mobility and the Fight for Citizenship Before the Civil War

Why this book?

Rosa Parks is an essential icon of the Civil Rights Movement, but the history of Black women and men turning segregation and discrimination during travel into a platform to negotiate the rights of citizenship has a long arc. Pryor gives us the longer backstory to the 20th-century Civil Rights Movement and 21st-century movement for Black lives when she traces how 19th-century Black men and women traveling in stage coaches, rail cars, and steam ships were often on the front lines of the struggle for Americans’ equal protection under the law.

Dust Tracks on a Road: A Memoir

By Zora Neale Hurston,

Book cover of Dust Tracks on a Road: A Memoir

Why this book?

Hurston, a prominent novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist during the Harlem Renaissance time, she finds her greatest recognition in her fictional book Their Eyes Were Watching God. She grew up in Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated black town in America.  A graduate of Barnard College, she attended graduate classes at Columbia University and receives several honors for her ethnographic research as a pioneer writer of “folk fiction’ about the black South.

Although she gained considerable fame for a brief time, she dies in near obscurity and poverty although a resurgence of her writings influenced a new group of black women writers. I especially valued reading Dust Tracks on the Road, her poignant autobiographical memoir first published in 1942 after reading Alice Walker’s essay of her search to find Hurston’s unmarked grave. 

Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America

By Ayana D. Byrd, Lori L. Tharps,

Book cover of Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America

Why this book?

This is, to me, the “OG” of Black hair books in the last half-century. I discovered this book by accident a few years ago early one evening and ended up reading late into the night: page by page, Byrd and Tharps provide a first-rate history about natural Black hair. Learning about the hair customs of my ancestors before the onslaught of the Transatlantic Slave Trade made me proud of my curls and strengthened my resolve to continue their brilliant, necessary work on the roots of Black hair.

Hair Love

By Matthew A. Cherry, Vashti Harrison,

Book cover of Hair Love

Why this book?

Hair Love is a heartwarming and gentle book about a little girl named Zuri and her father struggling to do her hair. It is filled with an abundance of humorous and joyful moments, but where the book really shines for me is in its unabashed celebration of Zuri’s hair. In a country where Black femmes are constantly being labeled as less-than, the importance of this book cannot be overstated.

Coming of Age in Mississippi: The Classic Autobiography of Growing Up Poor and Black in the Rural South

By Anne Moody,

Book cover of Coming of Age in Mississippi: The Classic Autobiography of Growing Up Poor and Black in the Rural South

Why this book?

Moody’s wrenching account of growing up black and desperately poor in rural 1950s Mississippi reveals the ways in which the Jim Crow system undermined the stability of black families, deprived them of decent housing and education, and trapped them in generational poverty. She reveals the grinding destitution of sharecropping life and the daily indignities whites inflicted on blacks, even small children. An inquisitive and intelligent girl, Moody was determined to go to college, a feat she achieved thanks to a basketball scholarship.

At Tougaloo College, she became deeply involved in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee’s fight to bring integrated facilities and voting rights to Mississippi. This is a story of deep disillusionment and fierce resistance.

From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century

By William A. Darity, A. Kirsten Mullen,

Book cover of From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century

Why this book?

From Here to Equality is a great companion to The Half Has Never Been Told. Through the lens of the contemporary discussion of reparations, it fills in the historical blanks that so many people have about the African American experience, going beyond slavery to Reconstruction and its aftermath, Jim Crow segregation, and modern-day discrimination, detailing the economic impact during each historical period. I was really impressed by the historical detail and the economic analysis, and I learned a lot from reading it. If you want to understand the national conversation about reparations, read this book!

Coming on Home Soon

By Jacqueline Woodson, E.B. Lewis (illustrator),

Book cover of Coming on Home Soon

Why this book?

Woodson and Lewis weave a rich tapestry of lyrical text and lush watercolors to give readers a glimpse into the life of Ada Ruth, a girl growing up in the Midwest during World War II. Her mama has to leave home to find work. Ada Ruth and Grandma wait for word while caring for a stray kitten. This story overflows with longing, loneliness, empathy, worry, and, above all, love.

Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City

By Antero Pietila,

Book cover of Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City

Why this book?

A former journalist, Antero Pietila delves into the history of Baltimore’s battles over housing and race since the 1880s. He shows how racism and antisemitism shaped who could live where in Baltimore, eventually consigning working-class Black people to disintegrating neighborhoods in the inner city. Where this book is especially good is on the history of blockbusting in the 1950s and 1960s.

Pietila introduces us to the real estate agents who preyed on Black people desperate to move out of slums and shows us how they panicked white people into selling their houses cheaply to get out before Black people moved in. Pietila draws connections between this history and the more recent example of speculators who lured Baltimore residents into subprime mortgages. Baltimore successfully sued Wells Fargo for discriminatory lending in 2012.

All American Boys

By Jason Reynolds, Brendan Kiely,

Book cover of All American Boys

Why this book?

This novel is extra special because it’s written by two author friends, one Black, one white, and shows the complexity of racial inequality and police violence firsthand with basketball as the backdrop. This moving story encourages discussion and will make you reflect. It’s also a great introduction to the two authors’ work, and especially interesting to see how Jason Reynolds has since grown into his role as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. 

My Hair Is a Garden

By Cozbi A. Cabrera,

Book cover of My Hair Is a Garden

Why this book?

Every child should grow up with a neighbor like Miss Tillie to run to for support. She’s just the right mix of confidante and responsible adult. Starting with the art on the endpapers—nine gorgeous children, each with a different hairstyle, alternating with images of different plants—and ending with vibrant colors in the garden when the little girl sees the beauty in both short and long hair, this book reminds us to take a look inside & be happy with what we’ve got—and to take care of it along the way.