The most recommended books about Jim Crow laws

Who picked these books? Meet our 37 experts.

37 authors created a book list connected to Jim Crow laws, and here are their favorite Jim Crow laws books.
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Book cover of Separate Pasts: Growing Up White in the Segregated South

Melissa Walker Author Of Southern Farmers and Their Stories: Memory and Meaning in Oral History

From my list on first-person accounts of twentieth century South.

Who am I?

I was raised on a dairy farm in Tennessee, and I grew up steeped in my grandparents’ stories about the “hard times before the War” and the challenges of making a living on the land as the southern farm economy was transformed by industrialization and modernization. I learned to appreciate the deep insights found in the stories of so-called ordinary people. As a historian, I became committed to using oral history to explore the way people understood their lives, in my own research and writing and in my teaching. I assigned all five of these books to my own students at Converse University who always found them to be powerful reading.

Melissa's book list on first-person accounts of twentieth century South

Melissa Walker Why did Melissa love this book?

Separate Pasts is McLaurin’s account of his 1950s boyhood in the tiny hamlet of Wade, North Carolina, years when the Jim Crow system still reigned. He describes the complex, interconnected lives of the town’s white and black families, and his own confusion as he tried to make sense of the contradictions he observed in his world. A painfully honest account of a white boy’s reckoning with the legacies of segregation and oppression, McLaurin reveals how his own relationships with black neighbors undermined the racist beliefs he was taught.

By Melton A. McLaurin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The author of this book recalls his boyhood during the 1950s in the small hometown of Wade, North Carolina, where whites and blacks lived and worked within each other's shadows.

Book cover of Cane River

John Paul Godges Author Of Oh, Beautiful: An American Family in the 20th Century

From my list on multigenerational family sagas.

Who am I?

Ever since I was a kid, as the grandson of Italian immigrant farmers and the son of a Polish-immigrant father, I wondered how my family fit into the American story. As I grew older, I learned that the American story could not be limited to a single race, a single religion, or even a single generation. Rather, the essence of any culture lies in the story that gets passed down from one generation to the next. That is where my passion lies: tapping into the essence of multiple cultures by tracing the multigenerational family wisdom that is often imparted quietly, humbly, and painfully, which makes it durable, meaningful, and indelible.

John's book list on multigenerational family sagas

John Paul Godges Why did John love this book?

A chronicle of four generations of women descended from Louisiana slaves. Grapples honestly with the turmoil within America’s Black community over issues of skin color.

This saga shows that while families can be longtime sources of anguish in our communities, they can also be long-term resources—and as I have experienced, sometimes the best and most sustainable resources—for challenging common assumptions about one another and growing beyond them.

By Lalita Tademy,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A New York Times bestseller and Oprah's Book Club Pick-the unique and deeply moving saga of four generations of African-American women whose journey from slavery to freedom begins on a Creole plantation in Louisiana.

Beginning with her great-great-great-great grandmother, a slave owned by a Creole family, Lalita Tademy chronicles four generations of strong, determined black women as they battle injustice to unite their family and forge success on their own terms. They are women whose lives begin in slavery, who weather the Civil War, and who grapple with contradictions of emancipation, Jim Crow, and the pre-Civil Rights South. As she…

Book cover of Swing Shift: All-Girl Bands of the 1940s

Charles Hersch Author Of Subversive Sounds: Race and the Birth of Jazz in New Orleans

From my list on jazz’s connection to democracy.

Who am I?

Music has always spoken to my innermost being, and coming of age in the late 1960s, I’ve been drawn to the quest for justice and equality in politics.  In my undergraduate studies at Berkeley, the late political theorist Michael Rogin, who interpreted Moby Dick as a parable of 19th Century race relations, taught me that my two interests could be combined.  As a professor of Political Science I’ve written books and articles that explore music’s ability to express ideas about politics, race, and ethnicity in sometimes unappreciated ways. 

Charles' book list on jazz’s connection to democracy

Charles Hersch Why did Charles love this book?

This punningly-titled book is an act of historical excavation, uncovering the hundreds of all-female swing bands that have been erased from jazz history. But Tucker goes beyond this, asking how the lenses of gender, race, class, and sexuality affected how these bands were seen and heard and, equally important, how they forged their destinies within those constraints. They had difficulties to overcome – wearing gowns that made it more difficult to play and caused them to be taken less seriously as musicians, and risking arrest by having white members “passing” as Black in the South. But Tucker’s “counternarrative” shows how these bands found creative ways to evade such barriers, by using stereotypes of femininity and masculinity to their advantage or presenting themselves as “international” to push against the color line.  

By Sherrie Tucker,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The forgotten history of the "all-girl" big bands of the World War II era takes center stage in Sherrie Tucker's Swing Shift. American demand for swing skyrocketed with the onslaught of war as millions-isolated from loved ones-sought diversion, comfort, and social contact through music and dance. Although all-female jazz and dance bands had existed since the 1920s, now hundreds of such groups, both African American and white, barnstormed ballrooms, theaters, dance halls, military installations, and makeshift USO stages on the home front and abroad.
Filled with firsthand accounts of more than a hundred women who performed during this era and…

Book cover of American Negro Slave Revolts

Matthew J. Clavin Author Of Toussaint Louverture and the American Civil War: The Promise and Peril of a Second Haitian Revolution

From my list on slave resistance and revolts.

Who am I?

I long ago decided that I could contribute to the struggle for the freedom and equality of all people by becoming a historian. My fascination with the history of race has led me on a quest to illuminate the extraordinary efforts of enslaved people and their allies to challenge White supremacy and destroy the institution of slavery. My newest book, Symbols of Freedom: Slavery and Resistance Before the Civil War, examines the role that revolutionary nationalism played in inspiring slave and antislavery resistance.

Matthew's book list on slave resistance and revolts

Matthew J. Clavin Why did Matthew love this book?

It is hard to believe that this book first appeared eighty years ago. At a time when Jim Crow ruled and leading scholars adamantly argued for slavery’s benign nature, Aptheker proved that slavery was a savage institution that enslaved Americans violently resisted from the colonial era through the Civil War. Written by a radical White historian who commanded Black soldiers during the Second World War, the book obliterates the idea of the passive and pliant slave. 

By Herbert Aptheker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked American Negro Slave Revolts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the first fully documented study of Negro slave revolts in The United States. Dr. Aptheker provides proof, obtained by painstaking research, that this content and rebelliousness were not only exceedingly common, but we're characteristic of American Negro slaves. Special attention is paid to the famous slave rebellion of Nat Turner, into the revolts led by Denmark Vesey and Gabriel. This pioneering study remains a major contribution to the destruction of the myth of Afro – American docility.

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

Peter Jones Author Of Nightfly: The Life of Steely Dan's Donald Fagen

From my list on musicians and music from all genres.

Who am I?

I have two major passions in life: music and writing. I started learning guitar aged 16, and my friends and I formed a band as soon as we possibly could. My first professional job was writing about pop music for a monthly magazine, and much later in life, I discovered jazz. Now I’m a bass-player, jazz singer, and composer who works with some of the finest jazz musicians in London, and I play regularly at Ronnie Scott’s club. As well as the Donald Fagen biography, I’ve also written biographies of the great jazz singers Mark Murphy (for me, the greatest of them all) and Jon Hendricks.

Peter's book list on musicians and music from all genres

Peter Jones Why did Peter love this book?

I make no apology for including this immense and important work. So much of the music I love originated with the kidnapping of black people from Africa.

This book shows how not merely the music of Africa but whole swathes of culture now considered “American” were imported along with the slaves. How did they cope with being ripped from their homeland, transported across the Atlantic in chains, and forced to work in the fields of an alien land?

Levine lays it all out, including everything from Black religion to Black comedy, and despite what you might think, it’s a real page-turner.

By Lawrence W. Levine,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Black Culture and Black Consciousness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Black Culture and Black Consciousness first appeared thirty years ago, it marked a revolution in our understanding of African American history. Contrary to prevailing ideas at the time, which held that African culture disappeared quickly under slavery and that black Americans had little group pride, history, or cohesiveness, Levine uncovered a cultural treasure trove, illuminating a rich and complex African American oral tradition, including songs,
proverbs, jokes, folktales, and long narrative poems called toasts-work that dated from before and after emancipation. The fact that these ideas and sources seem so commonplace now is in large part due this book…

Book cover of An Economic Detour: A History of Insurance in the Lives of American Negroes

Robert E. Weems, Jr. Author Of Business in Black and White: American Presidents and Black Entrepreneurs in the Twentieth Century

From my list on African American business history.

Who am I?

My passion and expertise related to African American business history began years ago when I searched for a Ph.D. dissertation topic. After mulling over a variety of options, I ultimately decided to examine the history of an African American insurance company in my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. While working on this project, I began to formulate ideas for future research in the realm of African American business history. I subsequently developed into one of the acknowledged experts in this field. Based upon my track record, I served as a historical consultant and appeared in the documentary Boss: The Black Experience in Business which premiered on PBS in April 2019.

Robert's book list on African American business history

Robert E. Weems, Jr. Why did Robert love this book?

This classic work, originally published in 1940, provides a panoramic examination of African American insurance companies (including a detailed overview of individual firms).

Although An Economic Detour focuses on black insurers, its’ broader analysis encompassed all black-owned enterprises during this period. Specifically, Stuart declared that, under the dictates of Jim Crow racial segregation, African American entrepreneurs were relegated to only serving African American consumers.

This, necessarily, had an inhibiting impact on their profitability. Especially since non-African American entrepreneurs also had access to the African American consumer market.

As someone who has written extensively on black-owned insurance companies, An Economic Detour has been a long-standing “go-to” resource for me.

By M.S. Stuart,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked An Economic Detour as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

as described

Book cover of Divergent Social Worlds: Neighborhood Crime and the Racial-Spatial Divide

Douglas S. Massey Author Of American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass

From my list on how neighborhoods perpetuate inequality.

Who am I?

My mother was the child of immigrants from Finland with grade-school educations who grew up in a small Alaskan town with no roads in or out. She came down to the “lower 48” during the Second World War to work her way through the University of Washington, where she met my father. He was a multigenerational American with two college-educated parents. His mother graduated from Whitman College in 1919 and looked down on my mother as a child of poorly educated immigrants. She was also openly hostile toward Catholics, Blacks, and Jews and probably didn’t think much of Finns either. Witnessing my grandmother’s disdain for minorities and the poor including my mother, I learned about racism and class prejudice firsthand. But I am my mother’s son, and I resented my grandmother’s self-satisfied posturing. Therefore I’ve always been on the side of the underdog and made it my business to learn all that I could about how inequalities are produced and perpetuated in the United States, and to do all I can to make the world a fairer, more egalitarian place.

Douglas' book list on how neighborhoods perpetuate inequality

Douglas S. Massey Why did Douglas love this book?

Peterson and Krivo meticulously demonstrate how residential segregation creates and maintains inequality in neighborhood crime rates using data from their groundbreaking National Neighborhood Crime Study. Using a nationally representative sample, the authors provide a more comprehensive picture of the social conditions underlying neighborhood crime and violence than has ever before been drawn.

By Ruth D. Peterson, Lauren J. Krivo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Divergent Social Worlds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

More than half a century after the first Jim Crow laws were dismantled, the majority of urban neighborhoods in the United States remain segregated by race. The degree of social and economic advantage or disadvantage that each community experiences―particularly its crime rate―is most often a reflection of which group is in the majority. As Ruth Peterson and Lauren Krivo note in Divergent Social Worlds, "Race, place, and crime are still inextricably linked in the minds of the public." This book broadens the scope of single-city, black/white studies by using national data to compare local crime patterns in five racially distinct…

Book cover of To 'Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women's Lives and Labors After the Civil War

Betsy Wood Author Of Upon the Altar of Work: Child Labor and the Rise of a New American Sectionalism

From my list on to make you excited about labor history.

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by how ordinary people can change the course of their own lives since I was a child. However, I had no idea until later in life that there were entire fields of study devoted to understanding how this process works historically. When I discovered “new labor history” many years ago, I knew I wanted to be part of it. It was the privilege of a lifetime to study under some of the best labor historians in the world at the University of Chicago. And I can’t describe how I felt when my dissertation won the Herbert Gutman Prize in Labor History. I hope these books spark your interest!

Betsy's book list on to make you excited about labor history

Betsy Wood Why did Betsy love this book?

I’ve always been a sucker for a good labor strike.

But a labor strike of Black women in the South—only a decade removed from slavery—demanding dignity, equality, and a living wage so they could simply “enjoy their freedom” in a region where a rich, white, slaveholding regime was just recently toppled? That’s next-level stuff.

Hunter tells the story of this Black female majority who worked in domestic labor in the years following the Civil War. Can you imagine going to work as a wage-earning domestic laborer in the home of your former owner? And then collectively organizing to demand that “freedom” actually means something in this godforsaken region?

Come for the organized labor protests. Stay for the moment these women pack their bags and move to the North seeking the joy and pleasure they deserve.

By Tera W. Hunter,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked To 'Joy My Freedom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As the Civil War drew to a close, newly emancipated black women workers made their way to Atlanta--the economic hub of the newly emerging urban and industrial south--in order to build an independent and free life on the rubble of their enslaved past. In an original and dramatic work of scholarship, Tera Hunter traces their lives in the postbellum era and reveals the centrality of their labors to the African-American struggle for freedom and justice. Household laborers and washerwomen were constrained by their employers' domestic worlds but constructed their own world of work, play, negotiation, resistance, and community organization.


Book cover of Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World

Mark Harris Author Of The Black Guy Dies First: Black Horror Cinema from Fodder to Oscar

From my list on Black film history.

Who am I?

I’m Black, and I’m a horror movie fan, two things that, per the well-worn trope that “the Black guy dies first,” don’t seem to go together. However, I’ve been able to use the treatment that Black characters have received in horror to explore the ways in which Black people have been marginalized in Hollywood, placed into specific roles in which they served as expendable, ancillary characters rather than stars. While things have improved dramatically in recent years, that makes it all the more important to not forget how much Black progress there has been in film, because those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.

Mark's book list on Black film history

Mark Harris Why did Mark love this book?

This is a sweeping epic of a book and should be required reading for any student of film history.

Told in a manner that is at once intimate and authoritative, it reads like both a textbook and a biography, detailing the lives of a series of historical figures as a means of relating the history of the Black image in film.

In doing so, Haygood contextualizes the cinematic developments of the past by placing them alongside the social and political developments of the time, showing that you can never truly separate fact from fiction. 

By Wil Haygood,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


“At once a film book, a history book, and a civil rights book.… Without a doubt, not only the very best film book [but] also one of the best books of the year in any genre. An absolutely essential read.” —Shondaland

This unprecedented history of Black cinema examines 100 years of Black movies—from Gone with the Wind to Blaxploitation films to Black Panther—using the struggles and triumphs of the artists, and the films themselves, as a prism…

Book cover of American Baseball. Vol. 1: From Gentleman’s Sport to the Commissioner System

Scott H. Longert Author Of Bad Boys, Bad Times: The Cleveland Indians and Baseball in the Prewar Years, 1937-1941

From my list on baseball history books.

Who am I?

Scott Longert has his M.A. in American History from Cleveland State University. He has written five books on baseball history with a sixth on the way. His most recent work was Cy Young: An American Baseball Hero designed specifically for children. The book was a selection of the Junior Library Guild. Scott has made numerous appearances on radio and television along with being interviewed for several baseball documentaries. Scott served nine years as a Park Ranger for the National Park Service, stationed at the James A. Garfield National Historic Site. Currently, he faithfully attends baseball games in Cleveland, waiting for the home team to capture their first World Series win since 1948.

Scott's book list on baseball history books

Scott H. Longert Why did Scott love this book?

Author Voigt produced three volumes of work, detailing the history of the game from its roots in the early nineteenth century, through the latter part of the twentieth. Volume One begins with a debunking of the myth that Abner Doubleday created the game in the green fields of Cooperstown, New York. Voigt in using a tremendous amount of research material, traces the modernization of baseball from a gentleman’s game played for amusement and relaxation to a professional organization built to win.

Readers interested in learning how the game evolved from underhand pitching to a mound sixty feet six inches and three outs to a side would benefit from studying this work.

By David Quentin Voigt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked American Baseball. Vol. 1 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How did "America's National Game" evolve from a gentlemen's pastime in the 1850s to a national obsession in the Roaring Twenties? What really happened at Cooperstown in 1839, and why does the "Doubleday legend" persist? How did the commissioner system develop, and what was the impact of the "Black Sox" scandal? These questions and many others are answered in this book, with colorful details about early big league stars such as Mike "King" Kelly and pious Billy Sunday, Charles Comiskey and Ty Cobb, Napoleon Lajoie and "Cy" (Cyclone) Young.

The author explores historically the four major periods of transformation of…