The best books about slavery in the United States 📚

Browse the best books on slavery in the United States as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process 1: The Colonial Period

In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process 1: The Colonial Period

By A. Leon Higginbotham

Why this book?

We may think we know about colonial America. Higginbotham reveals that we are just beginning to learn about this geographical space and this period of history. Higginbotham shows another ‘America,’ still dominated by the laws of European countries such as Britain, France, the Dutch Republics, and Spain. This is an America that may be unfamiliar to us and it is a place where Africans could still negotiate their status in the courts of law. This book offers a very detailed exploration of a fascinating moment in American history. And shows us what the founding of the United States of America…

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Book cover of Sister of Mine

Sister of Mine

By Sabra Waldfogel

Why this book?

The Jewish people have been persecuted—even enslaved—for millennia. One would hope this would make them more compassionate toward another persecuted and enslaved group, American Blacks. Unfortunately, this usually isn’t the way human nature works. To quote Frederick Douglass: “Everybody, in the south, wants the privilege of whipping somebody else.” If humans can get ahead by oppressing someone else, we too often do. With her fictional Jewish family and the Blacks they enslave—one of whom is also their blood kin—Waldfogel explores this terrible truth. A hundred and fifty years after its setting, this novel challenged me to be a better human.

From the list:

The best novels about the human toll of American slavery

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Book cover of The Prophets

The Prophets

By Robert Jones, Jr.

Why this book?

This novel is a fever dream of the best kind. The Prophets is unapologetically about love, how rare and revolutionary it is. How selfish, envious others can see it as a threat—especially when that love is between two enslaved Black men. As powerful as Isaiah and Samuel’s story is, the chapters set in Africa held me equally entranced. As I read, I kept shouting “Yes!” in my head. I felt like I’d been waiting for this book for years. I don’t reread novels often, but this is one to savor.

From the list:

The best novels about the human toll of American slavery

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Book cover of Twice Condemned: Slaves and the Criminal Laws of Virginia, 1705-1865

Twice Condemned: Slaves and the Criminal Laws of Virginia, 1705-1865

By Philip J. Schwarz

Why this book?

Philip J. Schwarz’s Twice Condemned adeptly analyzes the history of enslaved African Americans' relationship with the criminal courts of the Old Dominion from roughly 1700 to the end of the Civil War.  Based on over four thousand trials from the colonial, early national, and antebellum periods, no other book does such a comprehensive job of analyzing the prevalence, longevity, and variety of behavior attributed to slave convicts. This book also provides a detailed picture of how one slave society evolved, and along the way, it uncovers previously unexamined aspects of slave culture, and of slave owners' attitudes toward the…

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The best books on crime and punishment in the Antebellum South

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Book cover of The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation

The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation

By Daina Ramey Berry

Why this book?

That enslaved people were considered commodities is no secret. But in this book, Daina Ramey Berry demonstrates how enslaved people were attached to monetary prices throughout their entire lives. Indeed, enslaved people were in the market even before they were born, and they remained in the market even after they had died. But Berry reminds us that enslaved people themselves understood that their “soul value,” and not their supposed economic value, defined who they really were.

From the list:

The best books from the last ten years on the domestic slave trade

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Book cover of Flight and Rebellion: Slave Resistance in Eighteenth-Century Virginia

Flight and Rebellion: Slave Resistance in Eighteenth-Century Virginia

By Gerald W. Mullin

Why this book?

A classic, this book was one of the first to challenge prevailing white attitudes about the assimilation and acculturation of Africans and African Americans to life under slavery. Mullin describes how greater levels of assimilation translated into more effective means of protest.

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