The best W. E. B. Du Bois books

Many authors have picked their favorite books about W. E. B. Du Bois and why they recommend each book.

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The Souls of Black Folk

By W.E. Burghardt Du Bois,

Book cover of The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches

It is rare for a book published more than a century ago to seem as if it had just come off the presses, but W. E. B. Du Bois succeeded in producing a work so profound that it might well be equally relevant one hundred years from now. Du Bois was a luminescent scholar, a passionate advocate, and a graceful and accessible writer. His essays range from observations on the arduous lives of Black people living under Jim Crow to a celebration of their indomitable spirit in the face of institutional racism to a ferocious condemnation of the “accommodationist” philosophy of Booker T. Washington. Du Bois was never afraid to advance what was then—and still are now—points of view that would upset not only whites, but many of his own people as well. Whether to work within existing political institutions to effect change or to try to overturn those institutions…

Who am I?

When I was eight, my mother was called in to see the principal…yet again. He pulled me out of class, stood me in the hall for maximum intimidation value, then said to my mom, “Your son has no respect for authority.” Mom asked, “What about that, Larry?” My reply—and this is totally true—was, “He doesn’t mean respect. He means courtesy. You can demand courtesy, but you have to earn respect.” Those sentiments have not changed, which is why, I suppose, I have an extremely critical eye for history, especially American history, that deifies the winners. I don’t think we make ourselves stronger as a nation by pretending our leaders were somehow not as human in their flaws as the rest of us.  I prefer to look under what is called “conventional wisdom,” because that’s where the real story often lies.

I wrote...

On Account of Race: The Supreme Court, White Supremacy, and the Ravaging of African American Voting Rights

By Lawrence Goldstone,

Book cover of On Account of Race: The Supreme Court, White Supremacy, and the Ravaging of African American Voting Rights

What is my book about?

On Account of Race details how white supremacists in the post-Civil War South succeeded in undoing all the advances of Reconstruction, reclaiming total political power, and establishing a Jim Crow society, slavery in all but name. None of this could have succeeded unless voting rights for African Americans, guaranteed by two Constitutional amendments, could be denied. And so they were, with the full approval and even sponsorship of the Supreme Court.

On Account of Race, winner of the 2021 Lillian Smith Book Award, tells the story of an American tragedy, the only occasion in United States history—to date—in which a group of citizens who had been granted the right to vote then had it stripped away. We as a nation will be forced to decide whether we are willing to have it happen again.

The Sonic Color Line

By Jennifer Lynn Stoever,

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

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.

Who am I?

I have been doing research in the Caribbean for twenty-five years. The region is diverse and magnificent. Caribbean people have sought creative solutions for racial inequality, climate and sustainability, media literacy and information, women’s and family issues. The transnational connections with the US are complex and wide-ranging, and knowing more about this region is an urgent matter. I work to understand how sound and media work because they structure our reality in important ways. Listening as a way of approaching relationships in work and play is key to our survival. So is understanding how media works, where we get our information from, and how to tell what’s relevant, significant, and true, and what is not. 

I wrote...

Isles of Noise: Sonic Media in the Caribbean

By Alejandra Bronfman,

Book cover of Isles of Noise: Sonic Media in the Caribbean

What is my book about?

The Caribbean has always been a site of explorations of modernity and technology, and this book makes that case through a history of broadcasting and media. With a peripatetic approach, the book scans the emergence of broadcasting as the central medium in the region with attention to Haiti, Cuba, and Jamaica. While in Haiti the US military occupation brought radio as a disciplining and governing tool, in Cuba it was US commercial interests that supported the radio boom. In Jamaica, by contrast, local radio was limited by the colonial government until an explosive anti-colonial rebellion changed everything. The book tracks radio’s significance in politics, racial dynamics, and cultures of belonging. 

On Her Own Ground

By A’Lelia Bundles,

Book cover of On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker

Cemented in popular consciousness by the 2020 Netflix series starring Octavia Spencer, African American millionaire and philanthropist Madam C.J. Walker stands as one of the foremost emblems of Black economic achievement. The woman born Sarah Breedlove to former slaves in 1867 transformed herself from cotton picker to washerwoman to direct sales pioneer to iconic beauty empire head and social activist at a time when even educated Black women of privilege were constrained by the white male hierarchy. The bare bones of this narrative would be sufficient for a book. But in the hands of Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, journalist A’Lelia Bundles, the rags-to-riches story becomes a window into the social, economic, and racial realities of the times and a riveting portrait of the shrewd, unflinching and ambitious woman who triumphed despite them.

Who am I?

Improbable trailblazers have fascinated me ever since I told the story of Black cardiac surgery pioneer Vivien Thomas in a 1989 Washingtonian Magazine article that won the National Magazine Award and inspired the Emmy-winning HBO film Something the Lord Made. My passion for chronicling unheralded genius has led me from one of the most remote corners of the American west to Baltimore operating rooms to the classrooms and courtrooms of Washington, DC. My decade-long collaboration with civil rights pioneer Dovey Johnson Roundtree in co-writing her autobiography Mighty Justice whetted my interest in a host of fierce African American women pathbreakers.

I wrote...

Mighty Justice: My Life in Civil Rights

By Dovey Johnson Roundtree, Katie McCabe,

Book cover of Mighty Justice: My Life in Civil Rights

What is my book about?

Lawyer. Veteran. Minister. Black woman. Decades before America had a way to talk about its female trailblazers, Dovey Johnson Roundtree was the ultimate disruptor. Alone, she defied World War II military segregation in a high-risk showdown with her Army superiors, and as a new attorney, she wrested a 1955 Jim Crow bus travel ban from the staunchly segregationist Interstate Commerce Commission. The summer Watts burned, she took on the federal government in her successful defense of the Black man accused of murdering an outspoken JFK mistress with CIA ties. Dovey’s vision of justice was so vital and transformative that it drew me to her in 1995 when I discovered her in a Washington Post article, and for more than a decade we worked together to bring that vision to life in Mighty Justice

The book, a January 2020 Oprah Pick, won the Association of Black Women Historians’ Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Prize and inspired two children’s books and a feature film, currently in development by the producers of Hidden Figures.

W. E. B. Du Bois's Data Portraits

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

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.

Who am I?

Colin Koopman researches and teaches about technology ethics at the University of Oregon, where he is a Professor of Philosophy and Director of the interdisciplinary certificate program in New Media & Culture.  His research pursuits have spanned from the history of efforts in the early twentieth century to standardize birth certificates to our understanding of ourselves as effects of the code inscribed into our genes.  Koopman is currently at work on a book that will develop our understanding of what it takes to achieve equality and fairness in data systems, tentatively titled Data Equals.

I wrote...

How We Became Our Data: A Genealogy of the Informational Person

By Colin Koopman,

Book cover of How We Became Our Data: A Genealogy of the Informational Person

What is my book about?

We are now acutely aware, as if all of the sudden, that data matters enormously to how we live. How We Became Our Data excavates the early moments of our rapidly accelerating data-tracking technologies and their consequences on how we think of and express our selfhood today. The book explores the emergence of mass-scale record-keeping systems like birth certificates and social security numbers, as well as early data techniques for categorizing personality traits, measuring intelligence, and even the production of racializing data. This all culminates in the “informational person” and the “informational power” we are all now subject to.

Blending philosophy, history, political theory, and media theory, How We Became Our Data presents an illuminating perspective on how we have come to think of our personhood—and how we can resist its erosion.

Unceasing Militant

By Alison M. Parker,

Book cover of Unceasing Militant: The Life of Mary Church Terrell

Unceasing Militant is the first-ever biography of Mary Church Terrell, a prominent activist who fought for gender and racial equality. She lived a long, noteworthy life. Terrell was born enslaved in 1863 and died in 1954 after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling against segregated schools. She was among the first Black American women to complete a BA and an MA, and she became the first president of the National Association of Colored women in 1896. Terrell was a popular speaker, and--just like some of us--she also loved to wear fashionable hats and clothes. Terrell picketed the White House with suffragists in 1917 and picketed against segregation even when she was in her 80s! Alison Parker captures her fascinating life in this essential new biography.

Who am I?

I’m Allison Lange, and I’m a historian who writes, gives talks, teaches, and curates exhibitions. For the 19th Amendment centennial, I served as Historian for the United States Congress’s Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission. I am also creating the first filmed series on American women’s history for Wondrium (formerly The Great Courses). My first book, Picturing Political Power: Images in the Women’s Suffrage Movement focuses on the ways that women’s voting rights activists and their opponents used images to define gender and power. My next book situates current iconic pictures within the context of historical ones to demonstrate that today’s visual debates about gender and politics are shaped by those of the past.

I wrote...

Picturing Political Power: Images in the Women's Suffrage Movement

By Allison Lange,

Book cover of Picturing Political Power: Images in the Women's Suffrage Movement

What is my book about?

For as long as women have battled for equitable political representation in America, those battles have been defined by images—whether illustrations, engravings, photographs, or colorful chromolithograph posters. Some of these pictures have been flattering, many have been condescending, and others downright incendiary. They have drawn upon prevailing cultural ideas of women’s perceived roles and abilities and often have been circulated with pointedly political objectives.

Picturing Political Power offers perhaps the most comprehensive analysis yet of the connection between images, gender, and power. This book demonstrates the centrality of visual politics to American women’s campaigns throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, revealing the power of images to change history.

Imperium in Imperio

By Sutton E. Griggs,

Book cover of Imperium in Imperio

I read Imperium in an Afro-American Literature course in college. The instructor was excellent. I was the only non-Afro-American male in the class. I sat in the back. As soon as I finished reading Imperium I said to myself “This would make a great movie.” About ten years later I adapted the book into a screenplay. I typed it myself on my old typewriter. There was gunk on some of the keys and they needed cleaning. I realized that around Scene Five. If you ever read my old manuscript, I apologize for the first twenty pages. You can tell Sutton Griggs I’m sorry, also.

Who am I?

I’m an old lawyer, a writer, and now I’ve stumbled into acting, but reading, just plain old sitting on the couch and reading, has always been my personal slice of heaven. I was a history major but not a history buff like those folks that can rattle off dates or win $287,000 on Jeopardy. These stories from history can be told realistically, romantically, impressionistically, philosophically, and lots of other ways. But satirically is how stories capture and move me the most. Nothing stirs me or grows goosebumps on me as effectively as a story of hard times and hard-hearted people who deserve a bit of exposure from some well-aimed wit.

I wrote...

A Cottonwood Stand: A Novel of Nebraska

By Chuck Redman,

Book cover of A Cottonwood Stand: A Novel of Nebraska

What is my book about?

Nebraska: not just a place on a map. It has a heart and it has a voice. It has a Then. It has a Now.

Lark, a young Sioux, rebels against traditions and crosses the plains to save her adopted sister from a bad marriage and return the girl to the Pawnee village where she was abducted in childhood. At the end of her journey, Lark finds herself the center of a mysterious Pawnee ritual that undermines her plan as well as her confidence. Janet is a small town editor crusading against a meatpacking plant that will destroy the fabric of the town along with its landmark stand of cottonwoods. Sounds like two stories but it’s not. Guess who winds them into one?