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Black History To Be Read List

Black History by Black Authors
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Celebrate Black History Month by reading about Black history from Black authors.

Black history is vital and essential part of what made this country what it is today. So, it’s important to know it, understand it, and, most importantly, learn from it. Learn about it from the people whose ancestors made it.

Whether it’s the history of the civil rights movement or Black Lives Matter, whether it’s a story about an event or personal experience, it is important to learn about Black history from Black authors. Here are a few of the best books on Black history, spanning topics from colonization to modern-day struggles. Let’s get educated.

Four Hundred Souls, edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

four hundred souls

This collection of historical essays, stories, and personal tales tell the story of the four-hundred-years of African American history. Consisting of ninety different authors, each tackling a five year period, this book approaches history from a variety of perspectives. Some stories are told through important historical figures, while others focus solely on places, laws, or objects. There is one overarching theme throughout not only this book, resistance, hope, and struggle.

You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain, by Pheobe Robinson

You can't touch my hair - black history month

Being a Black woman, dealing with a plethora of absurd questions, micro-aggressive assumptions, and stereotypes is something Robinson gets real about in this read. Phoebe Robinson is so over it. She is over being cast as the “black friend,” being followed around by security guards at stores, and people asking if they can touch her hair. Pro tip: The answer is always No.

In her hilarious essay collection, the host of 2 Dope Queens discusses race, gender, and pop culture. Robinson shares her opinions on terrible casting calls, the NFL, and Lisa Bonet. She offers her own unconventional advice to future female presidents. Using her wit and experience, she will have readers laughing while questioning our own biases.

Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America, Martha S. Jones

BIrthright Citizens - Black History Month

This book recounts the story of how freed, former enslaved activists fought for their rights to be considered citizens. They studied law, secured allies, and used the system to win court cases. While one case cannot define their status in the country, each one lead to the creation of an amendment that is still protecting people of color today, hundreds of years later. Black activists, former enslaved people, changed the terms of citizenship for all future Americans.

Twelve Years a Slave, Solomon Northup

12 Years a Slave - Black history Month

Many times when this history of slavery is discussed, it is from an outside point of view. Rarely do we see what it was like through the eyes of an enslaved person. This vulnerable perspective is what makes Twelve Years a Slave a must-read.

In 1841, Solomon Northup, a free man born in New York State, was kidnapped in Washington DC and sent to a cotton plantation in Louisiana. Northup spent twelve years of his life as an enslaved person, he was freed in 1853. Writing about his experience in detail, he truly shows readers a snapshot of life in the early 1800’s.

Here For it, by R. Eric Thomas

Here For it, by R. Eric Thomas

Like many people growing up, Thomas always felt different. However, he was different as a black boy in a mostly rich, mostly white high school. He was different at his conservative black church. He always seemed to find himself on the outside looking in, always the “other.”

Thomas writes about exploring the two worlds of his life. He talks about growing up in the urban landscape of his parent’s home while going to school in suburbia. He tries to reconcile his Christian religion and his sexuality. All the while, this book tries to answer questions such as; Is the future worth it and why do we bother?

What makes this book special, however, is how Thomas is able to inject joy into these dark questions. He helps to re-envision what it means to be “normal” and encourages readers to put themselves into their own story. This book is inspiration for those who have been pushed to the margins.

The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson

The warmth of other suns - black history month

Does a country change when millions of people move from one region to another? Are the people of that country changed? This book takes a close and personal look at the mass exodus of nearly six million people from the American south between 1915 to 1970.

After conducting thousands of interviews, collecting data, and searching official records, Wilkerson shows how this migration changed the face of our nation. This book follows three different perspectives: A former sharecropper from Mississippi finding blue-collar success in Chicago. A former Floridian becoming a civil right fighter in Harlem. A man from Louisiana pursuing a degree leading to a successful medical career. More importantly, we see what they brought to their new homes and the struggles they faced to get there.

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, Audre Lorde

zami a new spelling of my name

Creating the genre of biomythography, Audre Lorde wrote a book about herself that combines history, biography, and myth. We follow Lorde through her childhood in Harlem in the 1930’s and 1940’s, all the way to her time in Mexico. We see 4-year-old Lorde learning how to speak, her family restricted by Jim Crow laws, her decision to get an abortion, and the harsh working conditions at her factory job.

But this book isn’t only about Lorde’s life. This book is about the relationships with the many women that come and go throughout Lorde’s life. From her mother to her school friends, to her lover, all of these women gave Lorde power and strength. Part homage, part biography, part history book, this biomythography is a must-read.

The Book of Delights, by Ross Gay

The book of delights - Ross Gay

This collection of lyrical essays recounts the history of one tumultuous year for the poet, Ross Gay. It is an account of small joys and delightful moments in life, such as a friend’s use of air quotes, carrying a tomato plant on a plane, or the silent understanding between the only two black people in a room. However, it also discusses the complexities of being a black man in America. It addresses the ecological and psychic violence of consumer culture. It talks about the feeling of losing those you love.

But, despite all the hard times in life, Gay write this book as a reminder of all of the small things. He writes of his garden, of the natural world, about flowers popping up in cement cracks. He writes about taking the time to observe the world around us and all of the small delights it can bring. This is a collection about our shared bonds, about making space in our lives for joy, about celebrating ordinary wonders.

Freedom is a Constant Struggle, Angela Y. Davis

freedom is a constant struggle - black history month

This collection of essays, interviews, and speeches by renowned activist Angela Davis discusses the connection between state violence and oppression. These two realities go hand in hand throughout history and across the world. From freedom movements such as the civil rights movement to BLM and Ferguson, Davis touches on the history of previous struggles for freedom.

Davis is an outspoken advocate for the oppressed and exploited. Much of her writing focuses on Black liberation, prison abolition, and Black feminism. She always challenges her readers to imagine a world with human freedom and strive to build one. She reminds us that Freedom is a constant struggle.

Ida B. The Queen, by Michelle Duster

Ida B the Queen - Black History Month

If you’re looking for a black history book that is inspiring, empowering, and extraordinary, then look no further. Ida B. Wells co-founded the NAACP. Wells refused to leave a “whites only” train car. She shed a light on the lynching going on in America. She was a civil rights icon and is celebrated in Ida B. the Queen, written by her great-granddaughter, Michelle Duster. As a woman, she was often overlooked and underestimated, which made her work even more extraordinary. Today her story reminds us that we hold the power, that we can smash the status quo and finish the business she started and confront systemic racism.

Black history isn’t just for February. It is an integral part of American history. We should all know it, understand it, and learn from it. Which of these books do you plan to add to your reading list first?

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