With the dawn of Black History Month comes deep reflection, reverence and appreciation — regardless if your roots pay homage to the national month or not.
While it’s important to honor and amplify Black voices (and learn from the highs-and-lows-filled history) all throughout the year, February’s Black History Month is that year-round honor, just shouted from a megaphone. In the workplace, on social media and throughout bookstore shelves.
To gain perspective, expand upon your knowledge and understand history and first-person accounts some more, we rounded up the 16 most popular books about Black History, according to Goodreads members.
From critically acclaimed memoirs to investigative reporting accounts, you’ll have quite a few paperbacks (or audible books, if you prefer listening rather than flipping) to add to your reading list.
1. “His Name is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice” by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa
Deemed “a landmark biography,” per Goodreads, this prize-winner was written by two Washington Post reporters, revealing how systemic racism shaped the happenings of George Floyd’s life. From roots in North Carolina’s tobacco fields to continuous inequality in housing, education and so forth, it’s a raw-honest read worth picking up.
2. “The Trayvon Generation” by Elizabeth Alexander
As a “galvanizing meditation on the power of art and culture to illuminate America’s unsolved problem with race,” according to Goodreads, this Pulitzer Prize finalist helps to explore the attitudes and experiences that the author self-describes as the Trayvon Generation — an era brutalized by inequality that is expounded upon in this elongated essay.
3. “How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America” by Clint Smith
With this book, contributor to The Atlantic Clint Smith “leads the reader through an unforgettable tour of monuments and landmarks — those that are honest about the past and those that are not — that offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in shaping our nation’s collective history, and ourselves,” per Goodreads.
Taking place in a Monticello Plantation in Virginia, the same estate Thomas Jefferson wrote letters touting the need for liberty while enslaving 400 people on their premises, it’s a just as reflective as it is insightful.
4. “The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation” by Anna Malaika Tubbs
An esteemed novel celebrating Black motherhood, this book tells the tale of three mothers who raised and mold some of history’s greatest icons: Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and James Baldwin.
What all three mothers have in common? The fight for equal justice and dignity.
5. “South to America: A Journey Below the Mason Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation” by Imani Perry
Detailing the journey, rituals and experiences while trekking to the American South landscape, this book is a pure deep-dive on the region and how we must understand the South to fully conceptualize and connect with America as a whole.
According to Goodreads, “this is the story of a Black woman and native Alabaman returning to the region she has always called home and considering it with fresh eyes.”
6. “Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019” by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain
This chronological account spans 400 years of Black America, as told by 90 of America’s leading Black writers. Contributors include some of the most well-known journalists, historians, writers, scholars, poets, activists and pioneers who use storytelling to craft a bold and powerful work.
7. “A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance” by Hanif Abdurraqib
This profound and lasting reflection centers on 57-year-old Josephine Baker, who said in a speech, “I was a devil in other countries, and I was a little devil in America, too.” Inspired by these words, author Hanif Abdurraqib examines the pain, pockets of joy and everything in between surrounding Black experiences — from midcentury Paris to the moon.
8. “We Carry Their Bones: The Search for Justice at the Dozier School for Boys” by Erin Kimmerle
Forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle investigates the Dozier Boys School, the true account between the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Nickel Boys,” where mostly Black students were subject to brutal abuse and regularly hired out to farmers as indentured labor, among other hardships.
This impressive and telling story encapsulates how, even after years of investigating, the fight for inequality has far more roots left to unravel.
9. “Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts” by Rebecca Hall
Part-graphic novel, part-memoir, this imaginative story (1) details women-led slave revolts and (2) Dr. Rebecca Hall’s efforts to reveal the truth about these brave women warriors who — until this account — have been left out of historical record.
Illustrating their pilgrimage through the Middle Passage and fighting their enslavers throughout the America, Dr. Hall — a historian, granddaughter of slaves and a woman haunted by the legacy of slavery — paints a searing portrait that’s a true must-read.
10. “All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake” by Tiya Miles
Ashley’s Sack, an embroidered piece of history with just a handful of words that illustrate a generations-passed-down family of love and loss, is now found in a display case at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Its origin traces back to 1850s South Carolina, where an enslaved woman named Rose gave it to her daughter, Ashley, as a token of love and hope to survive. Decades later, Ashley’s granddaughter, Ruth, embroidered it — and this heartfelt, moving novel details its passage.
11. “Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop” by Danyel Smith
Nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award for ‘Best History & Biography,” this account highlights Black geniuses in pop music who have contributed immeasurably to American pop music and how it’s celebrated today. It’s a biography, criticism and memoir-trifecta that details how history is inevitably apart of the lyrics.
12. “African Founders: How Enslaved People Expanded American Ideals” by David Hackett Fischer
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Hackett Fischer draws on vast research to illustrate how enslaved Africans and their descendants “enlarged American ideas of freedom in varying ways in different regions of the early United States,” per Goodreads.
From learning linguistic skills to novel techniques of animal husbandry and farming, this decades-researched account of Black History shows how its roots are sprinkled everywhere — even today — from Puritan New England to Quaker Pennsylvania.
13. “Waging a Good War: A Military History of the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1968” by Thomas E. Ricks
To learn more about the Civil Rights Movement, best-selling author and Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas E. Ricks writes on a new take of the era, stressing its unexpected use of military strategy and its lessons for nonviolent resistance worldwide. More, it’s a fresh perspective on what’s known as America’s greatest moral revolution — offering a new understanding of familiar events from the time period and overlooked aspects of America’s civil rights struggle.
14. “Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad” by Matthew F. Delmont
Written from an African American perspective, “Half American” is a poignant, heavily detailed story about how heavily (yet unrecognizable) most Black efforts in World War II were. Highlighting discrimination in housing, as well as the years-long fight to open the Air Force to Black pilots, this richly packed account is one that’ll give you fresh eyes.
15. “The Grimkes: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family” by Kerri K. Greenidge
Sarah and Angelina Grimke — revered sisters in American history, famous for rejecting their privileged lives on a South Carolinian plantation to become firebrand activists in the North — are highlighted in this landmark biography, a biography “of the most important multiracial American family of the nineteenth century,” according to Goodreads.
Namely, this grand saga explores the peaks and valleys of slavery in the American South, the people they met along the way and the pressures of the time.
16. “Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality” by Tomiko Brown-Nagin
Serving as the first major biography of one of the most influential judicial activists, “Civil Rights Queen” is an insightful account of the twin struggles of civil rights and gender equality in the twentieth century. It homes in on Constance Baker Motley, born to a hopeful blue-collar family during the Great Depression, and her born-and-bred lifelong mission for equality.
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