Black History Month is here again. It’s the annual event where Americans join together to celebrate the cultural contributions and stories of Black Americans, and it’s also when we ponder the complicated history and struggles Black Americans have faced. There are many ways to learn about and honor Black history, and reading is one of the most crucial.
Whether you’re interested in learning more about the leaders who led slaves to freedom or the heroes who navigated Black Americans through the civil rights movement, there are many incredible books to add to your reading list. Of course, Black history is about more than struggle, and many Black authors have written also written poignant history books about a diverse range of topics including politics, medicine, jazz, education and cuisine. Because there are many widespread myths about Black history in the United States, it’s important to seek out Black history books that set the record straight. Often, this means finding books written by Black authors such as Isabel Wilkerson, W. E. B. Du Bois, Alex Haley and Martin Luther King Jr.
Below, we’ve gathered 10 Black history books that we feel encompass a great amount of this country’s history and culture. Some of the books highlight specific leaders, while others highlight specific moments in history that need to be remembered.
Keep reading to see our selection of Black history books below.
The Burning: The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921
One of America’s most eerie and unsettling stories would be that of the Tulsa riots. Not only was the event itself horrifying, but many Americans are still completely unaware that it happened in the first place. The riots were centered around Tulsa’s “Negro Wall Street,” where a white mob that numbered in thousands obliterated a Black community that was one of America’s most prosperous. This book tells the story of this community and the racial turmoil Black Americans faced during that time. With searing details, The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 is a chilling piece of historical reporting that seeks to tell the truth about one of America’s most heinous acts of mob violence.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
Moving from the south to the north and achieving the unimaginable was the dream of so many Black Americans. Too often, these dreams could only come to fruition through great sacrifice. In telling the stories of three individuals who achieved the unimaginable, Isabel Wilkerson explores how these journeys impacted our cities, country and ourselves. In a blurb, the publisher writes that “Wilkerson brilliantly captures their first treacherous and exhausting cross-country trips by car and train and their new lives in colonies that grew into ghettos, as well as how they changed these cities with southern food, faith, and culture and improved them with discipline, drive, and hard work.”
The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X
Most people know about the legacy of Malcolm X, but some may not know the man behind the legacy. This book written by Les Payne and his daughter Tamara Payne, seeks to tell his biography. The book follows along from his Nebraska birth in 1925 to his untimely Harlem assassination in 1965. Hearing from people that were close to Malcolm X, Payne strives to tell his story accurately and with heart. Essentially, this book is a work that affirms the position of Malcolm X in the African-American freedom, equality and justice struggle.
Roots: The Saga of an American Family
Probably one of the most required and most talked about books when it comes to Black history is Roots. Written by Alex Haley, Roots tells the story of a young slave named Kunta Kinte, and it chronicles his life going through the turmoil of slavery. The book won a Pulitzer Prize and was a #1 New York Times bestseller for 22 weeks. A year after its release, a miniseries was adapted from the book — more than 130 million Americans watched some or all of the series.
A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story
In a stunning story about a Black woman’s battle to define herself, A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story, is Elaine Brown’s story of acquiring the power and weaponry of one of the most powerful Black power groups of the 60s and 70s — the Black Panther Party. A woman gaining control of the male-dominated Black Panther Party was a big deal back in the day, and it is a testimony to her wits and character. This book explores her backstory and shares information about what happened in the Black Panther Party behind the scenes, which is perfect as a jumping point to learn more about the Black Panthers as a part of Black history.
The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.
As a visionary leader of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. is considered a national hero. Thanks in large part to his tireless efforts, important civil rights legislation was passed that ended legal segregation and southern Jim Crow laws. His non-violent approach to activism helped reveal the violence and brutality of Black Americans’ oppressors. He has become one of the most admired figures in American history, and he helped prove that love can overcome hate. In this autobiography, King tells his own story, highlighting what he stood for and why he stood so strongly for his people.
Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America
During the Jim Crow south and on the cusp of the civil rights movement, traveling in the United States as a Black American was treacherous. This book is the first of its kind to analyze the history of a famous travel guide for Black motorists, the Green Book. The Green Book listed hotels, restaurants and gas stations that were safe for Black people. It was a courageous feat to be featured in the Green Book, and Overground Railroad seeks to celebrate the stories of those who put their names in the book and stood up to the ugly beast of segregation.
His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope
The recent passing of civil rights hero and Congressman John Lewis sparked solidarity with his slogan, “Cause good trouble,” and what it meant to be a force for positive change. Lewis was most known for his efforts during the Selma march when he and dozens of other Black civilians were beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge when they protested for the right to vote. Through many years of activism and nonviolent protests, Lewis has become an inspiration and mentor for other notable leaders such as the recently elected Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. This book tells Lewis’s life story and how he became the great leader he was.
Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880
In this crucial tale, W.E.B. Du Bois chronicles the fate of Black Americans after the Civil War ended and the emancipation of the slaves, and what reconstruction was really like for those Americans. This book is hailed as a classic, as Du Bois is one of the greatest intellects of the time. This analytical tale is a crucial part of Black history because it tells the story of the people who helped create America as we know it today. If you’re looking for Black history books that bust myths and tell hard truths, this is a crucial entry for your reading list.
African American Medicine in Washington, D.C.: Healing the Capital During the Civil War Era
Some of the most forgotten characters of the Civil War are the medical staff of Black Americans that took care of fallen soldiers and other important war participants. Written by Heather M. Butts JD MPH MA, this riveting tale dissects the service of the medical staff that helped defend the Union during the Civil War. These brave staffers created a foundation for African Americans by African Americans through the Washington’s Freemen’s Hospital, which eventually became the Howard University Medical Center. These physicians created the National Medical Association — the largest and oldest organization representing African American doctors and patients. By highlighting the medical staff that took care of people during one of the most chaotic times in American history, this book has become one of the most inspiring Black history books.