One of the greatest ways we can all celebrate Black History Month is to educate ourselves.
What better way to do that then to read a few of the best Black history books!
I invited Rachel from The Black Book Blog to help breakdown some of her favorite Black history books to share with al of you!
Let’s get into her post!!
When The Afro Column asked me to do a Black History Month bookish post for her, I was so incredibly honored and excited.
Over here in the UK, we grew up learning all about American Black History and our history curriculum was heavily focused on it – more than our own Black British history.
I can’t express how important it is to read a wide range of literature. I read Black American literature because I find it interesting, especially learning about how historical events have shaped America into the country it is today.
Regardless, you should be reading these stories all year round. Black history shouldn’t be confined to one month.
Nevertheless, if you’re unsure where to start, I’ve put together a list of books focused on Black American History both Fiction and Non-fiction!
Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
This was one of my favourite books of 2020. A beautiful historical fiction novel by Yaa Gyasi which explores about American and Ghanaian history. It will leave you speechless. I simply adored it.
Effia and Esi, two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader’s wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. Taking us from the Gold Coast of Africa to the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem, spanning three continents and seven generations, Yaa Gyasi has written a miraculous novel – the intimate, gripping story of a brilliantly vivid cast of characters and through their lives the very story of America itself.
The Prophets – Robert Jones Jr
I can’t not talk about one of my favourite books of this year. Robert Jones Jr wrote a phenomenal piece of work that focuses on slavery but with queer love at the centre of it. At the moment, it is firmly making my top ten reads of 2021.
The Halifax plantation is known as Empty by the slaves who work it under the pitiless gaze of its overseers and its owner, Massa Paul. Two young enslaved men, Samuel and Isaiah dwell among the animals they keep in the barn, helping out in the fields when their day is done. But the barn is their haven, a space of radiance and love – away from the blistering sun and the cruelty of the toubabs – where they can be alone together.
But, Amos – a fellow slave – has begun to direct suspicion towards the two men and their refusal to bend. Their flickering glances, unspoken words and wilful intention, revealing a truth that threatens to rock the stability of the plantation. And preaching the words of Massa Paul’s gospel, he betrays them.
Red At The Bone – Jacqueline Woodson
Jacqueline Woodson explored Black American history with this coming-of-age novel. It’s a story about family and how the decisions made in the past will always affect your descendants and those that follow.
Brooklyn, 2001. It is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s coming of age ceremony in her grandparents’ brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the music of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress – the very same dress that was sewn for a different wearer, Melody’s mother, for a celebration that ultimately never took place.
Unfurling the history of Melody’s family – from the 1921 Tulsa race massacre to post 9/11 New York – Red at the Bone explores sexual desire, identity, class, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, as it looks at the ways in which young people must so often make fateful decisions about their lives before they have even begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be.
Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry – Mildred D Taylor
This is probably my favourite classic ever written. I loved how this explored Black American history after slavery during The Great Depression. We saw how it affected Black families who were dealing with racism alongside the poor economic years that changed America’s landscape.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is the classic story of a girl growing up in the deep South. Set in Mississippi at the height of the American Depression, this is the story of a family’s struggle to maintain their integrity, pride and independence against the forces of a cruelly racist society.
‘We have no choice of what colour we’re born or who our parents are or whether we’re rich or poor. What we do have is some choice over what we make of our lives once we’re here.’
The Mississippi of the 1930s was a hard place for a black child to grow up in, but still Cassie didn’t understand why farming his own land meant so much to her father. During that year, though, when the night riders were carrying hatred and destruction among her people, she learned about the great differences that divided them, and when it was worth fighting for a principle even if it brought terrible hardships.
Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
Whilst I haven’t read this one yet, it’s high on my list after seeing the incredible reviews of how it explores Black American history in such an extraordinary way.
Ralph Ellison’s blistering and impassioned first novel tells the extraordinary story of a man invisible ‘simply because people refuse to see me’. Published in 1952 when American society was in the cusp of immense change, the powerfully depicted adventures of Ellison’s invisible man – from his expulsion from a Southern college to a terrifying Harlem race riot – go far beyond the story of one individual to give voice to the experience of an entire generation of black Americans.
Hood Feminism – Mikki Kendall
An excellent non-fiction piece that explores how feminism has excluded Black American women. Mikki Kendall draws on her past experiences as well as events in history to explain why more needs to be done to make feminism accessible for everyone.
All too often the focus of mainstream feminism is not on basic survival for the many, but on increasing privilege for the few.
Meeting basic needs is a feminist issue. Food insecurity, the living wage and access to education are feminist issues. The fight against racism, ableism and transmisogyny are all feminist issues.
White feminists often fail to see how race, class, sexual orientation and disability intersect with gender. How can feminists stand in solidarity as a movement when there is a distinct likelihood that some women are oppressing others?
Caste – Isabel Wilkerson
I saw this everywhere on bookstagram at one point. I believe it was even featured as Oprah’s book club pick. I know this book explores Black American history in great detail and is hugely successful.
Beyond race or class, our lives are defined by a powerful, unspoken system of divisions. In Caste, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson gives an astounding portrait of this hidden phenomenon. Linking America, India and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson reveals how our world has been shaped by caste – and how its rigid, arbitrary hierarchies still divide us today.
With clear-sighted rigour, Wilkerson unearths the eight pillars that connect caste systems across civilizations, and demonstrates how our own era of intensifying conflict and upheaval has arisen as a consequence of caste. Weaving in stories of real people, she shows how its insidious undertow emerges every day; she documents its surprising health costs; and she explores its effects on culture and politics. Finally, Wilkerson points forward to the ways we can – and must – move beyond its artificial divisions, towards our common humanity.
Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
Another hugely successful non-fiction piece from Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates is widely phenomenal for his work and has many other pieces that explore Black American history. He’s even written fiction about slavery called ‘The Water Dancer’. This particular text explores Black American history and starts right after The American Civil War.
A bold and beautifully written exploration of America’s fraught racial history and its contemporary echoes that will redefine wider understanding of race and the roots of American identity.
In the 150 years since the end of the Civil War and the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment (the abolition of slavery), the story of race and America has remained a brutally simple one, written on flesh: it is the story of the black body, exploited to create the country’s foundational wealth, violently segregated to unite a nation after a civil war and, today, still disproportionately threatened, locked up and killed in the streets. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can America reckon with its fraught racial history?
The Promised Land – Barack Obama
Now there’s probably many other non-fiction Black American history texts that I could include instead of this one. However, this is a closer look into a presidency that will undoubtedly go down in history. It is Black American history and should be read.
In the stirring, highly anticipated first volume of his presidential memoirs, Barack Obama tells the story of his improbable odyssey from young man searching for his identity to leader of the free world, describing in strikingly personal detail both his political education and the landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency-a time of dramatic transformation and turmoil.
Obama takes readers on a compelling journey from his earliest political aspirations to the pivotal Iowa caucus victory that demonstrated the power of grassroots activism to the watershed night of November 4, 2008, when he was elected 44th president of the United States, becoming the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office.
Reflecting on the presidency, he offers a unique and thoughtful exploration of both the awesome reach and the limits of presidential power, as well as singular insights into the dynamics of U.S. partisan politics and international diplomacy.
Obama brings readers inside the Oval Office and the White House Situation Room, and to Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, and points beyond. We are privy to his thoughts as he assembles his cabinet, wrestles with a global financial crisis, takes the measure of Vladimir Putin, overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds to secure passage of the Affordable Care Act, clashes with generals about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, tackles Wall Street reform, responds to the devastating Deepwater Horizon blowout, and authorizes Operation Neptune’s Spear, which leads to the death of Osama Bin Laden.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
This is probably my favourite Maya Angelou autobiography. It is also her first one. All of her books explore Black American history as her life is very much interwoven with some key members in history. I love her work and her writing. She was and always will be an icon.
In this first volume of her seven books of autobiography, Maya Angelou beautifully evokes her childhood with her grandmother in the American south of the 1930s. Loving the world, she also knows its cruelty. As a Black woman she has known discrimination, violence and extreme poverty, but also hope, joy, achievement and celebration.
There’s so many incredible books out there that talk about Black American history.
This is just a start.
I hope you’re inspired to read at least one of these books and perhaps, pick up more throughout the year. Black American history is American history.
Everyone should be reading and learning about what has happened to Black Americans over the years, because it has shaped the US into the country, we know it to be today.
Please feel free to check out more recommendations on my Instagram: theblackbookblogg!
Wishing you all an amazing diverse reading year x
I hope you enjoyed this guest post as much as I did and took some notes & screenshots of a few (or all) of the books so you can add them to your reading list!!
If you enjoyed this post by Rachel, make sure to go check out her blog and follow her Instagram to get more amazing book reviews!!
Also make sure to share this on your socials and with someone you know who loves a good read!!