9 Books That Will Help You Better Understand Black (American) History

You can never fit black American history in one month, but in the spirit of honoring it this month, why not tackle one or more of these nine books? From autobiographies to social commentary, these books not only give us knowledge of the past, but explain our present.

1. Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglas, an American Slave (1845), Frederick Douglass

Easily one of the most acclaimed works of the many slave narratives, Douglas writes about his status as a slave, how he learned to read, and his journey to abolition. The work is also one of the most influential books of the abolitionist movement and African-American history.

2. Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl (1861), Harriett Ann Jacobs

In this autobiographical work, Jacobs recounts her life as a slave, and her journey to find freedom for herself and her children. The book’s narrative is what we might now call an intersectional perspective, as Jacobs discusses the double jeopardy of her race and gender. But it is also a work of resistance in which she details what her and women like her did to protect themselves and their children during plantation life.

3. The Souls of Black Folk (1903), W.E.B. Du Bois

A classic work of American literature, DuBois’ work in The Souls of Black Folk consists of essays that look at the history of Black American life and the position of Black people in American society. DuBois includes sociology studies and comments on what is needed to improve the status and well-being of Black Americans. The famous “double consciousness” term is in an essay in the book. Double consciousness refers to the psychological challenge of the Black American person who struggles to reconcile their African heritage with their white American-influenced space, in the United States.

4. The Mis-Education of The Negro (1933), Carter G. Woodson

In this book, Dr. Carter G. Woodson contends that Black Americans are indoctrinated rather than educated in the American school system. Woodson believes that this indoctrination leads to dependence on the institutions that work against them, and challenges black Americans to be self-sufficient.

5. Notes of a Native Son (1955), James Baldwin

In this essay collection, Baldwin encounters both personal narratives and social commentary. He divulges his longing to be a writer and discusses his family life, primarily his relationship with his father. He centers his social commentary on race issues in the United States and Europe.

6. I Know Why The Caged Birds Sing (1969), Maya Angelou

In this autobiography, Angelou describes her upbringing and coming up, and how her love of words became a tool in overcoming racism and the trauma of being abandoned by her parents at a young age. It is a powerful narrative that inspires the reader to seek art as a means of resistance.

7. Women, Race, and Class (1983), Angela Davis

Davis contemplates the women’s movement from the days of abolition to her present day (which was in the early 80’s). A political activist, Davis shows how from the very beginning, the women’s movement was disrupted by racism and classism.

8. The Black Book (1974), Morrison et al.

The Black Book is a compilation from several amazing writers of the black experience in America. It includes sketches of the African sites as drawn by European traders, narrates the different dynamics of slavery, recounts freedom stories, and more. A true testament to the diversity and richness of Black American history.

9. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010), Michelle Alexander

Legal scholar Michelle Alexander explains how the mass incarceration system targets African-American men specifically, and hinders all economically disenfranchised groups in the United States. Alexander contends that what has effectively occurred through mass incarceration is a new Jim Crow era. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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