16 Books About Black History That Will Inspire You to Stay Strong
For Americans who are new to the fight for racial justice, now is the time to get familiar with this country's long history of antiracist movements and the figures who led them. As the saying goes, if we don't learn history, we are doomed to repeat it. History also often leaves behind voices that needed to be heard — there's an excellent Call Your Girlfriend episode about this, for those interested — but many of the books on this list bring them back into the spotlight so they share their knowledge with future generations.
These great books offer perspectives, deepen our understanding of important events and people, and hopefully will inspire you to keep supporting, donating, listening, and speaking out against racism. Educating yourself on the history of racial-justice issues now will leave you better prepared to continue this important work — beyond the pages of a book.
12 Years a Slave
Solomon Northup's memoir, 12 Years a Slave, tells an unforgettable tale of a man who was born and raised free but was kidnapped and sold into slavery. His journey was adapted into an Oscar-winning film, but the novel offers a more detailed, and sometimes even more disturbing, story than the movie.
A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story
A Taste of Power tells the true story of Elaine Brown, the first and only woman leader of the Black Panther Party. This autobiography brings a very insightful look and a fresh new perspective into the Black Panthers as Brown rises within the movement.
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History
This adorable and beautifully illustrated children's book relates the true story of 40 incredible Black women in American history. Little Leaders by Vashti Harrison explores the life of iconic and lesser-known figures such as abolitionists, pilots, chemists, politicians, mathematicians, poets, and so many more inspiring women who changed the world.
Daughters of the Dream: Eight Girls From Richmond Who Grew Up in the Civil Rights Era
Tamara Lucas Copeland's novel Daughters of the Dream chronicles the real-life story of eight Black girls as they grow up in 1950s Richmond, VA. Their story is one of resiliency and a quest for racial identity in the American South but also touches upon family, love, and friendship during the civil rights era.
Defining Moments in Black History: Reading Between the Lies
Comic and author Dick Gregory brings to light often-obscured moments in American history in a collection of essays in Defining Moments in Black History. Both humorous and inspiring, the book offers an exploration of movements and cultural touchstones such as the Harlem Renaissance in a journey through time.
Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom
Frederick Douglass escaped slavery and went on to lead the abolitionist movement of his era, becoming one of the most important Black figures of the 19th century. Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom is an engaging biography that portrays Douglass's work and family life, as well as showcases newly discovered newspaper articles. This book by author David W. Blight also won the Pulitzer Prize in History.
Up From Slavery: An Autobiography
Booker T. Washington was an American author, educator, and adviser to multiple presidents. He was a key leader in the Black community during the early 1900s. This autobiography records his trials and challenges as a slave child and later in establishing vocational schools to help Black Americans receive an education. Up From Slavery contains articles originally published by Washington as well as autobiographical anecdotes written while he traveled in the South.
Hidden Figures tells the true story of the Black women mathematicians who worked at NASA and helped America win the space race despite prejudices and segregation laws. Known as "human computers," these women were once hidden from history and their achievements pushed aside. Not anymore! Margot Lee Shetterly's New York Times bestseller was also adapted into a movie in 2016.
Let the Children March
With beautiful illustrations and moving writing, Let the Children March tells the story of thousands of Black children who marched for their civil rights. Author Monica Clark-Robison and artist Frank Morrison unite to bring this historical moment to life in accessible and easy-to-understand style. The book also won the Coretta Scott King Honor Award for Illustration in 2019.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley
Without a doubt, Malcolm X was one of the most important figures in modern American history, and this autobiography offers insight into the mind of the man and his perspective on racism and life. The Autobiography of Malcolm X was originally published in 1964, and it is a fascinating, if not vital, read for anyone who wishes to understand the man behind the movement.
Obama: An Intimate Portrait
Obama: An Intimate Portrait is a collection of more than 300 photographs of Barack Obama's presidency. Author Pete Souza accompanied the president during his two terms and was able to capture historical as well as highly classified moments. One of the pictures shows Obama and his advisers standing in the Situation Room during the mission to hunt down Osama bin Laden. Other photos are more intimate and unguarded such as Obama with his family. Overall, it's an incredible collection of historical images.
Unseen: Unpublished Black History From the New York Times Photo Archives
Unseen collects hundreds of never-before-seen images of Black history that previously had been left in the archives of The New York Times. These incredible photographs were discovered by Darcy Eveleigh and portray both significant and candid moments of figures such as Rosa Parks, Aretha Franklin, Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson, and many more. The book also questions why these images were long left buried and unpublished.
The Underground Railroad
In 2016, The Underground Railroad won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and became a New York Times bestseller. Colson Whitehead's gripping tale follows Cora, a young slave, in her journey to escape and find freedom, which begins with her crossing the Underground Railroad. Whitehead's prose has been described as poetic, mixing fiction and realism to bring the horrors of slavery to life.
Nella Larsen's novel Passing, originally published in 1929, is an exploration of racial identity set in New York during the late 1920s. Young Irene Redfield lives a comfortable life in Harlem, but when she renews her friendship with Clare Kendry, she realizes her friend has married a racist and "passes" as a white woman due to her light skin. Tension breeds between them and their husbands, culminating into a gripping thriller.
Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America
Stamped From the Beginning won the 2016 National Book Award and became a New York Times bestseller by exposing the history of racist thinking in American society. Ibram X. Kendi's nonfiction book is a deep dive into the history of racism in America that recounts the life of major figures such as Thomas Jefferson, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. Du Bois, and activist Angela Davis.
The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921
Before it was brought back into mainstream attention by HBO's Watchmen, author Tim Madigan explored the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 in this compelling fictional narrative that is well-researched and full of historical details. The Burning explores the hatred and mistrust that led to this terrible event in American history.