Along with focusing on books on Black Resilience, notable memoirs, and some of the most anticipated fictions from black authors, Black History Month is an opportunity to learn more about the history of African Americans, as well as the key figures who have shaped that history. If you’re curious to learn more either way (and the vast space in between), we’ve compiled some of the best books on these topics from the past year, according to the members of Goodreads. .
The following books shed light on different aspects of African American history, from women’s suffrage and systemic inequalities to the Great Migration and the life of Martin Luther King Jr. They were all published last year and were compiled based on the number of Goodreads members who reviewed them or added them to their “your read” lists, as well as the average ratings of the books.
- Goodreads: 4.59 star average rating, over 33,900 ratings
Explaining how factors such as race and class create a hierarchy of human divisions in the world, author Isabel Wilkerson reveals the unspoken caste system that shapes America. She explores eight pillars that underpin caste systems across civilizations and illustrates the impact of caste systems on individuals in the United States by sharing the life stories of historical figures.
- Goodreads: 4.04 star average rating, over 150 ratings
This book documents the history of African American women’s political life in America from the early days of the country until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Author Martha Jones discusses the work of black women such as as Maria Stewart, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Fannie Lou Hamer and more, detailing how their efforts have played a central role in the fight for women’s rights.
- Goodreads: 4.29-star average rating, over 1,200 ratings
Authors and historians Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross focus their book on the stories of African American women to show how they helped shape the United States. The book also discusses how black women fight centuries of oppression and how readers can continue to resist systemic racism and sexism today.
- Goodreads: average rating of 4.20 stars, over 750 ratings
According to Goodreads, the Green Book was published from 1936 to 1966 and listed hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and other businesses that were safe for black travelers. This book celebrates the stories of those who put their names in the book and stood up against segregation, as well as the progress that still needs to be made when it comes to race relations in the United States.
- Goodreads: 4.28 star average rating, over 500 ratings
This book covers the biographies of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. As the two represented opposing ideals in their quest for justice, author Peniel E. Joseph illustrates how they were inspired throughout the movement that they have come to define.
- Goodreads: 4.56-star average rating, over 2,300 reviews
Through interviews with John Lewis and other historical tales, author Jon Meacham tells the story of what inspired the congressman to dedicate his life to bettering the nation. The book also details how Lewis held onto hope even while risking his life and facing challenges.
- Goodreads: 4.03-star average rating, over 890 reviews
In this book, author Morgan Jerkins seeks to understand the journey of his ancestors across America during the Great Migration. The author also discusses the displacement of blacks across America between 1916 and 1970, and how the impacts of this displacement can still be seen in society today.
- Goodreads: 4.32 star average rating, over 680 ratings
Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Les Payne spent nearly 30 years researching the life of Malcom X to write this biography. The author’s daughter, Tamara Payne, was the main researcher for the book and she stepped in to complete the book after her father died. “The Dead Are Arising” won the 2020 National Book Award for Non-Fiction.
- Goodreads: 4.46 star average rating, over 2,500 ratings
By analyzing the life history, activism, and authoring work of James Baldwin, Eddie S. Glaude Jr. attempts to make sense of the race relations and tensions presently in America. The author examines the lessons the United States can learn from its past and how it can emerge from current divisions as a new country.
- Goodreads: 4.25 star average rating, over 300 ratings
Like “Overground Railroad,” this book focuses on the Green Book and how black motorists relied on its advice to keep them safe. Gretchen Sorin’s book also discusses how the car has always been important to African Americans as it enabled them to escape racist society and enjoy the limited freedoms that the open road afforded them.