15 of the best black history books to read this month

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Humans have been around for hundreds of thousands of years. We learned; we have fought wars and have loved each other for generations. Sadly, as far as we know, there is also a rich history behind us that we probably don’t know. This is most likely true of black history. It’s not the most common class topic, and unless you research it yourself, you probably don’t know much about it.

Fortunately, books are excellent record keepers. Thanks to them we can have first hand knowledge of something that happened 50 years ago in our hands. In addition, some authors have the resources and knowledge to perform an immense amount of research. So even if they haven’t experienced a specific event, they can reliably transmit it. Black history books are windows into the lives of others, past and present.

This list tries to compile some of the best non-fiction black history books for adults. From graphic novels to essays, here are 15 non-fictional black history books to read this month.

15 non-fictional black history books to read this month

Black Fortunes by Shomari Wills

This book delves deeply into the lives of the first six African American millionaires in the United States. Mary Ellen Pleasant, Robert Reed Church, Hannah Elias, Annie Turnbo-Malon, OW Gurley, and Madame C. J Walker escaped slavery and built powerful empires for themselves between the 19th and 20th centuries. This is a great book about people with the creativity and the drive to make a name for themselves.

Power to the People Blanket

Power to the People by Bobby Seale

Power to the people is the story of the Black Panther Party, written by one of its founders. A student-founded organization, the Black Panther Party intended to monitor Oakland Police and challenge police brutality by carrying their own weapons. The book includes interviews with other party members, as well as photographs of Stephen Shames, a close friend of Seale’s. It is a deep dive into the radical political party that has made a difference in the struggle for civil rights in the United States.

Covering the heat of other suns

The heat of other suns by Isabel Wilkerson

In the 20th century, nearly six million people migrated from the southern United States to the rest of the country. Today we know this movement as The Great Migration. This massive exodus, along with the changes it brought to the country, is told through the perspectives of three people: Ida Mae Gladney, George Starling and Robert Foster. Wilkerson uses interviews and official documents to recount their journey, as well as the changes their arrivals made to their new homes.

Cover Between the World and Me

Between the world and me of Ta-Nehisi Coates

This book is part memory, part essay, and written like a letter from a father to a son. It’s a more personal book, in which Coates uses his own life experiences to reflect what it means to be black in the United States. He also discusses the history of violence against blacks in the country, including the recent case of Prince Carmen Jones Jr., a man killed by police. This book is similar to James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time in both content and format.

stamped from the start

Stamped from the beginning by Ibram X. Kendi

Stamp is an ambitious book that attempts to shed light on the history of racist ideas. It tells the whole story of racist ideas in the United States. By knowing the history, you can begin to recognize and understand what discriminatory practices are buried in our society. The book also tries to understand how, why and who created this ideology using the lives of five prominent people: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, WEB Du Bois, and Angela Davis.

Margot Lee Shetterly Hidden Figures

In the 1960s, NASA was working with “human computers” to help with calculations that would take humans into space. Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson were three brilliant mathematicians who played important roles in the space program. While fighting against the inherent sexism and racism that permeated the country. As separate employees, they worked with pen and paper to write down the equations that would take the astronauts into space. Hidden characters is an excellent book that tells the story of these three badass women who excel in a field dominated by men.

They Can’t Kill Us All By Wesley Lowery

It’s sort of the behind-the-scenes story of a journalist deeply involved in what could be considered the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2014. Lowery has traveled the country, interviewing families who have been victims of police brutality in an attempt to understand the problem. Particularly after the wave of protest following the murder of Michael Brown in August 2014. He also interviewed local activists working to end police brutality. Although it deals with more recent topics, this book is very important because it offers an in-depth examination of the history of racism still alive today.

barracon

Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston

Hurston uses this book to give voice to the last suspected survivor of the Middle Passage. She went to Alabama in 1927 to interview Cudjo Lewis, 86, and here is her story. Lewis recounts how he was kidnapped in Africa and taken to the United States on the last “Black Cargo” ship during the Middle Passage, as well as the years he spent in slavery before being freed. He shares the horrors of slavery, such as being stuck in a barracoon waiting to be “selected” by American slave traders, as well as his childhood memories in Africa. Barracoon gives voice to a story that needs to be told, a heart-wrenching part of black history that more people should know about.

Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington

Medical apartheid tells about another dark moment in black history. Dark because it talks about medical experimentation, but also because it’s a lesser-known fact that the medical establishment also discriminates to the point of experimenting on reluctant black Americans. From the looting of graves for unauthorized autopsies in the past to the use of eugenics to justify experimental exploitation in the present. This book discusses the relationship between racism and medicine and how it has shaped the health sector for blacks in the United States.

men we collected a memoir by jesmyn ward book cover

The Men We’ve Reaped: A Brief from Jesmyn Ward

This book contains a warning trigger for suicide.

This is a more recent and personal book that still talks about the struggles black people have faced for generations. In it, Jesmyn Ward talks about the loss of five black men who were close to her – accidents, murders and suicides. They were all victims of a predetermined fate. One who has stacked race and class against them. It’s a very personal story that deals with loss, racism, sexism and classism. The men we have harvested is a relevant book that demonstrates how identity and place are factors in how people and the world treat you.

John Lewis March Trilogy

The only graphic novel on this list, March is the memoir of Congressman John Lewis. Composed of three volumes, it tells the story of his rise and struggle as a leader of the civil rights movement. March: The first book deals with his life in Alabama, his meeting with Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the rise of the Nashville Student Movement. This memoir shows an important story in an unconventional format, making it fun but difficult to read.

Waiting for the Midnight Hour by Peniel E. Joseph

The Black Power Movement has renounced the pacifism of Martin Luther King, pioneer of a radical new approach to the struggle for equality. Wait until midnight tells their story, from his beginnings in the 1950s in Harlem until his death in the 1970s. It also shows the rise of some of the groups that were part of the movement, such as the Black Panthers. Joseph uses research and oral history to paint a picture of a movement that set another path for black people to fight for equality.

Life on These Shores by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

This book is probably the most ambitious of all on this list. It tells the story of African Americans from their forced arrival in the country and enslavement in the 16th century until Obama was elected president in 2008. He talks about the Great Migration, the civil rights movement, the Civil War, the Hops Generation and many other significant events in black history. If you want to read just one book to learn about black history in a larger frame, this is it.

Women, Race and Class by Angela Y. Davis

This book recognizes something that is very important: that people are discriminated against for different aspects of their identity. For example, black women face sexism, but they also face racism. In her book, among other things, Davis criticizes that the women’s liberation movement was by and for white women only. In the 13 essays that make up this book, Angela Davis does a terrific job of talking about history, from the slave trade to the women’s liberation movements of the ’60s, while analyzing and discussing the different effects that race and the class have on women.

Sweet tea by E. Patrick Johnson

Sweet tea brings together over 60 life stories of black gay men who live in the South. Johnson did all of the interviews, and while he bundles certain types of stories together, he takes the time to highlight direct quotes from people who shared their stories with him, making them stand out on one page. The book is divided into thematic chapters, some of which focus on childhood, gender identity, love, and religion. Whatever the theme, you can tell it is close to the author’s heart because it shines through in the care with which he handles their stories.


We also have a list of 10 underrated Black History Month books to read more! Or if history isn’t your thing, check out the Black Romance List! We also talked about the best children’s books for Black History Month!

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