The Top 10 Books to Read for Black History Month
Black History stretches across time, space, and disciple. Everywhere from the arts, film, and pop culture, to politics, activism, and education, Black women and men around the world have made, and continue to make history.
Although there are many ways to celebrate Black History, nothing compares to hitting the books. Black History has been captured in nearly every genre of writing, and each type highlights a different aspect of the intricacy of Blackness. There is a book for each moment in Black History, and there is a book for every person who wants to explore it. As we near the final days of Black History Month, commit to learning more about the rich history this month represent by exploring one of the books below:
1. The Bluest Eye
“The Bluest Eye” follows the story of Pecola Breedlove, a young Black girl who struggles with questions of beauty and acceptance. She is frequently mocked and mistreated by other children due to her brown eyes and dark skin. After constant harassment and maltreatment at the hands of others, Pecola convinces herself that she would be able to fit in and overcome her adversities if she had blonde hair and blue eyes. As Toni Morrison’s powerful first novel, “The Bluest Eye” critically examines our obsession with beauty, and asks crucial questions about race, class, and gender.
2. The Autobiography of Malcolm X
“The Autobiography of Malcolm X” is a timeless story that provides critical commentary on race, faith, and activism. Originally published in 1964, and co-authored by Alex Haley, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” is a detailed account of the life and evolution of Malcolm X. The story begins in Michigan and describes Malcolm X’s childhood as Malcolm Little, follows him to his imprisonment and acceptance of the Nation of Islam, narrates his completion of Hajj and his embrace of Sunni Islam, and paints a vivid picture of his international travel. Although Malcolm X was assassinated before the autobiography was completed, the elaborate insight and narration of his growth allows you to go on a journey with him on his rise as one of the most influential figures in Black Muslim history.
3. The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes
“The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes” is a compilation of the work of one of America’s most accomplished writers. As a poet, novelist, and playwright, Langston Hughes dedicated himself to portraying Black life in America, detailing both the good and the bad. Composed of over 800 poems, and spanning over half a century, the collection encompasses all of his poetic work, including “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” which was Hughes’s most well known poem. All the way until his death in 1967, Langston Hughes committed himself to writing, and his poetry provides a vivid picture of the trials and triumphs included in the experience of Black America.
4.The Souls of Black Folk
“The Souls of Black Folk” is one of the most essential books of African-American history. Originally published in 1903, it displays multiple essays on race and the complicated relationship it has had with American history. In this novel, W.E.B. Du Bois coined the term “double consciousness”, an internal conflict that rises out of the sense of having divided identities. Through intertwining history and his own personal experiences, Du Bois permanently changed the way we think and talk about race.
5. Muslim Cool
“Muslim Cool” is a critical study of race, religion, and popular culture in contemporary American society. As a concept, “Muslim Cool” describes “a way of being Muslim that draws on Blackness to challenge white supremacy and the anti-Blackness found in Arab and South Asian U.S. Muslim communities.” Through two years of ethnographic research, Su’ad Abdul Khabeer reveals how Blackness is used to shape the identities of young Muslims in the U.S.
“Homegoing”, a marvelous work of historical fiction, begins in 18th-Century Ghana where two half-sisters are separated at birth. One remains in Ghana, and the other is enslaved. Through grand parallel narratives, the stories of the sisters and eight generations of their descendants are told. Yaa Gyasi begins the novel in the Gold Coast, travels through the plantations of Southern America, the Civil War, the Great Migration, and Jazz Age Harlem, while gracefully ending the novel in the present-day. Through this emotional journey across time and space, Yaa Gyasi reveals how slavery has influenced the lives of all of those across the African diaspora.
7. The Warmth of Other Suns
“The Warmth of Other Suns” is an epic about the Great Migration, one of the most important moments in Black History. From 1915 to 1970, millions of Black citizens made the journey from the South to the North and Midwest. The entire face of the country changed as families picked themselves up and placed their roots in distant parts of the U.S. Isabel Wilkerson vividly details the hopes and the despairs of the Great Migration, how it changed the country, and how it added to the chronicle of what it means to be Black in America.
8. The Color of Law
“The Color of Law” chronicles the history of housing policy and segregation in the U.S. The story begins in the 1920’s as Richard Rothstein explores intentional racial zoning and its relationship to segregation and the Great Migration. Through his cutting-edge research and shocking revelations, Rothstein deepens our understanding of segregation and how government policies have had a role in everything from the creation of impoverished communities to the policing of African Americans in white neighborhoods.
9. When They Call You a Terrorist
“When They Call You a Terrorist” is a powerful memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors. In it, she chronicles her experience growing up in Los Angeles and witnessing the persecution and profiling of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement. In 2013, after Trayvon Martin was denied justice and his murderer was set free, Patrisse reached a turning point and was moved to co-found the “Black Lives Matter” movement with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi. Through her quest for accountability and justice, Patrisse’s story provides a powerful look into the formation of one of today’s most critical social movements.
10. The New Jim Crow
“The New Jim Crow” is a groundbreaking book that changes the way we see the U.S. criminal justice system and its relationship to what Michelle Alexander calls the “racial caste system.” In “The New Jim Crow”, she focuses on the War on Drugs, mass incarceration, and how the over-policing of communities of color has manifested itself as a new form of racial control. As a civil rights lawyer and legal scholar, Michelle Alexander provides a compelling overview of the shortcomings of the U.S. criminal justice system and how it plays its part in perpetuating a new form of colorblind racism.