It's Black History Month, y'all!
There's no better time than now to brush up on your knowledge of black history, and a great way to start is a good book. Despite what you may have been taught in school, black people have a rich history that doesn't start with slavery and end with former President Barack Obama.
Whether you want to learn about our past or the people that are currently making moves, here are a few books to help you out:
1. Negroland: A Memoir, by Margo Jefferson
This memoir follows critic Margo Jefferson’s life growing up among the black elite in 1950s and '60s Chicago. The daughter of a doctor and socialite, Jefferson’s experience was a unique one. Not only did she have to grapple with racism from white people, but she also struggled to fit in with most black people because of her economic class. I’m sure many of you can identify with feeling too black or not black enough but imagine dealing with that during segregation and Jim Crow.
2. Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo," by Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neal Hurston is one of the GOAT when it comes to feminist black writers, and this new title won’t disappoint. The book is based on a series of interviews Hurston did with Cudjo Lewis, the last known survivor of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Hurston conducted the interviews over three months in 1931. The book won’t be released until May but you can pre-order it!
They Can’t Kill Us All examines the results of racial unrest in places like Ferguson and Baltimore from the eyes of journalist Wesley Lowery. Lowery isn’t just another pundit: he was on the frontlines during the protests and was even arrested during his coverage. He's about that life, and this book is proof. In addition to conducting scores of interviews across the country, Lowery describes his own experiences as a young journalist during such a vulnerable time in America.
4. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson
The Great Migration is one of the lesser-explored aspects of black history even though 6 million people made the journey north. Thankfully, Wilkerson took up the cause with this book. The Warmth of Other Suns follows three people as they travel from the South to the North and Midwest, while also examining the migration movement overall. This book is great for anyone who might not be from the South, but who wants insight into how their Southern ancestors lived.
5. The Blood of Emmett Till, by Timothy B. Tyson
In the Black Lives Matter era, the deaths of young black men are at the forefront of our minds, and the fallen often draw comparisons to Emmett Till. Till’s story is often analyzed based on what his death did to push the Civil Rights Movement, but the details of the case itself are often ignored. In this book, Tyson explores the case and how race played a part in its outcome.
6. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein
When we think of segregation, we typically think of water fountains, buses and schools. Rothstein explores how the government actively kept neighborhoods segregated using various methods including policy, public housing and violence. If gentrification is your cause, read this book.
7. The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South, by Michael W. Twitty
Few things are cherished in the black community more than food. Not only do we eat it, but we laugh, cry and celebrate around it. The origins of our beloved soul food are constantly debated yet largely unexplored. Twitty, a culinary historian, traces this foods' history using recipes, science and oral histories.
8. When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America, by Paula J Giddings
Giddings examines various social movements and historical figures to illustrate how complicated the black female experience is in relation to social change. She also illustrates how black women have changed the world despite dealing with the double whammy of sexism and racism. This book is full of black girl magic and is a great introduction for someone who wants to learn about black feminism.
9. The Radical King, edited by Cornel West
Every time MLK Day rolls around, a sanitized version of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is presented to the nation. We’re taught that he was just a nice man who liked to march and wanted peace. Even worse, there are black people that don’t think he was truly radical. West has curated this book, which features King's own words, to shows there's more to the civil rights leader than nonviolence and a dream.
10. The Scene of Harlem Cabaret: Race, Sexuality, Performance, by Shane Vogel
The Harlem Renaissance is one of the most celebrated eras of black history, but, sadly, a large part of what made it so great is ignored. Queer black people were the tastemakers and trendsetters of Harlem in those days. Vogel gives the LGTBQ+ community the credit it deserves, while exploring how the Harlem Renaissance broke the rules of respectability, sexuality and blackness during the 1920s.
11. When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
Black Lives Matter is arguably our modern Civil Rights Movement, and one of its architects has put her story on paper. Before we didn’t know much about the women behind the movement outside of their names. This book changes that, with Patrisse Khan-Cullors telling her own story without the noise and debate that typically surrounds that famous hashtag.
12. Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party And The Fight Against Medical Discrimination, by Alondra Nelson
The Black Panther Party is known for black berets, afros and guns, but their activism went far beyond those things. Although we frequently praise the Panthers' breakfast program, one lesser-known aspect of the Black Panthers' work is their health care activism. The group established free health clinics, accompanied people to doctors’ visits and did a host of other things to help underserved populations. This book explores those initiatives along with the issues that inspired the Panthers to do this work.