Recommended Reading for Black History Month and Beyond

February 24 @ 8:53 pm

For Black History Month, we offer a selection of books that shed light on little-known historical figures, cultures, and communities within the Black experience as well as celebrating Black resilience, vision, excellence, creativity, and joy. What Black History titles are on your bookshelf? Share your recommendations in the comments.

All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack
by Tiya Miles
In a display case in the Smithsonian sits a rough cotton bag called Ashley’s Sack, passed down through generations of women against steep odds. The author used archives, objects, and art to reconstruct the sack’s history, honoring the creativity and fierce resourcefulness of people who preserved family ties when official systems refused to do so.

Banking on Freedom: Black Women in Finance Before the New Deal
By Shennette Garrett-Scott
Between 1888 and 1930, African Americans opened thousands of financial institutions. Garrett-Scott explores the story of the St. Luke Bank in Richmond, Virginia — the first and only bank run by Black women — revealing the ways gender, race, and class shaped the meanings of wealth and risk in US capitalism and society.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
by Isabel Wilkerson
Beyond race, class, or other factors, a powerful caste system has always influenced people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson shows how this insidious undertow is experienced every day and how Americans can move beyond such separations toward hope in our common humanity.

Desegregating the Past: The Public Life of Memory in the United States and South Africa
by Robyn Autry
While South Africa’s violent racial past is incorporated in its national historical narrative, the same is not true in the US. Autry asks why, tracking the production and display of historical representations of racial pasts at museums in both countries and what they reveal about underlying social anxieties, unsettled emotions, and aspirations.

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619–2019
Edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain
In these essays, ninety brilliant writers approach history from various perspectives, through iconic figures and ordinary people, places, and objects. This book deconstructs the idea that Africans in America are a monolith; instead, a startling range of experiences and ideas has always existed within the community of Blackness.

I’ve Been Here All the While: Black Freedom on Native Land
by Alaina E. Roberts
Perhaps no other symbol in African American history has more resonance than “40 acres and a mule”—the lost promise of Black reparations for slavery after the Civil War. In this book, we meet the Black people who received this land, the American settlers who coveted it, and the Native Americans whose holdings it originated from.

South of Pico: African American Artists in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s
by Kellie Jones
Artists in Los Angeles’s Black communities during the 1960s and 1970s created a vibrant, productive, and engaged activist arts scene in the face of structural racism. Emphasizing the importance of African American migration, as well as LA’s housing and employment politics, Jones characterizes their works as modern migration narratives that look to the past to consider real and imagined futures.

Vital and Valuable: The Relevance of HBCUs to American Life and Education
by James V. Koch and Omari H. Swinton
Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are a crucial element of higher education in the US and have produced some of the nation’s most prominent figures. This book emphasizes the HBCUs’ distinctive features and contextualizes them within the educational landscape. We are especially excited about this title because of our new scholarship for HBCU graduates.

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals
by Saidiya Hartman
A revolution of Black intimate life unfolded in Philadelphia and New York at the beginning of the 20th century, as many young Black women created forms of intimacy and kinship indifferent to the dictates of respectability and laws. Hartman shows how these women shaped a cultural movement that transformed the urban landscape.

Young Crusaders: The Untold Story of the Children and Teenagers Who Galvanized the Civil Rights Movement
By V.P. Franklin
On February 3, 1964, more than 360,000 elementary and secondary school students went on strike in New York City and thousands attended the “freedom schools” opened throughout the city. This book tells the remarkable story of the young activists who organized and led the largest civil rights protests of the twentieth century.