A selection of books about African American and Black history and culture, with emphasis on books by Black authors. For more books and resources on Racial Equity and Social Justice, see the resource guide Racial Equity Resources. For more new and/or significant books highlighting the African American experience, sent to your inbox, subscribe to the African American Culture Insider Newsletter.
Art, Music, and Literature
The touching, triumphant story of a young black man's journey from violence and despair to one of the world's most elite artistic institutions. In 2011, at the age of twenty-four, Ryan won a nationwide competition hosted by New York's Metropolitan Opera. Today, he is a rising star performing major roles at the Met and Europe's most prestigious opera houses.
Charlie Parker personified the tortured American artist: a revolutionary performer who used his alto saxophone to create a new music known as bebop even as he wrestled with a drug addiction that would lead to his death at 34. With the wisdom of a jazz scholar, the cultural insights of an acclaimed social critic, and the narrative skill of a literary novelist, Stanley Crouch illuminates this American master as never before.
Jay-Z: Made in America is the fruit of Michael Eric Dyson's decade of teaching the work of one of the greatest poets and rappers this nation has produced. This book wrestles with the biggest themes of JAY-Z's career, including hustling, and it recognizes the way that he's always weaved politics into his music, making important statements about race, criminal justice, black wealth and social injustice.
In the period of radical change that was 1963-83, young black artists at the beginning of their careers confronted difficult questions about art, politics and racial identity. This survey of this crucial period in American art history brings to light previously neglected histories of 20th-century black artists.
At a time of few opportunities for women in general and even fewer for African American women, Jackie Ormes (1911-85) blazed a trail as a popular cartoonist with the major black newspapers of the day. Her cartoons and comic strips provide an invaluable glimpse into American culture and history, with topics that include racial segregation, U.S. foreign policy, educational equality, the atom bomb, and environmental pollution, among other pressing issues of the times--and of today's world as well.
National Book Award winner James McBride goes in search of the "real" James Brown after receiving a tip that promises to uncover the man behind the myth. His surprising journey illuminates not only our understanding of this immensely troubled, misunderstood, and complicated soul genius but the ways in which our cultural heritage has been shaped by Brown's legacy. Available to download: Audio
Throughout American history black people are the only group of people to have been forbidden by law to learn to read. This unique collection seeks to shed light on that injustice and subjugation, as well as the hard-won literary progress made, putting some of America's most cherished voices in a conversation in one magnificent volume that presents reading as an act of resistance.
A punch-drunk memoir in which Everyone's Favorite Questlove tells his own story while tackling some of the lates, the greats, the fakes, the philosophers, the heavyweights, and the true originals of the music world. He digs deep into the album cuts of his life and unearths some pivotal moments in black art, hip hop, and pop culture.
A great artist who was also a good man. A genius born in poverty who became known in every corner of the world. An entertainer who knocked the Beatles off the top of the charts four decades after he cut his first record. Terry Teachout has drawn on a cache of important new sources unavailable to previous biographers to craft a sweeping new narrative biography of Louis Armstrong, the twentieth century's most influential jazz musician.
Civil Rights and Social Justice
In a bold and innovative argument, a rising legal star shows readers how the mass incarceration of a disproportionate number of black men amounts to a devastating system of racial control. Despite the triumphant dismantling of the Jim Crow laws, the system that once forced African-Americans into a segregated second-class citizenship still haunts and the criminal justice system still unfairly targets black men and deprives an entire segment of the population of their basic rights.
A national bestseller when it first appeared in 1963, The Fire Next Time galvanized the nation and gave passionate voice to the emerging civil rights movement. At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin's early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document. It consists of two "letters," written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism. Available to download: eBook Audio
Fifty years ago Malcolm X told a white woman who asked what she could do for the cause, 'Nothing.' Michael Eric Dyson believes he was wrong. Now he responds to that question. If society is to make real racial progress, people must face difficult truths, including being honest about how Black grievance has been ignored, dismissed, or discounted. Available to download: Audio
The abolition of slavery after the Civil War is a familiar story, as is the civil rights revolution that transformed the nation after World War II. But the century in between remains a mystery: if emancipation sparked 'a new birth of freedom' in Lincoln's America, why was it necessary to march in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s America? Gates uncovers the roots of structural racism in our own time, while showing how African-Americans after slavery combated it by articulating a vision of a 'New Negro' to force the nation to recognize their humanity and unique contributions to the United States. Available to download: eBook
In this book, Kendi weaves an electrifying combination of ethics, history, law, and science, bringing it all together with an engaging personal narrative of his own awakening to antiracism, and he asks us to think about what an antiracist society might look like, and how we can play an active role in building it. Available to download: eBook Audio
March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis' lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis's personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement. Also look for volumes 2 & 3. Available to download: eBook
For four years Monique W. Morris chronicled the experiences of black girls across the country whose intricate lives are misunderstood, highly judged--by teachers, administrators, and the justice system--and degraded by the very institutions charged with helping them flourish. Morris shows how, despite obstacles, stigmas, stereotypes, and despair, black girls still find ways to breathe remarkable dignity into their lives in classrooms, juvenile facilities, and beyond.
Acclaimed historian Gretchen Sorin reveals how the car--the ultimate symbol of independence and possibility--has always held particular importance for African Americans, allowing black families to evade the many dangers presented by an entrenched racist society and to enjoy, in some measure, the freedom of the open road. She recounts the creation of a parallel, unseen world of black motorists, who relied on travel guides, black only businesses, and informal communications networks to keep them safe.
The civil rights movement has become national legend, lauded by presidents from Reagan to Obama to Trump, as proof of the power of American democracy. This fable, featuring dreamy heroes and accidental heroines, has shuttered the movement firmly in the past, whitewashed the forces that stood in its way, and diminished its scope. And it is used perniciously in our own times to chastise present-day movements and obscure contemporary injustice. In A More Beautiful and Terrible History, award-winning historian Jeanne Theoharis dissects this national myth-making, teasing apart the accepted stories to show them in a strikingly different light.
In the searing pages of this classic autobiography, originally published in 1964, Malcolm X, the Muslim leader, firebrand, and anti-integrationist, tells the extraordinary story of his life and the growth of the Black Muslim movement. Available to download: eBook
Economics, Business, and Leadership
When Valerie Jarrett interviewed a promising young lawyer named Michelle Robinson in July 1991, neither knew that it was the first step on a path that would end in the White House. Jarrett joined the White House team on January 20, 2009 as the Obamas' personal adviser and departed with the First Family on January 20, 2017. In this memoir, she shares her optimistic perspective on the importance of leadership and the responsibilities of citizenship in the twenty-first century, inspiring readers to lift their own voices.
The astonishing untold history of America's first black millionaires - former slaves who endured incredible challenges to amass and maintain their wealth for a century, from the Jacksonian period to the Roaring Twenties - self-made entrepreneurs whose unknown success mirrored that of American business heroes such as Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, and Thomas Edison. Between the years of 1830 and 1927, as the last generation of blacks born into slavery was reaching maturity, a small group of smart, tenacious, and daring men and women broke new ground to attain the highest levels of financial success.
Food, Health, and Wellness
Bassey Ikpi explores her life--as a Nigerian-American immigrant, a black woman, a slam poet, a mother, a daughter, an artist--through the lens of her mental health and diagnosis of bipolar II and anxiety. Her remarkable memoir in essays implodes our preconceptions of the mind and normalcy as Bassey bares her own truths and lies for us all to behold with radical honesty and brutal intimacy. Available to download: Audio
By the time he was twenty-seven years old, Kwame Onwuachi (winner of the 2019 James Beard Foundation Award for Rising Star Chef of the Year) had opened--and closed--one of the most talked about restaurants in America. He had launched his own catering company with twenty thousand dollars that he made from selling candy on the subway, yet he'd been told he would never make it on television because his cooking wasn't "Southern" enough. In this inspiring memoir about the intersection of race, fame, and food, he shares the remarkable story of his culinary coming-of-age. Available to download: Audio
Jessamyn Stanley, a yogi who breaks all the stereotypes, has built a life as an internationally recognized yoga teacher and award-winning Instagram star by combining a deep understanding for yoga with a willingness to share her personal struggles in a way that touches everyone who comes to know her. Now she brings her body-positive, emotionally uplifting approach to yoga in a book that will help every reader discover the power of yoga and how to weave it seamlessly into his or her life.
World-renowned activist and poet Sonya Renee Taylor invites us to reconnect with the radical origins of our minds and bodies and celebrate our collective, enduring strength. As we awaken to our own indoctrinated body shame, we feel inspired to awaken others and to interrupt the systems that perpetuate body shame and oppression against all bodies.
Throughout her career, Toni Tipton-Martin has shed new light on the history, breadth, and depth of African American cuisine. She's introduced us to black cooks, some long forgotten, who established much of what's considered to be our national cuisine. After all, if Thomas Jefferson introduced French haute cuisine to this country, who do you think actually cooked it? In Jubilee, Tipton-Martin brings these masters into our kitchens with more than 100 recipes.
The empire of cotton was, from the beginning, a fulcrum of constant global struggle between slaves and planters, merchants and statesmen, workers and factory owners. Beckert makes clear how these forces ushered in the world of modern capitalism, including the vast wealth and disturbing inequalities that are with us today. The result is a book as unsettling as it is enlightening: a book that brilliantly weaves together the story of cotton with how the present global world came to exist.
An acclaimed historian's definitive biography of the most important African-American figure of the 19th century, Frederick Douglass, who was to his century what Martin Luther King, Jr. was to the 20th century. Available to download: eBook
A lively, informative, and illustrated tribute to one of the most exceptional women in American history--Harriet Tubman--a heroine whose fearlessness and activism still resonates today. Available to download: eBook
This epic work tells the story of the Hemingses, a slave family whose close blood ties to American president Thomas Jefferson had been systematically edited out from American history until very recently. This book sets the family's compelling saga against the backdrop of Revolutionary America, Paris on the eve of its own revolution, 1970s Philadelphia and plantation life at Monticello. Available to download: Audio
A major literary event: a newly published work from the author of the American classic Their Eyes Were Watching God, with a foreword from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, brilliantly illuminates the horror and injustices of slavery as it tells the true story of one of the last-known survivors of the Atlantic slave trade--abducted from Africa on the last "Black Cargo" ship to arrive in the United States. Available to download: eBook Audio
The Space Age began just as the struggle for civil rights forced Americans to confront the long and bitter legacy of slavery, discrimination, and violence against African Americans. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson utilized the space program as an agent for social change, using federal equal employment opportunity laws to open workplaces at NASA and NASA contractors to African Americans while creating thousands of research and technology jobs in the Deep South to ameliorate poverty. We Could Not Fail tells the inspiring, largely unknown story of how shooting for the stars helped to overcome segregation on earth.
The phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA at the leading edge of the feminist and civil rights movement, whose calculations helped fuel some of America's greatest achievements in space--a powerful, revelatory contribution that is essential to our understanding of race, discrimination, and achievement in modern America. Available to download: eBook Audio
This extraordinary bestseller reexamines a pivotal event of the civil rights movement--the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till--"and demands that we do the one vital thing we aren't often enough asked to do with history: learn from it" (The Atlantic). Available to download: Audio
Today black Pittsburgh is known as the setting for August Wilson's famed plays about noble but doomed working-class strivers. But this community once had an impact on American history that rivaled the far larger black worlds of Harlem and Chicago. Mark Whitaker’s captivating portrait of this unsung community is a vital addition to the story of black America.
In this beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life. From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Available to download: eBook
A timely collection of alternately hysterical and soul‑searching essays about what it is like to grow up as a creative, sensitive black man in a world that constantly tries to deride and diminish your humanity. Available to download: Audio
A humorous, well-informed take on the world today, tackling a wide range of issues, such as race relations; fatherhood; the state of law enforcement today; comedians and superheroes; right-wing politics; left-wing politics; failure; Bell’s interracial marriage; white men; his up-bringing by very strong-willed, race-conscious, yet ideologically opposite parents; his early days struggling to find his comedic voice, then his later days struggling to find his comedic voice; why he never seemed to fit in with the Black comedy scene . . . or the white comedy scene; how he was a Black nerd way before that became a thing; how it took his wife and an East Bay lesbian to teach him that racism and sexism often walk hand in hand; and much, much more.
Superstar, comedian and Hollywood box-office star Kevin Hart turns his immense talent to the written word by writing some words. Some of those words include, the, a, for, above, and even even. Put them together and listeners have the funniest, most heartfelt, and most inspirational memoir on survival, success, and the importance of believing in themselves since Old Yeller. Available to download: eBook
Legendary African American activist-comedian D. L. Hughley uses satire to draw attention to white privilege and racial injustice, sardonically offering an illustrated how-to guide for black people, full of insight from white people, about how to act, dress, speak, walk, and drive in the safest manner possible. Available to download: eBook
Phoebe Robinson is a stand-up comic, which means that comedic fodder runs through her everyday life. And as a black woman in America, she asserts, sometimes you need to have a sense of humor to deal with the nonsense you are handed every day. And Robinson has experienced her fair share over the years, not lest the people who ask her whether they can touch her hair. All. The. Time. Now, she's ready to take these topics to the page in an utterly modern essay collection: one that examines our cultural climate and skewers our biases. Available to download: eBook Audio
R. Eric Thomas didn't know he was different until the world told him so. Everywhere he went--whether it was his rich, mostly white, suburban high school, his conservative black church, or his Ivy League college in a big city--he found himself on the outside looking in. In essays by turns hysterical and heartfelt, Thomas reexamines what it means to be an "other" through the lens of his own life experience.
Baratunde Thurston shares his 30-plus years of expertise in being black, with helpful essays like "How to Be the Black Friend," "How to Speak for All Black People," "How To Celebrate Black History Month," and more, in this satirical guide to race issues--written for black people and those who love them. Available to download: eBook
Memoirs and Essays
One of The New Yorker's boldest cultural critics deftly weaves together his brilliant analyses of literature, art, and music with fearless insights on race, gender, and history. The result is an extraordinary, complex portrait of "white girls," as Als dubs them--an expansive but precise category that encompasses figures as diverse as Truman Capote and Louise Brooks, Malcolm X and Flannery O'Connor.
In these eight piercing explorations on beauty, media, money, and more, Tressie McMillan Cottom-award-winning professor and acclaimed author-embraces her venerated role as a purveyor of wit, wisdom, and Black Twitter snark about all that is right and much that is wrong with this thing we call society.
From one of the fiercest critics writing today, Morgan Jerkins' highly-anticipated collection of linked essays interweaves her incisive commentary on pop culture, feminism, black history, misogyny, and racism with her own experiences to confront the very real challenges of being a black woman today.
In this stunning coming-of-age memoir, Jones tells the story of a young, black, gay man from the South as he fights to carve out a place for himself, within his family, within his country, within his own hopes, desires, and fears. Through a series of vignettes that chart a course across the American landscape, Jones draws readers into his boyhood and adolescence--into tumultuous relationships with his family, into passing flings with lovers, friends, and strangers. Each piece builds into a larger examination of race and queerness, power and vulnerability, love and grief: a portrait of what we all do for one another--and to one another--as we fight to become ourselves. Available to download: eBook Audio
From a leading journalist and activist comes a brave, beautifully wrought memoir, a story of beauty and hope-and an honest reckoning with family, with place, and with what it means to be free. Available to download: eBook
In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America, she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private. A deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations. Available to download: eBook Audio
The first comprehensive, authoritative biography of American icon Arthur Ashe--the Jackie Robinson of men's tennis--a pioneering athlete who, after breaking the color barrier, went on to become an influential civil rights activist and public intellectual. Available to download: eBook
In the thirty-four years since his retirement, Henry Aaron's reputation has only grown in magnitude: he broke existing records (rbis, total bases, extra-base hits) and set new ones (hitting at least thirty home runs per season fifteen times, becoming the first player in history to hammer five hundred home runs and three thousand hits). But his influence extends beyond statistics, and at long last here is the first definitive biography of one of baseball's immortal figures. Available to download: eBook
Against the backdrop of one of the most tumultuous periods in recent American history,, the Tigers of poor, segregated East High School in Columbus, Ohio did something no team from one school had ever done before: they won the state basketball and baseball championships in the same year. They defeated bigger, richer, whiter teams across the state and along the way eased a painful racial divide throughout the state and overcame extraordinary obstacles on their road to success. In Tigerland, Wil Haygood gives us a spirited and stirring account of this improbable triumph and takes us deep into the personal lives of these local heroes. At the same time, he places the Tigers' story in the context of the racially charged sixties, bringing in such national figures as Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King Jr., and Richard Nixon, all of whom had a connection to the teams and a direct effect on their mythical season.
Based on more than eighty interviews, this fast-paced, richly detailed biography of Perry Wallace, the first African American basketball player in the SEC, digs deep beneath the surface to reveal a more complicated and profound story of sports pioneering than we've come to expect from the genre. Perry Wallace's unusually insightful and honest introspection reveals his inner thoughts throughout his journey.
The football star made famous in the hit film "The Blind Side" reflects on how far he has come from the circumstances of his youth. While many people are now familiar with Oher's amazing journey, this is the first time he shares his story in his own words. Available to download: eBook
In 1968, Wyomia Tyus became the first person ever to win gold medals in the 100-meter sprint in two consecutive Olympic Games, a feat that would not be repeated for twenty years or exceeded for almost fifty. Tigerbelle chronicles Tyus's journey from her childhood as the daughter of a tenant dairy farmer through her Olympic triumphs to her post-competition struggles to make a way for herself and other female athletes.