Brilliant Black History Books To Read For Black History Month

Black history spans across continents, cultures, and centuries. It is so rich and interesting that there’s something for everyone, and there are tons of black history scholars uncovering new enthralling stories and truths about black history all the time. So, whether you’re into music or politics, social justice or gender studies, there are some seriously brilliant black history books that are so engrossing and accessible (even for those who can’t list all the American Presidents in perfect chronological order) that you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back in time, or else they’ll explode your whole worldview. These are some of them.

Crystal Paul

Here are some recommended books in the Southfield Public Library catalog with commentary by the article’s writer. If you don’t see a copy available, contact a librarian to place an item on hold for you

The Slave Ship: A Human History
Rediker, Marcus
This one isn’t for the faint of heart. A brutal book, The Slave Ship gets into the gritty, unbearable details of what life and imprisonment was like on the slave ships that brought millions of Africans across the Atlantic in chains and vile conditions. We often hear about the brutality of slavery itself, but the horrors of slavery began long before the slave ships ever reached American and Caribbean shores.
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Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination
Nelson, Alondra
The Black Panther Party is famous for its armed resistance against brutality against black Americans, but the party’s work for health education and health care in black communities is little known and less talked about. But with free clinics, awareness campaigns, and social services programs, the Black Panther Party was pretty radical in its fight for health justice.
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Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation Black Americans from Colonial Time to the Present
Washington, Harriet A.
If medical histories are more your thing, you can’t pass this one up. When we think of the many social injustices that black Americans faced throughout history, we think of segregated lunch counters and brutal plantations, but many of the most harrowing stories come from the medical field, in which black bodies were the subjects of unlawful experiments, eugenics, inferior care, unauthorized autopsies, and other horrors.
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Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America
Joseph, Peniel E.
The Black Power movement is one of the most misunderstood movements in history. Decades of negative media coverage and stereotypes have contributed to that. Here Peniel Joseph dives in deep and shows where and how the Black Power movement diverged from and overlapped with other racial equality movements, from its inception with Stokely Carmichael at the helm to the rise of the Black Panther Party.
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Assata: An Autobiography
Shakur, Assata
In discussions about Black nationalist movements, names like Huey P. Newton, Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X, and Eldridge Cleaver long held the spotlight. Assata is one of the few books that gave voice to the experiences of black women during this time.
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Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513-2008
Gates Jr., Henry Louis
Many of the books you’ll find on black history will focus on a particular era or theme. Henry Louis Gates’ Life Upon These Shores is one of the few comprehensive texts of black history in America, particularly the U.S. And it’s a pretty good one too. Try this one if you’re looking for a general overview.
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The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration
Wilkerson, Isabel
History buff or not, you’ve probably either read this one already or it’s on your TBR list. The story of the migration of hundreds of thousands of Black Americans from the South is beautifully and intimately told by Wilkerson here.
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The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness
Young, Kevin
Part cultural criticism, part prosetry (it's so a thing), part history, The Grey Album is a beast of its own. It’s probably a bit controversial to include it on a list of pure history books, but the book is just too amazing NOT to include. This is the book to pick up if you’re not really sure what aspect of black culture/history/art you’d like to explore. Young looks at everything from literature to music to Black cultural traditions of “storying”. Young is a poet by trade and it shows in this lyrical take on all Black everything. It's a freaking celebration in itself!
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The Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin
D'Emilio, John
Bayard Rustin was openly and controversially gay during the Civil Rights era, and was consequently often pushed to the margins and shamefully hidden away in the shadows even as an important leader of the movements and organizations of black liberation.
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The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism
Baptist, Edward E.
This isn’t the history of slavery as you heard it in a five-page summary in your high school textbook. This picture of American slavery is, if you can believe it, even more harrowing. Getting at the greed and commercial motivations that drove slavery, Baptist uncovers a surprisingly uglier picture of that horrid institution and it’s undeniable role in the economic development of the United States.
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