Black History Reads: Voices from Across the Country

This selection of titles from the African-American History/Studies section includes narratives from Minnesota to Atlanta to Silicon Valley, and from the 17th to 21st centuries. Whether you’d like to take on a newer release like the monumental Four Hundred Souls, or dive into a classic work by James Baldwin or Olaudah Equiano, celebrate Black History Month by learning from this variety of reads.

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019, edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain, $29
A chorus of extraordinary voices comes together to tell one of history’s great epics: the four-hundred-year journey of African Americans from 1619 to the present. In 1619–a year before the Mayflower–the White Lion disgorges “some 20-and-odd Negroes” onto the shores of Virginia, inaugurating the African presence in what would become the United States. It takes us to the present, when African Americans, descendants of those on the White Lion and a thousand other routes to this country, continue a journey defined by inhuman oppression, visionary struggles, stunning achievements, and millions of ordinary lives passing through extraordinary history.

Hope in the Struggle by Josie R. Johnson, $15
How a Black woman from Texas became one of the most well-known civil rights activists in Minnesota, detailing seven remarkable decades of fighting for fairness in voting, housing, education, and employment. A memoir about shouldering the cause of social justice during the darkest hours and brightest moments for civil rights in America–and, specifically, in Minnesota–Hope in the Struggle shines light on the difference one person can make.

How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon, $15
With subjects that range from an interview with his mother to reflections on Ole Miss football, Outkast, and the labor of Black women, these thirteen insightful essays highlight Laymon’s profound love of language and his artful rendering of experience, trumpeting why he is “simply one of the most talented writers in America” (New York magazine).

Black Software: The Internet & Racial Justice, from the Afronet to Black Lives Matter by Charlton McIlwain, $15
Beginning with the simultaneous rise of civil rights and computer revolutions in the 1960s, McIlwain, for the first time, chronicles the long relationship between African Americans, computing technology, and the Internet. Through archival sources and the voices of many of those who lived and made this history, Black Software centralizes African Americans’ role in the Internet’s creation and evolution, illuminating both the limits and possibilities for using digital technology to push for racial justice in the United States and across the globe.

Driving While Black by Gretchen Sorin, $18
Melding new archival research with her family’s story, Gretchen Sorin recovers a lost history, demonstrating how, when combined with black travel guides–including the famous Green Book–the automobile encouraged a new way of resisting oppression.

Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign by Michael K. Honey, $10
Brings to life the magnetic characters who clashed on the Memphis battlefield: stalwart black workers; fiery black ministers; volatile, young, black-power advocates; idealistic organizers and tough-talking unionists; the first black members of the Memphis city council; the white upper crust who sought to prevent change or conflagration; and, finally, the magisterial Martin Luther King Jr., undertaking a Poor People’s Campaign at the crossroads of his life, vilified as a subversive, hounded by the FBI, and seeing in the working poor of Memphis his hopes for a better America.

My People are Rising: Memoirs of a Black Panther Party Captain by Aaron Dixon, $19
Through Dixon’s eyes, we witness the courage and commitment of the young men and women who rose up in rebellion, risking their lives in the name of freedom. My People are Rising is an unforgettable tale of their triumphs and tragedies, and the enduring legacy of Black Power.

The Evidence of Things Not Seen by James Baldwin, $18
Rummaging through the ruins of American race relations, Baldwin addresses all the hard-to-face issues that have brought us a moment in history where it is terrifying to to be a black child in white America, and where, too often, public officials fail to ask real questions about “justice for all.” Baldwin takes a time-specific event and makes it timeless: The Evidence of Things Not Seen offers an incisive look at race in America through a lens at once disturbing and profoundly revealing.

Diesel Heart by Melvin Carter, Jr., $10
Melvin Whitfield Carter Jr. is a true son of Rondo, the city’s storied African American neighborhood. He was born in a city divided along racial lines and rich in cultural misunderstanding. Growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, he witnessed the destruction of his neighborhood by the I-94 freeway–and he found his way to fighting and trouble.

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, $9
In this truly astonishing eighteenth-century memoir, Olaudah Equiano recounts his remarkable life story, which begins when he is kidnapped in Africa as a boy and sold into slavery and culminates when he has achieved renown as a British antislavery advocate.

Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All by Martha S. Jones, $27
In the standard story, the suffrage crusade began in Seneca Falls in 1848 and ended with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. But this overwhelmingly white women’s movement did not win the vote for most black women. Securing their rights required a movement of their own. From the earliest days of the republic to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and beyond, Jones excavates the lives and work of black women–Maria Stewart, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Fannie Lou Hamer, and more–who were the vanguard of women’s rights, calling on America to realize its best ideals.

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