As someone who’s always fascinated with American culture, the people, and its history, it came as a shocking revelation to me how little I knew about the history of African Americans. The limited knowledge that I had about the Black community in America came solely from movies, TV shows and several documentaries.
Though most of these mediums of information have shed enough light on the sufferings and struggle of the African American community against systematic racism in America, they fail to address the underlying roots of racism and it’s inception in the colonial era.
My quest to learn about the history of slavery led to a year-long marathon of reading and researching the best books on African American history which unveil the life of the Black community from the colonial era to the present day America.
Here’s are 10 Best Books on African American History That You Must Read
The Destruction Of Black Civilization, Great Issues of a Race from 4500 B.C. to 2000 A.D., by Chancellor Williams
As the saying goes: Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Much before the exploitation of Black lives for cotton trade in southern America, there was colonization and exploitation of African civilization by the hands of European empires.
The Destruction of Black Civilization is a result of 16 years of extensive research and field study to reinterpret the history of the African race in a new way. Chancellor wrote the book at a time when black students, scholars and educators were trying to change the popular misconceptions about African history at that time.
The book is a fascinating account of the African civilization which answers the age-old question ‘What factors led to the downfall of Black civilization and exploitation in the form of slavery through the hands of European colonizers?’ from the perspective of a Black person.
This book is a critical source of information for anybody who interested not just in the history of slavery in America, but also it’s inception in the African continent.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson
Isabel Wilkerson, first African American woman to win a Pultizer Prize in 1994 is one of best historical writer’s of the 21st century. With Warmth of Other Suns, she proved her mettle yet again with her massive and masterly account of the Great migration.
Wilkerson tells this story through the lives of three individuals who migrated from their respective homes to new states in search of new a life and a career. We follow these characters and see the historical events unfolding through their eyes as they struggle to make a living in their new abodes.
The Warmth of Other Suns is bold, remarkable and riveting work and a breathtaking account of the ‘unrecognized immigration’ within America. The book is bound to become a classic considering the breadth of its narrative, the beauty of its writing and intriguing life of characters portrayed.
Exodus! – Religion, Race & Nation in Early Nineteenth-Century Black America, by Eddie Glaude
Groundbreaking scholar Eddie Glaude’s Exodus! is a well-researched account of the early nineteenth-century Black lives in America. The book particularly highlights the impact of how this biblical story inspired a pragmatic tradition of racial advocacy among African Americans in the early 19th century.
The book gives a daunting view of the life of first Black people freed from slavery and their struggle to keep up with political and social changes in the society. Glaude does this by presenting written records and interviews of intellectuals and institutional documents of Black religious organization.
Exodus! is a book which states the truth that the Black nationalism is not just a reaction to the late civil rights movement but a continuing struggle since the 19th century to the present day in American society.
Creating Black Americans: African-American History and Its Meanings, 1619 to the Present, by Nell Painter
There aren’t many history books which you can confidently recommend to someone which depict the life of an entire race so meticulously. But, Nell Painter’s ‘Creating Black America’ is a rare exception. If somebody wants to know about the history of Black Americans, then definitely start with this one.
Painter, with her illustrious writing, examines the life of Black people from their time in Africa to their exploitation as slaves in America and the Caribbean. Her magnificent research takes us through the lives of Black people from slavery, Civil War, Jim Crow era to modern-day hip-hop movement in America.
The book, though, an account of the staggering historical survey is enriched with striking artwork and poignant portraits of luminaries, which makes it an engaging read till the end.
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, by Ibram X. Kendi
Ibram Kendi’s national award-winning best-selling book talks about how racist ideas were created, spread, and deeply rooted in American society. It is one of those books which directly address to the crux of the problem.
Kendi’s deeply-researched and fast-moving narrative chronicles the entire story of anti-black racist ideas and their staggering power throughout American history. His research makes a unveils a shocking fact that racism is not born out of ignorance or hatred but to justify and rationalize deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and the nation’s racial inequities.
Told through the lives of five eminent American intellectuals, Stamped from the beginning sheds light on the racial disparities existing within every strata of American society and offers tools we need to expose racist thinking.
Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880, by W.E.B Du Bois
W. E. B Du Bois was regarded as the father of American sociology and one of the most influential thinkers of the 21st century. Du Bois’s legacy is apparent through his series of ground-breaking work in many areas, including the history of the post-Civil War Reconstruction period.
Black Reconstruction in America is an extensive account and interpretation of the twenty years of the Reconstruction period from the point of view of newly liberated African Americans. Though criticised by many at first the book has eventually become a literary and historical classic.
Du Bois, through his scholarly and diligent writing, proves that the failure of Post-War construction was not the result of the inadequacy of the Black people but due to the abandoning of the cause of the freed people.
It’s a heavy-read with lively accounts of life, struggle and contributions of various people in the Reconstruction period and the economic and socio-political changes the country was going through at the time.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colourblindness, by Michelle Alexander
In an age where we think that racism has become obsolete and a thing of the past, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow throws a strong punch in the gut. After overcoming the harsh and brutal realities of the Jim Crow Era, mass incarceration of Black lives through concocted charges seems to have taken its place.
Michelle offers a shocking revelation of a hideous caste-like system which has taken root in the criminal justice system of America, resulting in millions of African-Americans being locked-up behind bars. This system denies the very rights for which the Black community fought for during the Civil War, relegating them to a permanent second-class status.
The book is called as the ‘Bible’ of criminal justice reform and is a crucial read if you want to understand the link between slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration and racism in the United States.
The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap, by Mehrsa Baradaran
Just like the social disparity against the African-Americans, the racial wealth gap has been apparent and widen with time. In 1863, the Black community owned less than 1% of the United States’s total wealth. It has been more than 150 years since then, that number has barely nudged.
Mehrsa Baradaran has challenged the long-standing notion that Black banking and community self-help is the solution to the racial wealth gap. She proves how the banking system is rigged to drain the wealth of the Black community into White institutions creating an endless cycle of poverty and disparity.
The Colour of Money is a crucial book to understand the operation of banking in a segregated economy to be able to come up with bolder and more realistic laws to empower the Black economy.
Hands-on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC, by Faith S Holsaert
As the saying goes: ‘Not all superheroes wear capes’ it is also true that some don’t come under the limelight but without whom the Black struggle wouldn’t have gained such strength. Often the voices of women who worked in the background are overlooked throughout history books.
Hands on the Freedom Plow highlights the struggle of women who were the backbone of various movements against racism. Be it doing the footwork, registering voters or organizing door-to-door awareness programs, women have always been an integral part of the freedom struggle.
The book has interviews with women who were a central part of various movements throughout the Civil War, their struggles and how they overcame hurdles together and made a big difference.
Roots: The Saga of an American Family, by Alex Haley
Published forty-years ago, Roots chronicles the saga of four generations of a family from their first journey to America as a slave to educated free citizens of America.
Alex Haley, tracing his ancestry through six generations- slaves and freedmen, farmers and blacksmith, lawyers and architects- back to Africa discovered a sixteen-year-old youth Kunta Kinte. It was through this young man brought from Africa as a slave that Haley started to trace his ancestry.
Roots is a true modern-day classic which blends elements of a thriller novel with historical facts through the stories of six generations of an American family. As the life of this family unfolds, so does the historical events significant in the life of every African-American man.
Roots is easily the most popular and undoubtedly a timeless classic on this list. A must-read book for everyone at least once in your lifetime. Haley’s writing style and the characters bring to life the sad realities of racism but the family’s journey from slavery to being equal citizens of America is breathtaking and inspiring.