Black History Month Reading Recommendations

February is Black History Month, a time to reflect on the struggles and achievements of Black Americans, and their centrality to U.S. history. We asked several avid readers to recommend books that explore race and identity, history and memory. These books range from the autobiography of a young Black woman finding her voice in the Jim Crow era to Stacey Abrams’ guide to succeeding as an outsider.

 

Coming of Age in Mississippi: The Classic Autobiography of a Young Black Girl in the Rural South

By Anne Moody, Delta (Reprint edition 2004, first published in 1968)

“This autobiography written by Anne Moody has special significance to me because the author was raised near my hometown and deeply revered, and I was very young when I first read her book. Moody describes what it was like to grow up as a young Black female activist in the era of Jim Crow. Her poignant memoir presents a personal and raw snapshot of the pre-civil rights era through her eyes starting from her upbringing in a family of sharecroppers and through the time when she graduated from Tougaloo College in Jackson. A defining moment in the book was when, in May 1963, Moody participated in a sit-in at Woolworth’s lunch counter an event that was the most violently attacked sit-in in the 1960s. The book shows the fierce strength, intellect, passion, and resilience of this Black woman trailblazer during the civil rights movement.”

Tiffiny Hughes-Troutman, director of the Center for Assessment, Referral, and Education (CARE)

 

The Venus Hottentot: Poems

By Elizabeth Alexander, University of Virginia Press (1990)

“Many people know Elizabeth Alexander as the 2008 inaugural poet, an accomplishment and poem (“Praise Song for the Day”) justly heralded. However, her debut collection, The Venus Hottentot, is the work I recommend to anyone seeking sublime poetry and a rich lesson in Black history. The title poem focuses on Sarah (“Saartjie”) Baartman, an enslaved Khoikhoi woman brought from South Africa to Europe in the early 19th century, her body exhibited for the entertainment of fair-goers. Baartman died at 26; her remains she was dissected and displayed even after death were not returned to South Africa until 2002. Alexander’s poem seeks to reveal the world from Baartman’s perspective, refusing any reductive portrayal of a victim and instead imagining how Baartman would have asserted her humanity in a society that denied it.”

Ruthie Yow, service learning and partnerships specialist, Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain, and adjunct faculty, School of History and Sociology

 

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

By Isabel Wilkerson, Random House (2020)

“In a time where America’s ghosts of racial animus are loose and tearing at the chords of our democracy, Caste gives us a framework to process why we’re being haunted. Wilkerson outlines cultural adherence to social hierarchy and how easily and uncritically we can fall into those patterns. In the United States, the presumption that white people are the dominant caste destined to have dominion over Black people and all others is simply part of the national definition. Her charge is for us to see that pattern and be courageous enough to not accept cultural norms and traditions as immutable.”

Kamau Bobb, senior director, Constellations Center for Equity in Computing, College of Computing

 

Notes of a Native Son

By James Baldwin, Beacon Press (1955)

“I first became aware of James Baldwin when I was in college having grown up in a pretty sheltered white suburb, my reading for the first time about Black experience in America was through Baldwin. There is something in his writing that grabbed me complexity, honesty and the ability to pull many into his writing and the issues he confronts: race, sexuality, his father, the view from Europe. Reading it now, his work has remained timely and the honesty and courage he showed then is even more remarkable.”

Steven W. McLaughlin, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs

 

Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route 

By Saidiya Hartman, Farrar Straus & Giroux (2006) 

“How do you mine an archive built upon the erasure of your history? How do you access a ruptured past? Hartman’s memoir of her journey to Ghana the site of ‘more dungeons, prisons, and slave pens than any other country in West Africa’ is an intimate reckoning with the romance of origins. Unlike her close kin, whose present was too urgent to dwell in search of unnamed ancestors, Hartman confesses she thought ‘the past was a country to which I could return.’ But as she realizes and gorgeously renders: For the descendants of those who survived those earlier crossings, made without consent, ‘the rupture was the story.’”  

—Nihad M. Farooq, associate professor, School of Literature, Media, and Communication

 

Lead From the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change

By Stacey Abrams, Macmillan (2018)

“Stacey Abrams’ mission in this book is to push all people to know that their greatness and worthiness is a birthright. She shows readers from any marginalized society how to become their own advocates. The book is for anyone who has faced challenges while pursuing their dreams, and it helps people left out of traditional ladders to success build one for themselves.”

Etta Pittman, director of corporate development, College of Engineering

 

Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed

By Bryant Terry, Ten Speed Press (2014)

“One way to understand and gain deep appreciation for diverse cultures is through food. I offer this cookbook for our colleagues to experiment with and enjoy new flavors, spices, and colors. By the way, I rarely cook (my husband is way better at it than I am), but growing up in a West Indian home meant that I appreciate rich flavors from many cultures.”

Kaye Husbands Fealing, dean and Ivan Allen Jr. Chair, Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts

 

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration

By Isabel Wilkerson, Vintage (part of Penguin Random House), (2011)

“The story of the Black migration within the United States is not something most people hear about. But Isabel Wilkerson masterfully tells the personal stories of three people and documents how families that reside in various parts of the North or West all come from a certain origination point in the South. The detailed stories begin in 1937 and move all the way to the present. This book opened my eyes to a little bit of history that most Black Americans aren’t privy to or even think about. Even though it wasn’t my family, I still felt a connectedness learning about the Black migration. “

Candice Bovian, program manager, Human Resources

 

 

 

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