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15 Great Books on Black History to Add to Your Reading List

Add these books to your reading list.

black history books

You know how the saying goes: Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. But when we're still living through a historical moment, educating ourselves on where those forces originated and how we got where we are becomes even more important. Reading books from Black authors can help lend important context to the ongoing protests against police brutality, persisting systemic racism, and the discrimination that Black people face every day. For those of us who don't have that experience firsthand, reading about experiences other than our own is doubly important. It can help us engage with our own antiracist education more thoughtfully, and can save you from possibly painful snafus in your interactions with Black friends and colleagues, too. Reading doesn't absolve us of taking further action against injustice, but it's a good start.

When most of us went through school, we learned history from a largely white-centric point of view. African history, and the history of Black people in the United States, didn't feature prominently in most of our lessons. If your own education has a few gaps, and it's easy to fill those in now. Doing the reading also takes the burden of educating others off our Black friends and colleagues, so consider working your way through this reading list a double win.

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1 Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
courtesy of Crossing Press
Audre Lorde bookshop.org

This collection of 15 essays and speeches takes on racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, and class in the searing, lyrical prose that makes Lorde an icon. Her language will work its way under your skin and stay with you long after you turn the last page.

RELATED: 20 Best Books About Anti-Racism

2 Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement
courtesy of Haymarket Books
Angela Y. Davis bookshop.org

Powerhouse activist Angela Y. Davis reveals the connection between Black feminism, prison abolition, and liberation struggles that stretch from South Africa to Ferguson and Palestine in this powerful collection of essays, speeches, and interviews. You'll realize how similar the struggle for freedom really is the world over, no matter which forces you're railing against.

RELATED: 25 Books By Black Authors to Add to Your Reading List

3 The Bluest Eye
courtesy of Vintage Books
Toni Morrison bookshop.org

If you've never read Toni Morrison, her first novel is a great place to start. You'll meet Pecola Breedlove, who longs for the blue eyes and blonde hair she (and her white schoolmates) consider the paradigm of beauty. Learn more about gender, race, and class through a novel that's as gorgeous as it is illuminating. 

4 The Fire Next Time
courtesy of Vintage Books
James Baldwin bookshop.org

Get to know the Harlem James Baldwin called home while delving into the ramifications of racial injustice in this hugely necessary read. Part sermon, part history lesson, this one earns its status as a classic. 

5 The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
courtesy of New Press
Michelle Alexander bookshop.org

The criminal justice system has been disproportionately weaponized against Black people, and this seminal tome on the issue should be required reading for all of us. This tenth anniversary edition includes a new foreword by the author on the criminal justice reform movement's progress.

6 The Wretched of the Earth
courtesy of Grove Press
Frantz Fanon bookshop.org

If you don't know much about the path to liberation of colonized people and the role violence and racism plays in these struggles, this book by a psychoanalyst who took part in the Algerian Nationalist Movement can help break it down. It's a great, slightly dense primer on just how entrenched racism is in our society, and what it'll take to truly eradicate.

7 Assata: An Autobiography
courtesy of Chicago Review Press
Assata Shakur bookshop.org

Learn the origin story and journey of one of the most prominent members of the Black Panthers in this gripping autobiography. Shakur recounts her story in her own wry voice from where she now lives in Cuba after escaping from prison following her conviction after the notorious Jersey State Turnpike shooting that took the life of a police officer. 

8 This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color
courtesy of State University of New York Press
Cherrie Moraga; Gloria Anzaldua bookshop.org

Women of color often get left behind in big conversations about race, but their experience is a uniquely important one. This anthology of essays, poetry, criticism, and visual art explores the intersection between race, class, and feminism. 

9 Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism
courtesy of Routledge
Bell Hooks bookshop.org

The title of this classic work by Bell Hooks says it all. Feminism has historically left out Black women. Move beyond racist and sexist assumptions with the help of this groundbreaking book. 

10 A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story
courtesy of Anchor Books
Elaine Brown bookshop.org

You may know the life stories of Black male icons like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Lewis, but you may never have heard of Elaine Brown, the first and only female leader of the Black Panthers. Rectify that with this book. 

11 How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir
courtesy of Simon & Schuster
Saeed Jones bookshop.org

Not all Black history books are scholarly – some are beautiful memoirs told in prose that will take your breath away. This memoir of his life growing up as a gay Black man in the South is the latter. Jones' struggles with queerness, love and sex, and his relationships paint a broader picture of our society, too. 

12 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
courtesy of Ballantine Books
Maya Angelou bookshop.org

Angelou's heartbreaking and gorgeous coming-of-age memoir tells the story of a difficult and lonely childhood, sexual assault as a young girl, and how her own strength of spirit and discovery of literature sustained her through tragedy and trauma. 

13 Mules and Men
courtesy of Harper Perennial
Zora Neale Hurston bookshop.org

By the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God comes an anthology of folklore, sermons, tall tales, and other cultural fabric that made up the cultural fabric of Black lives in the South. These elements are an important part of history too, so don't leave them behind. 

14 Roots: The Saga of an American Family
courtesy of Da Capo Press
Alex Haley bookshop.org

Following one man's family from Africa, through the middle passage and into slavery, and then six generations of farmers, blacksmiths, porters, lawyers, and architects, this rich text will speak to anyone who has ever yearned to know their own family history, too.

15 The Underground Railroad
Anchor Books
Colson Whitehead bookshop.org

In Whitehead's imagining, the underground railroad is more literal than it was in real life, but the struggles of its characters as they flee slavery are all too real. This brilliant book gives faces and names to the journey toward freedom, and the unrealized promise that holds. 

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