New Reads for Black History Month

Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history.

In commemoration, here is a listing of some new nonfiction works about African American history, heritage, culture and seminal figures from the community.

African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song edited by Kevin Young

An unprecedented anthology expertly selected by poet and scholar Young, revealing the breadth and range of African American poetry-a magnificent chorus of voices, some familiar, others recently rescued from neglect- in all its power, beauty, and multiplicity.

Alfred Hair: Heart of the Highwaymen by Gary Monroe

A long-awaited testament to the life and work of Alfred Hair, the driving force of the Florida Highwaymen, this book introduces a charismatic personality whose energy and creativity were foundational to the success of his fellow African American artists during the era of Jim Crow segregation.

The Black Cabinet: The Untold Story of African Americans and Politics During the Age of Roosevelt by Jill Watts

In 1932 in the midst of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s victory created the opportunity for a group of African American intellectuals and activists to join his administration as racial affairs experts. Known as the Black Cabinet, they organized themselves into an unofficial council. They innovated antidiscrimination policy, documented the New Deal’s inequalities, led programs that lifted people out of poverty and paved the way for greater federal accountability to African Americans and a greater black presence in government. 

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll by Maureen Mahon

Mahon draws on recordings, press coverage, archival materials, and interviews to document the history of African American women in rock and roll between the 1950s and the 1980s.  He details the musical contributions and cultural impact of Big Mama Thornton, LaVern Baker, Betty Davis, Tina Turner, Merry Clayton, Labelle, the Shirelles, and others, demonstrating how dominant views of gender, race, sexuality, and genre affected their careers.

Black Radical: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter by Kerri K. Greenidge

This long-overdue biography reestablishes Trotter’s essential place next to Douglass, Du Bois, and King in the pantheon of American civil rights heroes. With the stylistic verve of a newspaperman and the unwavering fearlessness of an emancipator, he galvanized black working- class citizens to wield their political power despite the violent racism of post- Reconstruction America. For more than thirty years, the Harvard-educated Trotter edited and published the Guardian, a weekly Boston newspaper that was read across the nation.

Black Women, Black Love: America’s War on African American Marriage by Dianne M. Stewart

According to the 2010 US Census, more than seventy percent of Black women in America are unmarried today.  Sweeping in scope and expansively researched, the book reveals how four hundred years of the laws, policies, and customs have created that crisis for Black women in America today.  It draws a straight line from generations of oppression to today’s crisis of Black companionship.

A Black Women’s History of the United States by Daina Ramey Berry & Kali Nicole Gross

A critical survey of black women’s complicated legacy in America, as it takes into account their exploitation and victimization as well as their undeniable and substantial contributions to the country since its inception.

The Compton Cowboys: The New Generation of Cowboys in America’s Urban Heartland by Walter Thompson-Hernández

The compelling story of a group of African-American men and women who defy stereotypes and continue the proud, centuries-old tradition of black cowboys in the heart of one of America’s most notorious cities.

The Dead are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X by  Les Payne and Tamara Payne

Setting Malcolm’s life not only within the Nation of Islam but against the larger backdrop of American history, the book traces the life of one of the twentieth century’s most politically relevant figures “from street criminal to devoted moralist and revolutionary.” A penetrating and riveting work that affirms the centrality of Malcolm X to the African American freedom struggle.

Deep Delta Justice: A Black Teen, His Lawyer, and Their Groundbreaking Battle for Civil Rights in the South by Matthew Van Meter

In 1966 in a small town in Louisiana, a 19-year-old black man named Gary Duncan pulled his car off the road to stop a fight. Duncan was arrested a few minutes later for the crime of putting his hand on the arm of a white child.  Using first-person interviews, in-depth research and a deep knowledge of the law, Van Meter shows how Gary Duncan’s insistence on seeking justice empowered generations of defendants-disproportionately poor and black-to demand fair trials. Duncan v. Louisiana changed American law, but first it changed the lives of those who litigated it.

Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights by Gretchen Sorin

How the automobile fundamentally changed African American life-the true history beyond the Best Picture-winning movie.  Sorin recovers a forgotten history of black motorists, and recounts their creation of a parallel, unseen world of travel guides, black only hotels, and informal communications networks that kept black drivers safe. 

Educated for Freedom: The Incredible Story of Two Fugitive Schoolboys Who Grew Up to Change a Nation by Anna Mae Duane

The story of James McCune Smith and Henry Highland Garnet, two black children who came of age and into freedom as their country struggled to grow from a slave nation into a free country.  The story of their lives, their work, and their friendship testifies to the imagination and activism of the free black community that shaped the national journey toward freedom. 

Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America by Marcia Chatelain

The untold history of how fast food became one of the greatest generators of black wealth in America. The book uncovers a surprising history of cooperation among fast food companies, black capitalists, and civil rights leaders, who- in the troubled years after King’s assassination- believed they found an economic answer to the problem of racial inequality. that the franchising of fast food restaurants, by black citizens in their own neighborhoods, could finally improve the quality of black life.

His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope by John Meacham

Using intimate interviews with Lewis and his family and deep research into the history of the civil rights movement, Meacham writes of how the activist and leader was inspired by the Bible, his mother’s unbreakable spirit, his sharecropper father’s tireless ambition, and his teachers in nonviolence. 

I Came as a Shadow: An Autobiography by John Thompson

The autobiography of the legendary coach of the Georgetown Hoyas, whose achievements on and off the basketball court reflect America’s unresolved struggle with racial justice.

The Last Negroes at Harvard: The Class of 1963 and the 18 Young Men Who Changed Harvard Forever by Kent Garrett

The untold story of the Harvard class of ’63, whose Black students fought to create their own identities on the cusp between integration and affirmative action. Part journey into personal history, part group portrait, and part narrative history of the civil rights movement, this is the remarkable story of brilliant, singular boys whose identities were changed at and by Harvard, and who, in turn, changed Harvard.

Light for the World to See by Kwame Alexander

A powerful and provocative collection of poems that cut to the heart of the entrenched racism and oppression in America and eloquently explores ongoing events.  

Making Our Way Home: The Great Migration and the Black American Dream by Blair Imani

Through gripping and accessible historical narrative paired with illustrations, Imani examines the largely overlooked impact of The Great Migration and how it affected–and continues to affect–Black identity and America as a whole.  He  shows how these influences shaped America’s workforce and wealth distribution by featuring the stories of notable people and events, relevant data, and family histories.

The Meaning of Soul: Black Music and Resilience Since the 1960s by Emily J. Lordi

Breaking with prior understandings of soul as a vague masculinist political formation tethered to the Black Power movement, Lordi offers a vision of soul that foregrounds the intricacies of musical craft, the complex personal and social meanings of the music, the dynamic movement of soul across time, and the leading role played by black women in this musical-intellectual tradition. 

A Most Beautiful Thing: The True Story of the First All-Black High School Rowing Team by Arshay Cooper

The moving true story of a group of young men growing up on Chicago’s West side who form the first all-black high school rowing team in the nation, and in doing so not only transform a sport, but their lives.

The Obama Portraits by The National Portrait Gallery

This is the first study of the portraits Barack Obama (2018) and Michelle Obama (2018), their reception, and their significance. The book includes essays by historians examining the influence of the paintings and what they reveal about contemporary portraiture, particularly in relation to American and African American history and culture.

Odetta: A Life in Music and Protest by Ian Zack

The untold story of the woman whose music and afro inspired a generation, whose voice provided a soundtrack for the unfolding civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s.

Officer Clemmons: A Memoir by Dr. François S. Clemmons

The intimate debut memoir by the man known to the world as Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood ‘s “Officer Clemmons,” a Grammy Award-winning artist who made history as the first African American actor to have a recurring role on a children’s television program.

Olympic Pride, American Prejudice: The Untold Story of 18 African Americans Who Defied Jim Crow and Adolf Hitler to Compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Deborah Draper

 Capturing a powerful and untold chapter of history, the narrative is also a celebration of the courage, commitment, and accomplishments of these talented athletes and their impact on race, sports and inclusion around the world.

The Other Madisons: The Lost History of a President’s Black Family by Bettye Kearse

Bettye Kearse–a descendant of an enslaved cook and, according to oral tradition, President James Madison–shares her family story and explores the issues of legacy, race, and the powerful consequences of telling the whole truth.  

The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food by Marcus Samuelsson

Chef, author, and television star Samuelsson gathers together an unforgettable feast of food, culture, and history to highlight the diverse deliciousness of Black cooking today. Driven by a desire to fight against bias, reclaim Black culinary traditions, and energize a new generation of cooks, Samuelsson shares his own journey alongside 150 recipes in honor of dozens of top chefs, writers, and activists–with stories exploring their creativity and influence.

River of Blood: American Slavery From the People Who Lived I: Interviews & Photographs of Formerly Enslaved African Americans

This book highlights the Slave Narratives–condensing tens of thousands of pages into short excerpts from about 100 former slaves and pairs their accounts with their photographs, taken by the workers sent to record their stories.. It is an eye-opening account that details what it was like to be a slave–from everyday life to the overwhelming fear they harbored for their lives and for the lives of their family and loved ones. 

Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All by Martha S. Jones

Historian Jones offers a sweeping history of African American women’s political lives in America, recounting how they fought for, won, and used the right to the ballot and how they fought against both racism and sexism. From 1830s Boston to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 and beyond to Shirley Chisholm, Stacey Abrams, and Kamala Harris, Jones excavates the lives and work of black women who, although in many cases suffragists, were never single-issue activists. She shows how black women were again and again the American vanguard of women’s rights, setting the pace in the quest for justice and collective liberation.

-Archana, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian

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