In honor of Black History Month, Michelle Farias, our Special Collections Assistant and Archivist, has curated a reading list to learn from and enjoy. These books highlight different figures in Black History, and their impact on the world.
By, W.E.B DuBois
Black Reconstruction in America tells and interprets the story of the twenty years of Reconstruction from the point of view of newly liberated African Americans. Though lambasted by critics at the time of its publication in 1935, Black Reconstruction has only grown in historical and literary importance. In the 1960s it joined the canon of the most influential revisionist historical works. Its greatest achievement is weaving a credible, lyrical historical narrative of the hostile and politically fraught years of 1860-1880 with a powerful critical analysis of the harmful effects of democracy, including Jim Crow laws and other injustices. With a series introduction by editor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and an introduction by David Levering Lewis, this edition is essential for anyone interested in African American history.
By, W.E.B. DuBois
The Souls of Black Folk is a classic work of American literature by W. E. B. Du Bois. It is a seminal work in the history of sociology, and a cornerstone of African-American literary history. To develop this groundbreaking work, Du Bois drew from his own experiences as an African-American in the American society. Outside of its notable relevance in African-American history, The Souls of Black Folk also holds an important place in social science as one of the early works in the field of sociology.
By, David Levering Lewis
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois―the premier architect of the civil rights movement in America―was a towering and controversial personality, a fiercely proud individual blessed with the language of the poet and the impatience of the agitator. Now, David Levering Lewis has carved one volume out of his superlative two-volume biography of this monumental figure that set the standard for historical scholarship on this era. In his magisterial prose, Lewis chronicles Du Bois's long and storied career, detailing the momentous contributions to our national character that still echo today.
W.E.B. Du Bois is a 1993 and 2000 National Book Award Finalist for Nonfiction and the winner of the 1994 and 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Biography.
By, Deborah G. Plant
While most biographies of Hurston take a standard approach to revealing the facts and details of her life, this is the first to look at the role spirituality played in her life and letters. Throughout her fiction, nonfiction, political and social activity, Hurston's spirit shines through, animating all areas of her life. To ignore it is to paint an incomplete picture of a life that carries on through the works she left behind. Plant shows here that Hurston's spirituality helped her to endure the challenges in her life, including chronic ill health, personal and professional setbacks, financial difficulties, and other obstacles that might have crushed a less resilient soul. In revealing this often overlooked area of Hurston's life, Plant offers a more complete biography of this eminent woman of letters.
By, Zora Neale Hurston
“A deeply soulful novel that comprehends love and cruelty, and separates the big people from the small of heart, without ever losing sympathy for those unfortunates who don’t know how to live properly.” —Zadie Smith
One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston. Out of print for almost thirty years—due largely to initial audiences’ rejection of its strong black female protagonist—Hurston’s classic has since its 1978 reissue become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature.
By, Maya Angelou
Here is a book as joyous and painful, as mysterious and memorable, as childhood itself. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings captures the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right. Maya Angelou’s debut memoir is a modern American classic beloved worldwide.
Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.
Poetic and powerful, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read.
By, Maya Angelou
In The Heart of a Woman, Maya Angelou leaves California with her son, Guy, to move to New York. There she enters the society and world of black artists and writers, reads her work at the Harlem Writers Guild, and begins to take part in the struggle of black Americans for their rightful place in the world. In the meantime, her personal life takes an unexpected turn. She leaves the bail bondsman she was intending to marry after falling in love with a South African freedom fighter, travels with him to London and Cairo, where she discovers new opportunities.
The Heart of a Woman is filled with unforgettable vignettes of such renowned people as Billie Holiday and Malcom X, but perhaps most importantly chronicles the joys and the burdens of a black mother in America and how the son she has cherished so intensely and worked for so devotedly finally grows to be a man.
By, Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., isolated himself from the demands of the civil rights movement, rented a house in Jamaica with no telephone, and labored over his final manuscript. In this prophetic work, which has been unavailable for more than ten years, he lays out his thoughts, plans, and dreams for America's future, including the need for better jobs, higher wages, decent housing, and quality education. With a universal message of hope that continues to resonate, King demanded an end to global suffering, asserting that humankind-for the first time-has the resources and technology to eradicate poverty.
By, Coretta Scott King
Created as a living memorial to the philosophies and ideas of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., this essential volume includes more than 120 quotations from the greatest civil rights leader’s speeches, sermons, and writings selected and introduced by Coretta Scott King.
By, Manning Marable
Hailed as "a masterpiece" (San Francisco Chronicle), the late Manning Marable's acclaimed biography of Malcolm X finally does justice to one of the most influential and controversial figures of twentieth-century American history. Filled with startling new information and shocking revelations, Malcolm X unfolds a sweeping story of race and class in America. Reaching into Malcolm's troubled youth, it traces a path from his parents' activism as followers of Marcus Garvey through his own work with the Nation of Islam and rise in the world of black nationalism, and culminates in the never-before-told true story of his assassination. Malcolm X is a stunning achievement, the definitive work on one of our greatest advocates for social change.
By, Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela is one of the great moral and political leaders of our time: an international hero whose lifelong dedication to the fight against racial oppression in South Africa won him the Nobel Peace Prize and the presidency of his country. Since his triumphant release in 1990 from more than a quarter-century of imprisonment, Mandela has been at the center of the most compelling and inspiring political drama in the world. As president of the African National Congress and head of South Africa's anti-apartheid movement, he was instrumental in moving the nation toward multiracial government and majority rule. He is revered everywhere as a vital force in the fight for human rights and racial equality. The foster son of a Thembu chief, Mandela was raised in the traditional, tribal culture of his ancestors, but at an early age learned the modern, inescapable reality of what came to be called apartheid, one of the most powerful and effective systems of oppression ever conceived. In classically elegant and engrossing prose, he tells of his early years as an impoverished student and law clerk in Johannesburg, of his slow political awakening, and of his pivotal role in the rebirth of a stagnant ANC and the formation of its Youth League in the 1950s. He describes the struggle to reconcile his political activity with his devotion to his family, the anguished breakup of his first marriage, and the painful separations from his children. He brings vividly to life the escalating political warfare in the fifties between the ANC and the government, culminating in his dramatic escapades as an underground leader and the notorious Rivonia Trial of 1964, at which he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Herecounts the surprisingly eventful twenty-seven years in prison and the complex, delicate negotiations that led both to his freedom and to the beginning of the end of apartheid. Finally he provides the ultimate inside account of the unforgettable events since his release that produced at last a free, multiracial democracy in South Africa. To millions of people around the world, Nelson Mandela stands, as no other living figure does, for the triumph of dignity and hope over despair and hatred, of self-discipline and love over persecution and evil.
By, Sarah Bradford
This simple, unvarnished account recalls the courageous life of Harriet Tubman, one of the best-known “conductors” on the Underground Railroad. First published in 1869 and privately printed to raise funds for “the Moses of her people,” Sarah Bradford’s memorable biography recalls the former slave’s grim childhood; her perilous experiences leading slaves into Canada; her efforts as a Civil War nurse, cook, and scout for the Union Army; and her post-conflict endeavors to aid and educate former slaves.
An inspiring story of bravery, perseverance, and self-sacrifice, this accurate, reliable account by Tubman’s contemporary is essential reading for students of American history and African-American studies.
By, Kitty Kelley
For the past twenty-five years, no one has been better at revealing secrets than Oprah Winfrey. On what is arguably the most influential show in television history, she has gotten her guests—often the biggest celebrities in the world—to bare their love lives, explore their painful pasts, admit their transgressions, reveal their pleasures, and explore their demons. In turn, Oprah has repeatedly allowed her audience to share in her own life story, opening up about the sexual abuse in her past and discussing her romantic relationships, her weight problems, her spiritual beliefs, her charitable donations, and her strongly held views on the state of the world.
By, Langston Hughes
"The ultimate book for both the dabbler and serious scholar--. [Hughes] is sumptuous and sharp, playful and sparse, grounded in an earthy music--. This book is a glorious revelation."--Boston Globe
Spanning five decades and comprising 868 poems (nearly 300 of which have never before appeared in book form), this magnificent volume is the definitive sampling of a writer who has been called the poet laureate of African America--and perhaps our greatest popular poet since Walt Whitman. Here, for the first time, are all the poems that Langston Hughes published during his lifetime, arranged in the general order in which he wrote them and annotated by Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel.
Alongside such famous works as "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" and Montage of a Dream Deferred, The Collected Poems includes the author's lesser-known verse for children; topical poems distributed through the Associated Negro Press; and poems such as "Goodbye Christ" that were once suppressed. Lyrical and pungent, passionate and polemical, the result is a treasure of a book, the essential collection of a poet whose words have entered our common language.
By, Toni Morrison
Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement.