Although we amplify stories about the history of Black America in February, these are books we can read and learn from all year round. Reading is one way to illuminate the injustice experienced by Black people, both in years past and still today. Books also offer an opportunity to remember and celebrate the achievements of Black Americans and their contributions to this country.
These books about Black history include titles for even the youngest readers, because it’s never too early to learn about the accomplishments and experiences of those who came before.
Here are just a few to read for Black History Month and throughout the year. Find them in the Libby reading app from your local library.
There Was a Party for Langston by Jason Reynolds
Back in the day, there was a heckuva party, a jam, for a word-making man. The King of Letters. Langston Hughes. His ABCs became drums, bumping jumping thumping like a heart the size of the whole country. They sent some people yelling and others, his word-children, to write their own glory.
Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka, and more came be-bopping to recite poems at their hero’s feet at that heckuva party at the Schomberg Library, dancing boom da boom, stepping and stomping, all in praise and love for Langston, world-mending word man. Oh, yeah, there was hoopla in Harlem, for its Renaissance man. A party for Langston.
Call Me Miss Hamilton: One Woman’s Case for Equality and Respect by Carole Boston Weatherford
Discover the true story of the woman Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. nicknamed “Red” because of her fiery spirit. Mary Hamilton grew up knowing right from wrong. She was proud to be Black, and when the chance came along to join the Civil Rights Movement and become a Freedom Rider, she was eager to fight for what she believed in. Mary was arrested again and again - and she did not back down when faced with insults or disrespect. In an Alabama court, a white prosecutor called her by her first name, but she refused to answer unless he called her “Miss Hamilton.” The judge charged her with contempt of court, but that wasn’t the end of it. Miss Mary Hamilton fought the contempt charge all the way to the Supreme Court.
Because Claudette by Tracey Baptiste
When 15-year-old Claudette Colvin boarded a segregated bus on March 2, 1955, she had no idea she was about to make history. At school she was learning about abolitionists like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, which helped inspire her decision to refuse to give up her seat to a white woman, which led to her arrest, which began a crucial chain of events: Rosa Park’s sit-in nine months later, the organization of the Montgomery bus boycott by activists like Professor Jo Ann Robinson and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the Supreme Court decision that Alabama’s bus segregation was unconstitutional - a major triumph for the civil rights movement.
Freedom! The Story of the Black Panther Party by Jetta Grace Martin
There is a saying: knowledge is power. Knowledge, applied at the right time and place, is more than power. It’s magic. That’s what the Black Panther Party did. They called up this magic and launched a revolution. In the beginning, it was a story like any other. But once it got going, it became more than any one person could have imagined. This is the story of the committed party members, their supporters and allies. It’s about Black nationalism, Black radicalism, about Black people in America.
Roots by Alex Haley
When Alex was a boy growing up in Tennessee, his grandmother used to tell him stories about their family, stories that went way back to a man she called the African who was taken aboard a slave ship bound for Colonial America. As an adult, Alex spent 12 years searching for documentation that might authenticate what his grandmother had told him. In an astonishing feat of genealogical detective work, he discovered the name of the African - Kunta Kinte - as well as the exact location of the village in West Africa from where he was abducted in 1767.
Roots is based on the facts of his ancestry, and the six generations of people - slaves and freed men, farmers and lawyers, an architect, a teacher and one acclaimed author - descended from Kunta Kinte.
This is the story of how Sissle and Blake, along with comedians Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles, overcame poverty, racism and violence to harness the energy of the Harlem Renaissance and produce a runaway Broadway hit that launched the careers of many of the 20th century’s most beloved Black performers. Born in the shadow of slavery and establishing their careers at a time of increasing demands for racial justice and representation for people of color, they broke down innumerable barriers between Black and white communities at a crucial point in our history.
Author and pop culture expert Caseen Gaines leads readers through the glitz and glamour of New York City during the Roaring Twenties to reveal the revolutionary impact one show had on generations of Americans, and how its legacy continues to resonate today.
Over one million Black men and women served in World War II. Black troops were at Normandy, Iwo Jima and the Battle of the Bulge, serving in segregated units and performing unheralded but vital support jobs, only to be denied housing and educational opportunities on their return home. Without their crucial contributions to the war effort, the U.S. could not have won the war. And yet the stories of these Black veterans have long been ignored.
Their bravery and patriotism in the face of unfathomable racism is both inspiring and galvanizing. In a time when the questions World War II raised regarding race and democracy in America remain troublingly relevant and still unanswered, this meticulously researched retelling makes for urgently necessary reading.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin’s early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document from the iconic author of If Beale Street Could Talk and Go Tell It on the Mountain. It consists of two “letters,” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism.
The Black Box by Henry Louis Gates
Release date: March 19, 2024
Distilled over many years from Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s legendary Harvard introductory course in African American Studies, this is the story of Black self-definition in America through the prism of the writers who have led the way. This is the epic story of how, through essays and speeches, novels, plays and poems, a long line of creative thinkers has unveiled the contours of - and resisted confinement in - the “black box” inside which this “nation within a nation” has been assigned, willy nilly, from the nation’s founding through to today. This is a book that records the compelling saga of the creation of a people.