8 Books To Read for Black History Month 2020

Thursday, February 20, 2020

We continue our Black History Month celebration with an essential roundup of new and backlist titles. These books span history, offering perspectives both individual and grand, showing us how to confront our present and build a more just future. 



Answering the Call: An Autobiography of the Modern Struggle to End Racial Discrimination in America

By Nathaniel R. Jones, with a foreword by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham

A renowned civil rights leader, lawyer, and author, Nathaniel R. Jones recently passed away at the age of 93. Answering the Call is a moving memoir from an unsung hero of the battle for racial equality in America. The book traces Jones’s pathbreaking career, forged in the 1960s as the first African American assistant U.S. attorney in Ohio, as assistant general counsel of the Kerner Commission, as general counsel of the NAACP, and beyond. His story is an essential corrective to the idea of a post-racial America—his voice and his testimony offering enduring evidence of the unfinished work of ending Jim Crow’s legacy. 



Thick: And Other Essays

By Tressie McMillan Cottom

Named one of the Ten Best Essay Collections of the Decade by Literary Hub and one of the Must-Read Books of 2019 by TIME magazine, Thick is a bold and genre-busting collection. McMillan Cottom has crafted a black woman's cultural bible, as she mines for meaning in places many of us miss and reveals precisely how―when you're in the thick of it―the political, the social, and the personal are almost always one and the same. Read an excerpt from the book published in Zora. 



The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits

By Tiya Miles

Most Americans believe that slavery was a creature of the South, and that Northern states and territories provided stops on the Underground Railroad for fugitive slaves on their way to Canada. In this paradigm-shifting and award-winning book, celebrated historian Tiya Miles reveals that slavery was at the heart of the founding of one of America’s most iconic cities: Detroit. Miles complicates what we believe about the north as “free” territory and pieces together the experience of the unfree—both native and African American—in the frontier outpost of colonial Detroit, a place wildly remote in the view of Europeans yet at the center of national and international conflict.



Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Segregated South 

Edited by William H. Chafe, Raymond Gavins, and Robert Korstad

Based on interviews collected by the Behind the Veil Project at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies, this groundbreaking work of African American oral history provides an unforgettable portrait of the Jim Crow South told through first-person accounts by those who lived through it. The result is a powerful story of individual and community survival and an important part of the American past that is crucial for us to remember.



Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Emancipation

Edited by Ira Berlin, Marc Favreau, and Steven F. Miller

The New Press originally published Remembering Slavery in 1998, a book-and-tape set that offered a startling first-person history of slavery. Using excerpts from the thousands of interviews conducted with ex-slaves in the 1930s by researchers working with the Federal Writers’ Project, the astonishing audiotapes made available the only known recordings of people who actually experienced enslavement—recordings that had gathered dust in the Library of Congress until they were rendered audible for the first time specifically for this set.



Sing a Rhythm, Dance a Blues: Education for the Liberation of Black and Brown Girls

By Monique W. Morris

Morris may be best known for her work to end the school to confinement pathway, through her advocacy, and her book and documentary Pushout. Her new book, Sing a Rhythm, Dance a Blues is a groundbreaking and visionary call to action that brings together research and real life to empower educators, parents, students to transform schools into places where learning and collective healing can flourish.



Free All Along: The Robert Penn Warren Civil Rights Interviews

Edited by Stephen Drury Smith and Catherine Ellis

In 1964, in the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Pulitzer Prize–winning author and poet Robert Penn Warren set out with a tape recorder to interview leaders of the black freedom struggle. He spoke at length with luminaries such as James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr., Stokely Carmichael, Ralph Ellison, and Roy Wilkins, eliciting reflections and frank assessments of race in America and the possibilities for meaningful change. A year later, Penn Warren published Who Speaks for the Negro?, a probing narrative account of these conversations that blended his own reflections with brief excerpts and quotations from his interviews. Astonishingly, the full extent of the interviews remained in the background and were never published until this volume was published in 2019. Read an excerpt on Lit Hub.



Lift Every Voice: The NAACP and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement

By Patricia Sullivan

A book that Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. called “the definitive history of the NAACP,” Lift Every Voice recounts the sweeping and dramatic stories of of personal bravery, legal brilliance, and political maneuvering by the likes of W.E.B. Du Bois, Mary White Ovington, Walter White, Charles Houston, Ella Baker, Thurgood Marshall, and Roy Wilkins.



There were more than a few books left off that you should also add to your TBR pile, for Black History Month and beyond. Titles like Michelle Alexander’s landmark The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness; or Janet Dewart Bell’s Lighting the Fires of Freedom, a book that shines a light on the overlooked achievements of African American women in the Civil Rights; or the haunting novel Slave Old Man by Patrick Chamoiseau, translated from the French and Creole by Linda Coverdale; and many more books. You can check them out for yourself by diving into our full backlist.


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