Best Books on African American History

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Best Books on African American History

African American History has not been at all pleasing. America has witnessed some of the darkest and most shameful periods in history from the time of the “Slave Trade”. A time when “Racism” was mistaken by the people of the country, and people began to dehumanize slaves on the basis of their difference in color.

Although Slave Trade was an evil practice in America, and its consequences were even worse, there were some rays of hope amongst this darkness. Such as, slaves who were owned in the North by kind masters got introduced to civilization, and studying the language of English. This introduction to the culture of the English began to mold the personalities of blacks, many began to protest, and a few began to choose pen to tell their tales of tragedy to the world.

It is these notable works of people who have suffered the consequences of being a slave, or a black in America, that have become valuables of African American History. From submissive slaves to active protesters in Harlem Renaissance, African American history is rich with pain, struggles, and honesty. Here are the list of best books, that will let you peek into the past of what it was like to be a black in a white dominating world.

1. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs

You might have come across many slave narratives before that are written by men, but it is very unusual to find narratives told by women with brutal honesty, and one such unusual and authentic account is provided by Harriet Ann Jacobs in her book Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. This powerful work by Jacobs holds a special place in Black History for it portrays the true pictures of true times in America where the lives of African slaves were a living hell.

A shocking, heartbreaking autobiography of Jacobs, the novel features her life as a slave right from the age of 6. From living a childhood without a mother to realizing that she is a slave, Jacobs lets readers explore the horrors of slavery, especially when it comes to a young girl. From being raped every time by Dr. Flint, to give herself to a White man named Mr. Sands, Jacob’s narrative is too hard to bear for it is dipped in the brutal truth of slavery. A narrative that will leave an everlasting impression on every reader, the struggle of Harriet Jacobs deserves to be read by all.

2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou is an autobiographical novel, that reflects the experiences of the author in her childhood and adolescence during the 1930s in America.

The novel features Maya’s growing up in the town of Stamps, her regular witnesses of racism, and the painful truth of being raped at the age of 8. The novel has many heartbreaking events that will make readers emotional, and bring them closer to the past.

3. Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave is undoubtedly one of those books that present the true picture of the past, a time when blacks were slaves in a white dominating America.

Winner of Academy Awards, this autobiographical novel takes readers deeper into the life of a slave who went through countless torment before eventually being a free man. A book that portrays the true picture of America, Northup’s narrative holds a very important place in the history of African American literature.

4. Unsung: Unheralded Narratives of American Slavery & Abolition by Michelle D. Commander

A book that features real-life slave accounts that are “unsung” and “unheralded”. A new historical anthology from transatlantic slavery to Reconstruction, this book focuses on the history of blacks in America, and their struggle during the era of slavery.

From slavery to anti-slavery protests, this book documents stories that have never been told before. The stories that were previously overlooked and uncelebrated, reach readers across the globe through this book that deserves to be heard and heralded by all.

5. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colour-blindness by Michelle Alexander

Must-read non-fiction on Racism and the history of blacks, that records real events, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander will take you back and forth to the past and present. While working for the American Civil Liberties Union, Michelle Alexander witnessed the racial bias that still prevails in the Criminal Justice System against second-class citizens, mainly the blacks. This unethical bias reminds Alexander of the Jim Crow Laws that prevailed in South America during the 19th and early 20th centuries, that meted out inhuman treatment to African Americans. Alexander notices that this racial bias marginalizes colored races still in the 21st century, and hopes to present the true picture to the world.

Alexander begins with the history of racism that strongly dominated America, and how millions of people were painfully affected by its evils. She explores the “Jim Crow Laws” and the consequences it brought to the people to the present day scenario where racism still plays a role in judgment, there remains a difference, a sense of hatred and inequality. From Civil Rights, racial segregation, to witnessing the evils of the past still in relevance, Alexander takes readers on a shocking journey that unveils the truth of modern American Society.

6. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color Purple by Alice Walker is a heart-touching novel revolving around the evils of racism that prevailed in American history, and a women’s quest to freedom and becoming economically independent in a white-dominant nation. Celie is a poor black woman, married to an abusive husband who has been hiding the letters that her sister Nettie kept on sending all these years, to keep her away from reuniting with her sister. It is only when Celie bonds with one of her neighbors Shug- a strong black woman who has a job and status while making quilts, she learns about love, pleasure, passion, and freedom.

The novel features inhuman treatment imposed on Blacks, an uncompromising bond between two women made of lust and love, and Celie’s ultimate step towards freedom by holding the hands of Shug.

7. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s Song Of Solomon is a New York Times Bestselling novel that features the story of Milkman Death who is born at a time when slavery prevailed in America. The novel records the “songs”, or events of Milkman’s coming-of-age and his growing up amongst the evils of slavery.

The novel features the tale of Milkman’s great-grandfather Solomon, who was brave enough to escape from slavery and fly to Africa, and opens with an unusual event of Milkman’s birth where his mother becomes the first black woman to give birth in a hospital. A novel that traces the growth and struggles of Milkman, depicts the true picture of American racism. In spite of belonging to an upper-middle-class family, Milkman has a lot to bear and share with the world.

8. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin is a National Bestseller that contains two essays focusing on racial tensions in America and the role of religion. The two autobiographical essays play an important role in the history of African American literature for it confronts the racial issues, features the Civil Rights movement, American life, and the “American Dream”.

The first essay is dedicated to Baldwin’s Nephew and revolves around the systemic, legal, and socioeconomic discrimination meted out by Whites, racial tensions, and elite power structures. Whereas the other essay is from the “Region in my Mind” where Baldwin exploits religious themes and discusses how Christianity and Islam were hampering African Americans from demanding equality and civil rights. This is undoubtedly a remarkable, deeply personal book that holds a special place.

9. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is an epic milestone of African American Literature and is a bestselling novel published in the year 1952.

A novel that features an unnamed narrator, and whose style was inspired from T.S. Eliot’s  The Waste Land, James Joyce, and Dostoevsky, focuses on the life of a negro in America who feels “invisible” while traveling across the country. From the hellish levels of American intolerance and cultural blindness to his question of existence, the unnamed narrator has so much to tell to the world through his captivating narration. This novel by Ralph Ellison is undoubtedly a must-read if you want to dive deep into African American History.

10. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad is a New York Times Bestseller, winner of Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, that chronicles the adventure of a young African American slave and her quest towards freedom. A plot that is truly captivating, revolves around the life of Cora, a young, black slave on the cotton plantation of Georgia, who is among those many slaves working tirelessly under the command of the White Masters.

Life is a living hell for Cora and her fellow slave workers, she is coming into age and afraid of many things that might come with it. But when a new, young slave arrives on the plantation from Virginia, he interacts with Cora and secretly discloses to her about the “Underground Railroad”. Cora and the young slave manage to escape, but things don’t go as they have perceived them to be, will they be able to escape? Will they succeed in heading North and being free? This novel is a lot more interesting than you can think. A must-read for all because it reflects the true picture of slavery in America, Whitehead’s novel will win all hearts and become favorites of many.

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Indu has been educator since last 10 years. She can find all kind of scholarship opportunities in the USA and beyond. She also teach college courses online to help students become better. She is one of the very rare scholarship administrator and her work is amazing.