Black history isn’t just about the enslavement of Black men, women, and children but also our pursuit of freedom, our fight for fairness, our inventions, innovations, and our contributions to the arts among other things. Although celebrating Black culture should not be confined to one month a year, I love how each February we collectively do so and luckily for us writers have chronicled our stories in non-fiction and fiction books for us to learn from and enjoy. Here are seven books to read to celebrate Black History Month.
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
I’m sure we can all agree that the film adaptation starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Butler, and Janelle Monae was amazing and a lesson in history many of us felt deprived of for too long, but only so much of the story can be told in two hours. That is why I highly recommend picking up a copy of Margot Shutterly’s Hidden Figures to learn more about the Black women mathematicians who crunched the numbers that would launch astronauts into space, Hidden figures no more!
The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley by Malcolm X and Alex Haley
We often speak of Malcolm X as this radical figure who stood in stark contrast to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement. He presented a different course of action in our pursuit of freedom and equal rights that were largely rooted in his Muslim faith and his experiences as a Black man in America. The Autobiography of Malcolm X takes us on a journey as we meet Malcolm Little, Detroit Red, Malcolm X and El Hajj Malik El Shabazz. This book should be required reading.
Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It: The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson by Jo Ann Gibson Robinson
Men are often placed at the forefront of most pivotal moments in history, and the Civil Rights Movement is no exception. But luckily for us, women like Jo Ann Gibson Robinson chronicled her own experience in this memoir that explains how she and other women organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1954.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
Over 500 pages long, I wouldn’t call The Warmth of Other Suns light reading but necessary reading nonetheless. Between the pages of this book, Isabel Wilkerson chronicles the Great Migration of African Americans from the south to the north and west in pursuit of better lives. The Warmth of Other Suns is storytelling at its finest, and the extensive notes section is a perfect place to find recommendations for further readings.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
To say I loved this book would be an understatement. Although it’s fiction, it is not farfetched to believe that real life experiences of enslaved African Americans resembled what we read on the pages of this book. In Homegoing you get to read about one family, starting with two half-sisters whose paths cross although they never formally meet. This story begins in Ghana, through the Transatlantic Slave Trade, into Slavery, Jim Crow, to present day. The care Yaa Gyasi took in crafting this novel is in the details, and you’ll want to experience it for yourself
The Book of Harlan by Bernice McFadden
The Book of Harlan does an amazing job of weaving fiction into real life events and introduces us to a book of characters whose lives intersect with actual historical figures. Bernice McFadden shares her gift of storytelling as we witness Harlan and his family’s journey from Georgia to New York as he makes a career for himself as a musician and the heartbreaking obstacles he encounters along the way.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
We’re all familiar with the Underground Railroad and how this network aided in the pursuit of freedom by a countless number of enslaved African Americans. Although fiction, The Underground Railroad describes a very real reality many slaves experienced. Never knowing when they’ll be torn from their families, the loneliness, and fear associated with chasing freedom, never knowing who can be trusted. Cora, the novel’s main character, grapples with this and more as she uses an actual underground railroad system to escape slavery.
I encourage you to use this as a reading list that extends far beyond February. Happy reading and happy Black History Month!
Sanura is the laugh out loud, solo traveling, book-loving, owner and founder of My Lit Box. When she’s not reading, you’ll find her planning her next adventure. You can follow Sanura’s latest reads and travel on Twitter & Instagram.