13 books on the history of black America for those who really want to learn


The national uprising for racial justice and social change sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has prompted new calls for changes in school curriculum that reflect the broad reality of black America – but there’s no reason that students should be the only ones learning.

Here is a list of books about black history in this country that can begin to give you an education on the subject, most of them recommended by Dexter Gabriel, an assistant professor in the Department of History at the University of Connecticut.

Gabriel, who has a joint faculty appointment with the Africana Studies Institute, focuses his research on the history of bondage, resistance and freedom in the black Atlantic, as well as interdisciplinary approaches to slavery within popular culture and media.

Three years ago, I published a shorter list of books recommended by Gabriel after Trump administration officials had made a series of historically ignorant statements regarding African American history.

There was the time, for example, when Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called historically black colleges and universities “pioneers” of school choice when they were actually founded because blacks weren’t permitted to attend white institutions and had no other choice. President Donald Trump, while making comments to honor Black History Month in 2017, talked about black abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass, who died Feb. 20, 1895, as if he were still alive.

But it’s not just Trump administration personnel who don’t know or appreciate the history and struggles of blacks in this country. So here is a baker’s dozen of books that can educate you, most of them recommended by Gabriel.

Again, this is not a definitive list of books on African American history or anything approaching it. But these books provide the start of an education from serious scholars of the subject for those who really want to learn.

– “Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage” by Sowande’ Mustakeem

The book by Mustakeem, an associate professor of history and African and African American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, explains the violence and regulation of the process called “the Middle Passage,” which was the part of the slave trade that took place at sea.

– “Trouble in Mind” by Leon F. Litwack

The book by Litwack, a professor of history at the University of California at Berkeley, is an account of the brutal age of Jim Crow.

– “Stamped From the Beginning” by Ibram X. Kendi

The book by Kendi, an award-winning Africana studies historian who is moving to Boston University in July to launch the BU Center for Antiracist Research, is a definitive history of anti-black racist ideas and their impact on American history.

Manisha Sinha is the James L. and Shirley A. Draper Chair in American History at the University of Connecticut and a leading authority on the history of slavery and abolition and the Civil War and Reconstruction. Photo: uconn.edu

“The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition” by Manisha Sinha

The book by Sinha, the Draper chair in American history at the University of Connecticut, reveals the often-ignored role that African Americans played in their emancipation, from the American Revolution through the Civil War.

– “In the Face of Inequality: How Black Colleges Adapt” by Melissa E. Wooten

The book by Wooten, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, looks at how race and racism shaped America’s black colleges and universities in the mid-20th century.

– “Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom” by Keisha Blain

The book by Blain, an associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, is the first to examine how black nationalist women engaged in national and global politics from the early 20th century to the 1960s.

– “Force and Freedom: Black Abolitionists and the Politics of Violence” by Kellie Carter Jackson

The book by Carter Jackson, an assistant professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College, is the first historical analysis exclusively focused on the tactical use of violence among antebellum black activists to provoke social change.

– “They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South” by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers

The book by Jones-Rogers, an associate professor of history at the University of California at Berkeley, reshapes current understandings of white women’s economic relationships to slavery using the testimony of formerly enslaved people.

– “The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime and the Making of Modern Urban America” by Khalil Gibran Muhammad

The book by Muhammad, a professor of history, race and public policy at Harvard University, explores how the myth of black criminality became deeply embedded in American thought and was important in the making of urban America.

– “Ring Shout, Wheel About: The Racial Politics of Music and Dance in North American Slavery” by Katrina Dyonne Thompson

The book by Thompson, an associate professor of history at St. Louis University, explores how black musical performance was used by white Europeans and Americans to justify slavery and hide the brutality of the domestic slave trade.

– “They Left Great Marks Upon Me: African American Testimonies of Racial Violence from Emancipation to World War I” by Kidada E. Williams

The book by Williams, associate professor of history at Wayne State University, provides a history of racial violence taken from testimony by African Americans.

And two more from other recommenders:

– “Jim Crow Wisdom: Memory and Identity in Black America Since 1940” by Jonathan Holloway

The book by Holloway, a historian who is provost and chief academic officer at Northwestern University, relates stories that black Americans have told about their past and why they matter today.

– “Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History 1513-2008” by Henry Louis Gates Jr. The book by Gates, a professor and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, is a comprehensive history.



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