February is Black History Month, a special time set aside to celebrate and honor Black Americans past and present. We’ve put together this list of Black History Month books because we believe literature is one of the most moving ways to learn about cultures, peoples, and events. From novels, to memoirs, to non-fiction, in each book the author shares look into what life is like from their perspective.
For more information and resources about Black History Month, please visit blackhistorymonth.gov.
8 Black History Month Books to Read in February (and Beyond)
The Autobiography of Malcom X
Through a life of passion and struggle, Malcolm X became one of the most influential figures of the 20th Century. In this riveting account, he tells of his journey from a prison cell to Mecca, describing his transition from hoodlum to Muslim minister. Here, the man who called himself “the angriest Black man in America” relates how his conversion to true Islam helped him confront his rage and recognize the brotherhood of all mankind. – Goodreads
Letter from Birmingham Jail – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. rarely had time to answer his critics. But on April 16, 1963, he was confined to the Birmingham jail, serving a sentence for participating in civil rights demonstrations. “Alone for days in the dull monotony of a narrow jail cell,” King pondered a letter that fellow clergymen had published urging him to drop his campaign of nonviolent resistance and to leave the battle for racial equality to the courts. In response, King drafted his most extensive and forceful written statement against social injustice – a remarkable essay that focused the world’s attention on Birmingham and spurred the famous March on Washington. – Goodreads
Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland. – Goodreads
Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation. – Goodreads
The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
Cora, a slave on a plantation in Georgia, escapes the plantation with the help of a literal underground railroad only to discover that life outside the plantation has it’s own set of harrowing trials and dangers. An unflinching look at life in the antebellum South for Black people with vivid storytelling.
The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennet
Twin sisters Stella and Desiree grown up in a small town of Black people that prides itself on the light skin of their residents. When the twins run away from home a build a new life in New Orleans, one twin realizes how simple it is to pass as white when nobody knows you. So she does, slipping into white society without a trace and leaving her sister behind. In the years that follow, their stories diverge and converge in startling ways. An engrossing story and creative, thoughtful work about identity, family, and roots.
Between The World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden? Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. – Goodreads
If Beale Street Could Talk – James Baldwin
In this honest and stunning novel, James Baldwin has given America a moving story of love in the face of injustice. Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin’s story mixes the sweet and the sad. Tish and Fonny have pledged to get married, but Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible crime and imprisoned. Their families set out to clear his name, and as they face an uncertain future, the young lovers experience a kaleidoscope of emotions-affection, despair, and hope. In a love story that evokes the blues, where passion and sadness are inevitably intertwined, Baldwin has created two characters so alive and profoundly realized that they are unforgettably ingrained in the American psyche. – Goodreads
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