Books to deepen your understanding of race, racism, and anti-racism. Click on the title in the list below to see availability at the Blackstone Library. Reading works of fiction by Black authors is another great way to learn about race and the lived experience of others. Check out this reading list of Black fiction and literature.
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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou | A black woman recalls the anguish of her childhood in Arkansas and her adolescence in northern slums.
He Calls Me By Lightning: The Life of Caliph Washington and the Forgotten Saga of Jim Crow, Southern Justice, and the Death Penalty by Jonathan Bass | The life of a wrongfully convicted man whose story becomes an historic portrait of the Jim Crow South.
The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom | A brilliant, haunting and unforgettable memoir from a stunning new talent about the inexorable pull of home and family, set in a shotgun house in New Orleans East.
How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones | A stunning coming-of-age memoir about a young, black, gay man from the South as he fights to carve out a place for himself, within his family, within his country, within his own hopes, desires, and fears.
When They Call You a Terrorist by Patricia Khan-Cullors | A memoir by the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement explains the movement’s position of love, humanity, and justice, challenging perspectives that have negatively labeled the movement’s activists while calling for political changes.
Heavy: An American Memoir by Laymon Kiese | Laymon writes about growing up a hard-headed black son to a complicated and brilliant black mother in Jackson, Mississippi.
Redefining Realness by Janet Mock | In a landmark book, an young woman recounts her coming-of-age as a transgender teen—a deeply personal and empowering portrait of self-revelation, adversity, and heroism.
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward | Two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward (Salvage the Bones, Sing, Unburied, Sing) contends with the deaths of five young men dear to her, and the risk of being a black man in the rural South.
Solitary: Unbroken by Four Decades in Solitary Confinement by Albert Woodfox | Nearly forty years in solitary confinement in a 6-foot by 9-foot cell for 23 hours a day for a crime he did not commit, Albert Woodfox survived and emerged with his humanity and hope for the future intact.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X | In the searing pages of this classic autobiography, originally published in 1964, Malcolm X, the Muslim leader, firebrand, and anti-integrationist, tells the extraordinary story of his life and the growth of the Black Muslim movement.
Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Davis | In this collection of essays, interviews, and speeches, the renowned activist examines today’s issues-from Black Lives Matter to prison abolition and more.
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde: In this charged collection of fifteen essays and speeches, Lorde takes on sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class, and propounds social difference as a vehicle for action and change.
Citizen: an American Lyric by Claudia Rankine| Recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media.
The Fire This Time: a New Generation Speaks About Race by Jesmyn Ward | Essays and poems about race—collected by National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward and written by the most important voices of her generation—are thoughtful, searing, and at times, hopeful.
South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War by Alice L. Baumgartner | The Underground Railroad to the North was salvation for many US slaves before the Civil War. But during the same decades, thousands of people in the south-central United States escaped slavery not by heading north but by crossing the southern border into Mexico. This book tells the story of Mexico’s rise as an antislavery republic and a promised land for enslaved people in North America.
Give Us the Ballot: the Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America by Ari Berman | Tells the story of what happened after the dramatic passage of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in 1965 and the turbulent forces it unleashed.
Julian Bond’s A Time to Teach: a History of the Southern Civil Rights Movement by Julian Bond | Compiled from his original lecture notes, Julian Bond’s Time to Teach brings his invaluable teachings to a new generation of readers and provides a necessary toolkit for today’s activists in the era of Black Lives Matter.
Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 by Eric Foner | Chronicles the way in which Americans—black and white—responded to the unprecedented changes unleashed by the war and the end of slavery.
Forever Free: the Story of Emancipation & Reconstruction by Eric Foner | An examination of the myths and realities of the period after the Civil War.
The Lynching: the Epic Courtroom Battle that Brought Down the Klan by Laurence Leamer | Chronicles the powerful and spellbinding true story of a brutal race-based killing in 1981 and subsequent trials that undid one of the most pernicious organizations in American history—the Ku Klux Klan.
Separate: the Story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and America’s Journey from Slavery to Segregation by Steve Luxenberg | Plessy v. Ferguson , the Supreme Court case synonymous with “separate but equal,” is one of the most compelling and dramatic stories of the nineteenth century, whose outcome embraced and protected segregation, and whose reverberations are still felt into the twenty-first.
Blood at the Root: a Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips | A gripping tale of racial cleansing in Forsyth County, Georgia, and a harrowing testament to the deep roots of racial violence in America.
The Color of Law: a Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein | Rothstein describes how the American government systematically imposed residential segregation: with undisguised racial zoning; public housing that purposefully segregated previously mixed communities; subsidies for builders to create whites-only suburbs; tax exemptions for institutions that enforced segregation; and support for violent resistance to African Americans in white neighborhoods.
A More Beautiful & Terrible History: the Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History by Jeanne Theoharis | The civil rights movement has become national legend, lauded by presidents from Reagan to Obama to Trump, as proof of the power of American democracy. This fable, featuring dreamy heroes and accidental heroines, has shuttered the movement firmly in the past, whitewashed the forces that stood in its way, and diminished its scope. And it is used perniciously in our own times to chastise present-day movements and obscure contemporary injustice.
Blood in the Water: the Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson | The searing and indelible account of one of the most important civil rights stories of the last century, shedding new light on every aspect of the uprising and its legacy and giving voice to all those who took part in this forty-five-year fight for justice: prisoners, former hostages, families of the victims, lawyers and judges, and state officials and members of law enforcement.
The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson | In 1955, white men in the Mississippi Delta lynched a fourteen-year-old from Chicago named Emmett Till. His murder was part of a wave of white terrorism in the wake of the 1954 Supreme Court decision that declared public school segregation unconstitutional. Till’s lynching became the most notorious hate crime in American history. But what actually happened to Emmett Till—not the icon of injustice, but the flesh-and-blood boy? Part detective story, part political history, this story draws on a wealth of new evidence, including a shocking admission of Till’s innocence from the woman in whose name he was killed.
Medical Apartheid: the Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington | The first comprehensive history of medical experimentation on African Americans. Starting with the earliest encounters between Africans and Western medical researchers and the racist pseudoscience that resulted, it details the way both slaves and freedmen were used in hospitals for experiments conducted without a hint of informed consent—a tradition that continues today within some black populations.
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson | A masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings.
The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson | This epic masterwork chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life.
Wilmington’s Lie: the Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy by David Zucchino | From Pulitzer Prize-winner David Zucchino comes a searing account of the Wilmington riot and coup of 1898, an extraordinary event unknown to most Americans.
Mass Incarceration & Police Brutality
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander | By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness.
Policing the Black Man by Angela Davis | Explores and critiques the many ways the criminal justice system impacts the lives of African American boys and men at every stage of the criminal process from arrest through sentencing.
Locking Up Our Own by James Forman | Seeks to understand the war on crime that began in the 1970s and why it was supported by many African American leaders in the nation’s urban centers. A former D.C. public defender, Forman tells riveting stories of politicians, community activists, police officers, defendants, and crime victims. This book enriches our understanding of why our society became so punitive and offers important lessons to anyone concerned about the future of race and the criminal justice system in this country.
The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton | An extraordinary testament to the power of hope sustained through the darkest times. Destined to be a classic memoir of wrongful imprisonment and freedom won, Hinton’s memoir tells his dramatic thirty-year journey and shows how you can take away a man’s freedom, but you can’t take away his imagination, humor, or joy.
Just Mercy: a Story of Justice & Redemption by Bryan Stevenson | Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.
Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho | This book takes on all the questions, large and small, insensitive and taboo, many white Americans are afraid to ask–yet which all Americans need the answers to, now more than ever. With the same open-hearted generosity that has made his video series a phenomenon, Acho explains the vital core of such fraught concepts as white privilege, cultural appropriation, and “reverse racism.”
White Rage: the Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson | From the end of the Civil War to the tumultuous issues in America today, an acclaimed historian reframes the conversation about race, chronicling the powerful forces opposed to black progress in America.
Motherhood So White by Nefertiti Austin | In America, Mother = White. That’s what Nefertiti, a single African American woman, discovered when she decided she wanted to adopt a Black baby boy out of the foster care system. Eager to finally join the motherhood ranks, Nefertiti was shocked when people started asking her why she wanted to adopt a “crack baby” or said that she would never be able to raise a Black son on her own.
Why Didn’t We Riot: A Black Man in Trumpland by Issac J. Bailey | In this book, South Carolina-based journalist Issac J. Bailey reflects on a wide range of topics that have been increasingly dividing Americans, from police brutality and Confederate symbols to poverty and respectability politics.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin | A national bestseller when it first appeared in 1963, The Fire Next Time galvanized the nation, gave passionate voice to the emerging civil rights movement—and still lights the way to understanding race in America today.
White Feminism: From the Suffragettes to Influencers and Who They Leave Behind by Koa Beck | A timely and impassioned exploration of how our society has commodified feminism and continues to systemically shut out women of color.
Between the World & Me by 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.
Eloquent Rage: a Black Feminist Discovers her Superpower by Brittany C. Cooper | In the Black feminist tradition of Audre Lorde, Brittney Cooper reminds us that anger is a powerful source of energy that can give us the strength to keep on fighting.
A Peculiar Indifference: The Neglected Toll of Violence on Black America by Elliott Currie | In the United States today, a young black man has a sixteen times greater chance of dying from violence than his white counterpart. Violence takes more years of life from black men than cancer, stroke, and diabetes combined. Even black women are more affected by violence than white men, despite its usual gender patterns. These disparities translate into starkly divergent experiences of life and death for whites and blacks in the United States. Yet aside from occasional flare-ups of violence that periodically hit the headlines, the problem has largely receded into the background of public discussion and has nearly disappeared as a target of public policy.
Evicted: Poverty & Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond | Evicted transforms our understanding of poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving one of twenty-first-century America’s most devastating problems. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.
White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin J. DiAngelo | Explores the counterproductive reactions white people have when discussing racism that serve to protect their positions and maintain racial inequality.
White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad | Taking us from the slave era, when white women fought in court to keep “ownership” of their slaves, through the centuries of colonialism, when they offered a soft face for brutal tactics, to the modern workplace, White Tears/Brown Scars tells a charged story of white women’s active participation in campaigns of oppression. It offers a long overdue validation of the experiences of women of color.
How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi | “The only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it — and then dismantle it.” Ibram X. Kendi’s concept of antiracism reenergizes and reshapes the conversation about racial justice in America—but even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other.
Stamped from the Beginning: the Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi | Some Americans insist that we’re living in a post-racial society. But racist thought is not just alive and well in America—it is more sophisticated and more insidious than ever.
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo | A current, constructive, and actionable exploration of today’s racial landscape, offering straightforward clarity that readers of all races need to contribute to the dismantling of the racial divide.
Speaking of Race: Constructive Conversations about an Explosive Topic by Patricia Roberts-Miller | From a scholar of communication, a guide to healing our fractured discourse on race and racism by infusing the topic with more constructive and enriching dialogue.
Me & White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad | This eye-opening book challenges you to do the essential work of unpacking your biases, and helps white people take action and dismantle the privilege within themselves so that you can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on people of color, and in turn, help other white people do better, too.
How We Fight White Supremacy: a Field Guide to Black Resistance by Akiba Solomon | This celebration of Black resistance, from protests to art to sermons to joy, offers a blueprint for the fight for freedom and justice—and ideas for how each of us can contribute.
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum | Walk into any racially mixed high school and you will see Black, White, and Latino youth clustered in their own groups. Is this self-segregation a problem to address or a coping strategy? Beverly Daniel Tatum, a renowned authority on the psychology of racism, argues that straight talk about our racial identities is essential if we are serious about enabling communication across racial and ethnic divides.
Black Fatigue: How Racism Erodes the Mind, Body, and Spirit by Mary-Frances Winters | Presents information about the intergenerational impact of systemic racism on the physical and psychological health of African Americans and explains why and how society needs to collectively do more to combat its pernicious effects.
Dispatches from the Race War by Tim J. Wise | In this collection of essays, renowned social-justice advocate Tim Wise confronts racism in contemporary America. Seen through the lens of major flashpoints during the Obama and Trump years, Dispatches from the Race War faces the consequences of white supremacy in all its forms. This includes a discussion of the bigoted undertones of the Tea Party’s backlash, the killing of Trayvon Martin, current day anti-immigrant hysteria, the rise of openly avowed white nationalism, the violent policing of African Americans, and more. Wise devotes a substantial portion of the book to explore the racial ramifications of COVID-19, and the widespread protests which followed the police murder of George Floyd.
FOR TEENS & TWEENS
Dear Martin by Nic Stone | Justyce McAllister is a good kid, an honor student, and always there to help a friend–but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas | Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon | When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white. In the aftermath of Tariq’s death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up.
The Stars Beneath our Feet by David Barclay Moore | A boy tries to steer a safe path through the projects in Harlem in the wake of his brother’s death.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds | In this New York Times bestselling novel, two teens–one black, one white–grapple with the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson | National Book Award Winner Jacqueline Woodson, the acclaimed author of Another Brooklyn , tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.
Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America by Ibi Aanu Zoboi | An essential collection of captivating stories about what it’s like to be young and Black in America. A selection of the Schomburg Center’s Black Liberation Reading List.
We Are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson and Tonya Bolden | A young adult adaptation of the New York Times bestselling White Rage is essential antiracist reading for teens.
This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell | Who are you? What is racism? Where does it come from? Why does it exist? What can you do to disrupt it? Learn about social identities, the history of racism and resistance against it, and how you can use your anti-racist lens and voice to move the world toward equity and liberation.
March Book One by John Lewis | A graphic novel memoir of the late Congressman John Lewis (Georgia), who was an American icon and one of the key figures of the civil rights movement.
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds | A timely, crucial, and empowering exploration of racism—and antiracism—in America.
Picture Books/Board Books:
Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry | Tender and empowering, Hair Love is an ode to loving your natural hair — and a celebration of daddies and daughters everywhere.
We March by Shane Evans | On August 28, 1963, more than 250,000 people gathered in our nation’s capital to participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march ended with a rally at the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech. In this book, the thrill of the day is brought to life for even the youngest reader to experience.
Who We Are! All About Bring the Same and Being Different by Robie H. Harris | New York Times best-selling author Robie H. Harris helps preschoolers understand what makes us who we are – from our height to our hair, from the shade of our skin to our eyesight.
Not My Idea: a Book about Whiteness by Anastasia Higgenbotham | A picture book about racism and racial justice, inviting white children and parents to become curious about racism, accept that it’s real, and cultivate justice.
A Girl Like Me by Angela Johnson | This inspiring picture book brings together a poem by acclaimed author Angela Johnson and Nina Crews’s distinctive photocollage illustrations to celebrate girls of color.
The Colors of Us by Karen Katz | A positive and affirming look at skin color, from an artist’s perspective.
Going Down Home with Daddy by Kelly Starling Lyons | In this rich and moving celebration of history, culture, and ritual, Kelly Starling Lyons’ eloquent text explores the power of family traditions.
Hands Up by Breanna J. McDaniel | A young black girl lifts her baby hands up to greet the sun, reaches her hands up for a book on a high shelf, and raises her hands up in praise at a church service. And when she gets a little older, she joins together with her family and her community in a protest march, where they lift their hands up together in resistance and strength.
M is for Melanin: a Celebration of the Black Child by Tiffany Rose | M Is for Melanin is an empowering alphabet book that teaches kids their ABCs and celebrates Black children.
Lillian’s Right to Vote: a Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by Jonah Winter | An elderly African American woman, en route to vote, remembers her family’s tumultuous voting history in this picture book publishing in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes | A powerful coming-of-age story about two brothers, one who presents as white, the other as black, and the complex ways in which they are forced to navigate the world, all while training for a fencing competition.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Garcia-Williams | In the summer of 1968, after travelling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold welcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp.
Hammering for Freedom: the William Lewis Story by Rita L. Hubbard | Winner of Lee & Low’s New Voices Award, Hammering for Freedom tells the true story of one man’s skill, hard work, and resolve to keep his family together.
The Youngest Marcher: the Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson | Meet the youngest known child to be arrested for a civil rights protest in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963, in this moving picture book that proves you’re never too little to make a difference.
Child of the Civil Rights Movement by Paula Young Shelton | Paula Young Shelton shares her memories of the civil rights movement and her involvement in the historic march from Selma to Montgomery.