A selected list of nonfiction books about African American history and the African American experience.
Three exhibits (200 works) by African American artists (125) were shown between 2004 and 2005. All of the artists lived in LA, were trained in LA, or educated in LA between 1945 to 2003. As each artist struggled to gain recognition by established institutions, they generated interest in their art that never before existed.
Exposes many of the myths plaguing African American families.
This book is a companion to the PBS documentary DVD, and includes more detailed information about the 500-year history of people of African descent who have lived in the United States.
This is the full harrowing, first-person narrative of one man's capture, enslavement, life as a slave and his life after emancipation. Zora Neale Hurston transcribed Kossula's remembrances in the original vernacular, as he recounted his experiences as a 19-year-old, in 1860, and how he was captured, tortured, chained, put on a slave ship and taken to a strange place. The date of his capture is important because it is a reminder that even the 1808 Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves did nothing to stop the insidious practice of importing slaves to the United States.
The journalist and social commentator describes his upbringing in 1980s Baltimore.
With candor and class, former First Lady Michelle Obama recounts her personal life from growing up on the South Side of Chicago in a working class family; years of study at Princeton and Harvard; being a lawyer, a wife and mother; and the wife of the first African American President.
Susan Burton's life took a dive into hell when her five-year-old son was killed by a van driving down her street. She began self-medicating, taking increasingly stronger illegal drugs, and for over fifteen years Burton was in and out of prison. By chance she found a private drug rehab facility and turned her life around. Through her organization, A New Way of Life, Ms. Burton is now an advocate for formerly incarcerated women.
By looking at the life, struggles and work of James Baldwin, Princeton professor Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., reminds us that the fight for equitable change is always with us. Baldwin's brilliant insights are matched by Glaude's brilliant ability to bring new light to old problems, and that complacency and weariness are not acceptable.
Considered by none other than Toni Morrison to be “required reading,” Coates' collection of essays delves into what it means to be black in American society. Intimate and personal, yet far-reaching in its criticisms, this book’s unflinching honesty takes the status quo to task. Coates examines race and racism in America, both past and present, through the lens of his own full-life experience, in this open letter to his son.
An in-depth resource about African American achievements.
This is a long overdue appreciation and history about a blues guitar great. Based on numerous hours of interviews with family members and musicians, and in-depth research that includes information about Chess Records and other musicians of the day.
Many African Americans migrated to Los Angeles during the first half of the 20th century in search of a better life, but frequently encountered segregated schools, racially restrictive housing covenants, and institutionalized racism. Flamming chronicles Los Angeles's black community and the fight for civil rights in Los Angeles through the Jazz Age, the Great Depression, and World War II.
Reflecting on African American life, culture and contributions, which are currently confronted by modern racism and violence, Imani Perry writes a letter of exultation and caution to her two sons. Generous in scope and thought, her words speak to all of us, no matter who we are, to do and be better.
This is a compelling examination of America's history of racism and injustice through the lens of caste systems, comparing American society to caste systems of Indian and Nazi Germany. The connections are startling, disturbing,awakening and offer us a different framework and vocabulary to come to terms with the fractures in our society today.
André Leon Talley is one of the best educated fashion journalists, who has been analyzing and reporting about fashion for over 40 years. And, he has seen it all, and then some. Without pettiness or anger, he melds memoir and fashion history.
Offers a historical look through photographs celebrating civil rights and equality for all Americans.
What are cowboys, with stables, horses, and riding gear, doing in the city? These friends are doing good things for themselves and the community, by putting the kibosh on racial and neighborhood stereotypes, and instilling a sense of purpose and pride in children, teens, and adults.
Meet the war correspondents, Red Cross workers, activists, entertainers, and others who did extraordinary things to help their country during World War II.
Historian Jacqueline Jones traces the lives of six African Americans to illustrate that the idea of "race" in America is purely a myth.
With the goal of becoming a lawyer, fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Eckford was selected as one of nine black students to integrate the all-white Little Rock Central High School in 1957. On the first day of classes the eight other students were advised to arrive at school as a group escorted by local ministers, but without a telephone Elizabeth never received word about this plan. As she stoically approached the campus by herself, she was mobbed by adult segregationists who hurled the most hateful and violent racial epithets at her. An iconic photograph captured white student Hazel Bryan, also fifteen, spewing venom at Elizabeth. Years later Hazel contacted Elizabeth to apologize, and for a time, the two women formed a friendship.
Dr, Mae Jemison is an engineer, physician, and was a member of the Peace Corps and a NASA astronaut. In 1992 she was the first African American woman astronaut to travel in space. She is the principal of The 100 Year Starship organization, and has written a book for children about the program.
Dunbar, which was an academically elite public school that produced highly educated and high-achieving Black Americans in the first half of the twentieth century, now struggles like many other urban schools. Journalist Alison Stewart recounts Dunbar’s rise, fall and current revival.
The untold story of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion of African-American soldiers, whose contributions to the D-Day landing is documented through interviews and military records.
Leovoy outlines a “ghettoside” killing (slaying of a young black man by another) in South Los Angeles, and the dedicated detective who pursues the assailant. This book follows the case and uses it to explore larger sociological questions about crime and policing.
A book that is as unusual in format and style as is its subject, Octavia Butler. This work is based on the research done by Lynell George, who had access to Butler's archive of more than 300 boxes, housed at The Huntington Library. Butler saved so much, and there are clues to the history of her life, how she created, and what it was like to be a woman of color during her time. The timing of this book's publishing is a match for the incredible work being done at the Los Angeles Public Library's Octavia Lab.
An excellent resource covering “people, times, and events” that impacted African American history.
Madam C. J. Walker was the first African American woman millionaire. She developed a line of hair products specifically created for African American women. Born in 1867 on a plantation, her rags to riches story is filled with her ability to overcome personal and racial obstacles.
During and after World War II among the female human computers, who were subsumed within aeronautics, there was another group of female human computers who were submerged because they were African Americans. This book recounts the lives of some of those African American women who worked as calculators, and then as mathematicians and engineers for NASA and its precursors. This is their story, at long last revealed, as the author shines a light on the stellar work of a group of African American women, whose contributions were not fully known by enough people.
Jim Grimsley was only eleven years old when federally mandated integration of schools went into effect. In this coming-of-age memoir, he reflects on his own childhood prejudices and what he learned about race from his family and community.
Roxane Gay subconsciously dealt with an unspeakable sexual assault in her youth by eating, rendering herself invisible behind her own flesh. Now, decades later, Gay is morbidly obese and learning the myriad ways this world is not made for fat people. Written with her characteristic candor, this memoir devastates and unsettles with every turned page.
Stephen Carter's biography is about his grandmother and lawyer, Eunice Hunton Carter, who overcame gender and racial prejudice. In the legal profession she was a force to be reckoned with, having put together a plan to take down Lucky Luciano, head of the Mafia. During the 1940s she was the most famous African American women in the United States,
Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, recounts one of his first cases, Walter McMillian, a young man sentenced to die for a murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The author straightforwardly tells of his experience as a lawyer defending, among others, those on death row, those too harshly punished for crimes committed when they were children, and those victimized by a system that rewards wealth in this book making the case, in the process, for a reformation of our country’s way of dealing justice.
A significant documentary that follows Martin Luther King, Jr.'s last three years of life. The film " ... unearths a stirring new perspective into Dr. King's character, his radical doctrine of nonviolence, and his internal philosophical struggles prior to his death, inviting a sense of penetrating intimacy and insight into one of the most profound thinkers of our time." His final years were a time of conflict for King, within the African American community and elsewhere, because his nonviolence was seen as a hindrance to progress, and his anti-Vietnam War opinions were seen as divisive.
Marian Wright Edelman is the founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund. She has long been an advocate for the rights of children, in particular those who cannot speak for themselves because of poverty, abuse and discrimination. Her memoir is a celebratory homage to those who mentored her throughout her life.
Misty Copeland overcame the odds of a dysfunctional home, racism, and a late start with ballet lessons to became a star and soloist with American Ballet Theatre. No matter what the odds, obstacles or pain, in life and in ballet, her autobiography conveys her indomitable spirit and passion for dance.
The first African American woman to own land in California, Biddy Mason was born into slavery in 1818, but won her freedom in a Los Angeles court and purchased a homestead between Broadway and Spring Streets. When she died in 1891, she was one of the wealthiest women and most notable philanthropists in Los Angeles.
Essence is a successful monthly magazine for African American women. Cofounder Edward Lewis' inspirational autobiography recounts his struggles from a poor childhood to his achievement as a major businessman. He does not gloss over the problems in running a large corporation.
Dovey Johnson Roundtree was an African American civil rights leader and activist, an attorney and an ordained minister. She overcame discriminatory obstacles and became a lawyer who for civil rights for African Americans. In 1955, along with her law partner, Julius Winfield Robinson, they won a case presented to the Interstate Commerce Commission that helped overturn Jim Crow laws.
Paul R. Williams was the first African American member and Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. He designed all types of buildings in a variety of styles, from conservative to modern. He lived and practiced in Los Angeles for 50 years.
The conclusion of Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Brion Davis’ trilogy on slavery in Western culture that covers the period from the Haitian Revolution to the Thirteenth Amendment.
Former President Barack Obama's memoir is his most revealing and honest look at his personal and professional life. He writes openly about his wife and daughters and how being President affected all their lives. Most importantly he expresses his concerns for the future of the United States and the world.
Black girls account for more than one in every three girls arrested in schools, and just under one in every three girls referred to law enforcement. This despite the fact that only about one in every seven female students is black. Monique W. Morris explores the myriad ways that black girls are being unfairly criminalized in schools and allowed to fail and/or fall through the cracks.
Bessie Coleman was the first African American woman aviatrix in. Her biography is as exciting and daring as her flying stunts at airshows.
Artist Kara Walker has used silhouettes in a pioneering and innovative form to express social and political commentary about sex, race, violence and injustice. Initially some images appear to be recognizable, and others may look like Rorschach tests, but all of the silhouettes demand closer inspection. Viewers are never unmoved by Walker's art, with favorable and unfavorable criticism which crosses race, class, gender and age.
The story of Simeon Booker, the Washington Bureau chief of Jet, and his coverage of every major event that helped galvanize the civil rights revolution.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe is well-known as the godmother of rock 'n roll who mixed religious and secular styles which angered gospel singers in more conservative churches. In the 1920s she sang at The Cotton Club and Café Society. Despite the efforts of singers like Eric Clapton, B. B. King, and Johnny Cash, she has yet to be inducted into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. Here are some examples of her style from YouTube:
This biography details the life and career of Thurgood Marshall through the lens of his contentious five-day Senate confirmation.
In 2011 Ryan Speedo Green won the New York Metropolitan Opera's national competition. How he got there is a celebratory story of how a young African American man overcame violence and hopelessness. Check out his website.
After the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling, Virginia’s Prince Edward County refused to desegregate, choosing to lock and chain its doors and remain closed for five years instead. Author Kristen Green recounts stories of families divided by the school closures and in the process, learns of her own family’s role.
In 1939, Marian Anderson was to perform at Howard University, which did not have space to accomodate a large event. Constitution Hall was a possible venue, owned by the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution), but their contract had a "white-artist-only clause" with segregated seating in the concert hall. They refused to book the singer. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a member of the DAR, sent a letter of resignation and wrote about it in her weekly column. Raymond Arsenault documents where internationally acclaimed opera singer Marian Anderson's concert was performed, in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
A true diva is a distinguished female opera singer who strives for the best in her own work and expects the same from everyone with whom she works in order to create a marvelous experience for an audience. Jessye Norman is the full embodiment of a diva on stage and off, always striving for the best in life and art.
On May 15, 2014, Jessye Norman was a guest at Aloud, and you can hear the podcast.
The first essay in Morgan Jerkins’ debut collection is a story about how, as a young black schoolgirl, she had been rejected by the cheerleading squad because “they don’t accept monkeys like you on the team.” And thus begins a no-holds-barred catechism of what life is like for African-American girls and women. You’re gonna want to take notes.
Professor and author Bert Ashe chronicles his decision to dreadlock his hair and through the process, discovers the nuances of black identity and the complexities of race and politics
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Wilkerson examines the migration of nearly 6 million African Americans from the South for the North and the West between World War I and the 1970s through the stories of three individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who left rural Mississippi for Chicago in the 1930s; George Swanson Starling, who set out for Harlem in the 1940s; and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster, who became a Los Angeles physician after leaving Louisiana in the 1950s.
Artist, intellectual, and organizer from Sherman Oaks, CA co-founded a global movement with a hashtag #Black Lives Matter in response to the acquittal granted to George Zimmerman after his murder of Trayvon Martin. A memoir of one person’s drive to make the world better for people of color, provoked by the her daily fear for her brother and the harsh realities of being a black man in America. Patrisse Khan-Cullors intimately shows the reader her fight to preserve the dignity and respect for the people she loves and respects.
A report of the various threats America's historic black colleges and universities are facing and how various stakeholders, including administrators, celebrities and alumni, are fighting to keep the schools alive.
One of the big takeaways from the controversy over the Black Lives Matter movement is how little the average non-black person understands the daily, lived realities of African-Americans. Enter Phoebe Robinson. With disarming and often knee-slapping humor, the actress-writer-comedian offers a glimpse into the myriad unseen ways that blacks and other POCs (people of color) are othered, marginalized, or discriminated against on a daily basis, from being followed around in stores, to being expected to field intrusive questions and speak for the entirety of the black race, to the titular invasion of personal space when a white person wants to know if natural black hair feels like steel wool (spoiler alert: it doesn’t).