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African American History Month: Non-Fiction

Updated: February 3, 2020

A selected list of nonfiction books about African American history and the African American experience.

Call Number: 709.794 A2585

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.


Rogers, W. Sherman.
Call Number: 338.0973 R731
Highlights of the history of African American entrepreneurship in the United States from the 1600s to the present.

Hattery, Angela.
Call Number: 301.45096 H366

Exposes many of the myths plaguing African American families.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr,
Call Number: 301.45096 G2585-8

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.

Spangenburg, Ray, 1939-
Call Number: 509.73 S735 2012
This book is in encyclopedic format, A to Z, and covers the contributions of African Americans in science, mathematics and invention. Brief profiles of 162 African American astronauts, physicists, chemists, biologists, agricultural specialists and others, both living and deceased, are accompanied by recommendations for further readings

Gay, Roxane,
Call Number: 301.412 G2855
Being a feminist isn’t about being a perfect, platonic ideal of womanhood. Instead, Roxane Gay writes a series of essays about a feminism that acknowledges (and frequently examines) the individual pieces of her life and her experiences, allowing for inconsistencies and rough edges that grind against other aspects of her life and identity. The result is an autobiographical exploration of life and culture that is honest, compelling, and very, very funny.

Hurston, Zora Neale,
Call Number: 326.09 H966

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.

Coates, Ta-Nehisi
Call Number: 301.45096 C652

The journalist and social commentator describes his upbringing in 1980s Baltimore.

Obama, Michelle, 1964-
Call Number: 92 O1166-1

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.

Burton, Susan,
Call Number: 351.765092 B974

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.

Coates, Ta-Nehisi,
Call Number: 301.45096 C652-1

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.


Call Number: 301.45096 B6275-13 2013

An in-depth resource about African American achievements.

Needleman, Ruth, 1945-
Call Number: 331.63 N375
Examines the perseverance of African American steel workers in Indiana and their fight for unionism and economic and racial justice.

Lusane, Clarence, 1953-
Call Number: 301.45096 L968-1
A fascinating history of the White House from an African American perspective, covering such topics as slavery, the abolitionist movement, and African American White House staff.

Hardesty, Von, 1939-
Call Number: 629.130973 H259-1
Richly illustrated with photographs and color poster reproductions, this coffee table book by curator Von Hardesty of the National Air and Space Museum, recounts the lives and contributions of African American aviators and astronauts. There is a chapter on the Tuskegee Airmen, subject of a recent

Call Number: 959.7 B6555
A series of gripping first-person accounts from African American soldiers who served in the Vietnam War and the effects the experience had on their lives once they returned home.

Goins, Wayne E,
Call Number: 789.14 R7267Go

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.

Flamming, Douglas.
Call Number: 979.41 L881Fl
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.

Perry, Imani, 1972-
Call Number: 301.45096 P463

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.

Arnesen, Eric.
Call Number: 331.7656 A748
A history of African American labor activism and experiences working on the railroads.

Call Number: 323.4 C5826-11

Offers a historical look through photographs celebrating civil rights and equality for all Americans.


Stevenson, Brenda E.
Call Number: 343.1 D812St
The story of the 1991 murder trial of a 15-year-old African American girl shot by a Korean liquor store owner for shoplifting a bottle of orange juice, and the Jewish judge who sentenced the shooter “to probation, community service and a $500 fine.”  This trial was the start of what led to the 1992 LA riots following the Rodney King verdict.

Twitty, Michael
Call Number: 641.0975 T974

Food historian Michael Twitty examines his own culinary roots, traditions and recipes and of Southern food, and critiques how these reflect our views on race, provenance and many social issues.

Mullenbach, Cheryl
Call Number: 940.5315326 M958

Meet the war correspondents, Red Cross workers, activists, entertainers, and others who did extraordinary things to help their country during World War II.


Jones, Jacqueline, 1948-
Call Number: 323.1 J775

Historian Jacqueline Jones traces the lives of six African Americans to illustrate that the idea of "race" in America is purely a myth.


Call Number: 641.092 L673Ed

A collection of essays that pay tribute to cookbook writer, master chef and outspoken activist.  She brought proper attention to good Southern cooking.

Margolick, David.
Call Number: 371.974 M329

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.

Jemison, Mae
Call Number: 629.450092 J49

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.

Stewart, Alison, 1966-
Call Number: 373.73 D898St

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.

Zieger, Robert H.
Call Number: 331.63 Z66
Discusses the efforts and struggles of African Americans working for racial and labor equality throughout different periods in American history.

Hervieux, Linda,
Call Number: 940.5315326 H579

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. 


Moye, J. Todd.
Call Number: 940.544973 M938
As director of the National Park Service's Tuskegee Airmen Oral History Project, Moye helped to conduct over 800 interviews with Tuskegee Airmen and others who worked at the Tuskegee Army Air Field from 1941-1945. Their stories, in their own words, are told here.

Leovy, Jill.
Call Number: 364.973 L588

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.


Norris, Michele.
Call Number: 071.092 N857
Interested in the national conversation about race in the wake of Barack Obama's election, journalist and co-host of NPR's All Things Considered Michele Norris set out to investigate her family's own past. In the process, she learns about many things that her family never talks about.

Smith, R. J., 1959-
Call Number: 301.45096 S657
Smith shows how Los Angeles's Central Avenue was a hub for artistic, political, and civic life for African Americans in the 1940s.

Smith, Jessie Carney, 1930-
Call Number: 301.45096 S6513

An excellent resource covering “people, times, and events” that impacted African American history.

Ashe, Arthur.
Call Number: 796.00973 A824
In 1983, Arthur Ashe was asked to teach a course, The Black Athlete in Contemporary Society, at Florida Memorial College's Center for Community Change. Because he could not find the resources needed, Ashe researched and wrote this three-volume history which covers the history of sports in ancient civilizations and the historical achievements of African American athletes who overcame racist obstacles from the seventeenth century through the twentieth century. This monumental work includes narrative explanations and numerous chronological charts for major sports.

Lowry, Beverly.
Call Number: 668.52092 W177Low

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.

Lee Shetterly, Margot.
Call Number: 510.973 L481

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.



Harris, Jessica B.
Call Number: 641.0973 H314
A critically acclaimed history of African American cuisine from popular cookbook author Jessica B. Harris. The book traces partcular foods, cooking methods, food traditions and profiles individual cooks throughout American history; includes photographs and selected recipes.

Grimsley, Jim, 1955-
Call Number: 371.974 G865

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.


Gay, Roxane,
Call Number: 136 G285

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.

Skloot, Rebecca, 1972-
Call Number: 610.71 S628
Explore issues of bioethics, racism, poverty, science, and faith in this investigation into the origins of a line of cells that has and continues to be instrumental to biological and medical research.

Carter, Stephen L., 1954-
Call Number: 810.92 C325

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,

Stevenson, Bryan,
Call Number: 347.092 S847

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.


Call Number: DVD 323.4092 K53Ki-1

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.

Edelman, Marian Wright.
Call Number: 323.4092 E21

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.

Copeland, Misty.
Call Number: 793.324 C782

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.

Mungen, Donna.
Call Number: 979.41 L881Mun

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. 

Marable, Manning, 1950-2011.
Call Number: 322.4092 X1Mar
This is a new biography using recently declassified FBI documents and archival materials from the Nation of Islam - a significant and eye-opening contribution to the field of scholarship on Malcolm X.

Lewis, Edward, 1940-
Call Number: 051.092 L673

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.

Smith, Cheryl A., 1945-
Call Number: 658.31242 S644
Smith provides a unique, current examination of African American business women by interviewing 19 women and their business ventures.  Also, includes a discussion of the historical business ventures and the economic life of African American women in the Colonial Era.

Marshall, Thurgood, 1908-1993.
Call Number: 347.092 M3686-1
This collection of letters written between 1935 and 1957 illustrate Marshall's legal work leading up to his appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Roundtree, Dovey Johnson, 1914-2018,
Call Number: 347.092 R859

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.

Belafonte, Harry, 1927-
Call Number: 789.14 B425-1
My Song recounts Harry Belafonte's seven-decade entertainment career, his life as a social activist, and his experiences as a father and husband. Mr. Belafonte does not mince words when describing his experiences with racial oppression and his encounters with the powerful and privileged.

Jefferson, Margo, 1947-
Call Number: 301.45096 J45
Margo Jefferson shares her autobiographical account of growing up within a unique niche of society: the Black elite of upper-crust Chicago.

Smith, R. J., 1959-
Call Number: 789.14 B8777Sm
As much as Aretha Franklin is The Queen, James Brown is known as The One. That "one" refers to more than his being the one and only, it refers to a certain type of beat/rhythm/philosophy. His roots were in South Carolina, the culture of black slaves and white racism. This new biography delves into the life of a very complex man and musician.

Hudson, Karen E.
Call Number: 720.914 W726Hu folio

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.

Davis, David Brion.
Call Number: 326.0973 D261-4

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.

Morris, Monique W., 1972-
Call Number: 371.97 M877

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.


Rich, Doris L.
Call Number: 629.13092 C692Ri

Bessie Coleman was the first African American woman aviatrix in. Her biography is as exciting and daring as her flying stunts at airshows.

Shaw, Gwendolyn DuBois, 1968-
Call Number: 709.0407 W181Sh

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.

Booker, Simeon, 1918-
Call Number: 323.40973 B724

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.


Wald, Gayle, 1965-
Call Number: 789.14 T367Wa

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:

"That's All!"

"Precious Memories" 


Haygood, Wil,
Call Number: 347.092 M3686Hay

This biography details the life and career of Thurgood Marshall through the lens of his contentious five-day Senate confirmation.

Bell, Derrick A.
Call Number: 371.974 B433
Derrick A. Bell, the first tenured black professor at Harvard, analyzes the continuing repercussions and negative impact of this landmark Supreme Court ruling on the educational needs of African American children.

Bergner, Daniel,
Call Number: 789.14 G7975Be

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.

Call Number: 509.73 S6235
Prefaced with a brief historical introduction, a timeline and several statistical tables, this book has as its centerpiece the author's in-depth interviews with eighteen prominent African American women scientists. The author, Dr. Diann Jordan, is a professor of biology at Alabama State University.

Green, Kristen (Journalist),
Call Number: 371.974 G796

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.


Arsenault, Raymond.
Call Number: 789.14 A548Ar

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.

Norman, Jessye.
Call Number: 789.14 N842

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.

Bloom, Lisa.
Call Number: 352.209759 B655
NBC News analyst Lisa Bloom examines the six biggest mistakes made by Florida prosecutors as well as the racial biases underlying the case.

Jerkins, Morgan,
Call Number: 301.412973 J55

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. 

Ashe, Bert.
Call Number: 301.45096 A824

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

Wilkerson, Isabel.
Call Number: 301.45096 W681
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.

Tuck, Stephen G. N.
Call Number: 323.40973 T889
In this engaging narrative, Tuck places special emphasis on little-known figures and events in the struggle for civil rights in the United States.

Khan-Cullors, Patrisse.
Call Number: 301.45096 K4455

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.


Stodghill, Ron.
Call Number: 371.974 S869

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.

Robinson, Phoebe,
Call Number: 817 R663

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).