There are many great works to celebrate the lives and accomplishments of African Americans. To choose only a few seems unfair and difficult. While I will review the selection I feel best represent the African American story, I strongly encourage you to seek out other books by other authors that provide vivid accounts and detailed descriptions of this cultural struggle.
Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
Author: Barack Obama
This is a detailed account of Obama’s personal struggle to understand the shaping forces that were, making him the son of an African father and a white American mother. This story follows Barack on the quest to understand himself. Eventually, he is lead to the ancestral home of his great aunt in a tiny African village, after the death of his father in a car accident. Barack had been working with Chicago’s inner city to turn back the despair and he found he became one with these people and their cause. In Chicago he learned the value of community, healing old wounds, and faith in the face of adversity. Facing some tuff truths about his father, Barack shifts his focus to the people of the village. With so much poverty and tribal conflict, it was truly remarkable to him that they had a spirit of endurance and hope. He discovers he is bound to brothers and sisters an ocean away and that by finding common ground with their struggle he can reconcile his divided inheritance.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
Author: Maya Angelou
This famous work is the storyteller doing what she does best, telling the story; her story. These are the memoirs of Maya Angelou growing up in a rural community in the 1930’s. As only she can, describing the courage and dignity of black men and women, sometimes giving a disturbing picture of the people and times that touched and shaped her life.
The Souls of Black Folks
Author: W.E.B. Du Bois
One of the most widely read and influential works in African American literature. It is a collection of essays, detailing the state of black culture and racism at the beginning of the 20th century. Du Bois, one of the founding members of the NAACP laid the ground work for the entire debate that would eventually become the civil rights movement. The book created the argument for the black freedom struggle and the pursuit of higher education for Negroes. This gave rise to the black middle class.
A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Author: Martin Luther King, Jr. and James M. Washington
No collection of African American History books would be complete without a work by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This is the only major one-volume collection of the prophet’s writings, speeches, interviews, and autobiographical reflections. It contains essential thoughts on nonviolence, social policy, integration, Black Nationalism, and the ethics of love and hope. From this book you will learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr. than you have probably ever had the opportunity to learn from any other single source. You will feel a true sense of knowing him, not just knowing of him.
1001 Things Everyone Should Know about African American History
Author: Jeffrey C. Stewart
This is probably the most complete listing of significant events, people, and social processes of African American History. The book covers 6 broad sections; Great Migrations, Civil Rights and Politics, Science, Inventions and Medicine, Sports, Military, and Culture and Religion.
From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans
Author: John Hope Franklin and Alfred A Moss Jr.
An account of the experiences of African Americans from the time they left Africa to their struggle for equality in the twentieth century. It was originally published in 1947 and stood as the history of African Americas. You are given a vivid account of the journey from their origins, through the years of slavery, to the successful struggle for freedom. The period after slavery is covered, including the struggles faced for first class citizenship.
African American Firsts: Famous Little-Known and Unsung Triumphs of Blacks in America
Author: Joan Potter
There is over 400 entries and 75 pages of photographs in the wonderful book spanning the beginning of the country until 2002 when the book was published. Details are often given of the harassment and persecution individuals faced on their path to achievement. You will find reasons to rejoice and reasons to feel sorrow. It covers a wide selections of areas in which African Americans have overcome.
Untold Glory: African Americans in Pursuit of Freedom, Opportunity, and Achievement
Author: Alan Govenar
There is 27 interviews focusing on the power of determination in confronting and overcoming discrimination for each of the individuals interviewed. There are people with birth dates ranging from 1907 to 1957 and they provide a picture of the changing decades. These ordinary people include a bank president, baseball player, welfare rights organizer, tap dancer, engineer, and a blues musician. Each story is an inspiring tale of African American Achievement.
Timelines of African-American History
Author: T. Cowan
This book covers 500 years of black achievement from 1492 – 1993. It is a great tool for teachers and educators of African American History. Often thought of as the encyclopedia of African American History, while there is much need for updates since 1993 it is still a great tool and book.
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Author: Zora Neale Hurston
This is a novel that follows the fortunes of Janie Crawford, a woman living in the black town of Eaton, Florida. Hurston received much criticism for the fact that she did not write about black people in a white world. Hurston was also accused of pandering to the white reader because she seemed to give them the black stereotypes they were expecting. It took decades before her work was seen for what it truly was, her depictions of black life especially women. Despite Hurston’s successes during the 1930’s, stories in major magazines, consulting on Hollywood screenplays, penning 4 novels, countless essays, an autobiography, and 2 books on black mythology, by the 1950’s she was living in Florida working as a hotel maid. She died in 1960 while living in welfare housing and was buried in an unmarked grave.