February is Black History Month, and it’s this time every year that we honor, celebrate, and highlight the achievements of African Americans that have helped shape our nation.
Reading books written by Black authors or about Black history is a great way to amplify those underrepresented voices, learn from personal experiences, and help contextualize systemic issues for those who are not impacted by them firsthand. It can help to deepen our understanding of the ongoing struggle for racial equality and justice, and provide a greater appreciation for black culture.
If you’re looking for a place to start your journey, we’ve picked out a short list of wonderful reads for Black History Month. These 12 books get to the heart of many of the racial issues from our country’s past, leading into the present, as well as how to make a better future. All of these books freely are available through FSU Libraries. Check out the catalog on our website to search for more titles!
by Nikole Hannah-Jones &The New York Times Magazine
The award-winning “1619 Project” issue reframed our understanding of American history by placing slavery and its continuing legacy at the center of our national narrative. This new book substantially expands on that work, weaving together eighteen essays that explore the legacy of slavery in present-day America with thirty-six poems and works of fiction that illuminate key moments of oppression, struggle, and resistance. The essays show how the inheritance of 1619 reaches into every part of contemporary American society, from politics, music, diet, traffic, and citizenship to capitalism, religion, and our democracy itself.
by Ralph Ellison
“Invisible Man” is a thought-provoking and witty story about race that is beautifully narrated by a young, nameless Black man in 1950s America in search of self-knowledge. Readers are taken on a journey from the Deep South to Harlem, where the protagonist experiences horrifying intolerance, cultural blindness and racial bigotry all in an effort to find the true meaning of self-identity.
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
In “Between the World and Me” Ta-Nehisi Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, “Between the World and Me” clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.
by Alice Walker
Celie is a poor black woman whose letters tell the story of 20 years of her life, beginning at age 14 when she is being abused and raped by her father and attempting to protect her sister from the same fate, and continuing over the course of her marriage to “Mister,” a brutal man who terrorizes her. Celie eventually learns that her abusive husband has been keeping her sister’s letters from her and the rage she feels, combined with an example of love and independence provided by her close friend Shug, pushes her finally toward an awakening of her creative and loving self.
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. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
Image and description courtesy of Goodreads.
by Clint Smith
Beginning in his hometown of New Orleans, Clint Smith leads the reader on an unforgettable tour of monuments and landmarks—those that are honest about the past and those that are not—that offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in shaping our nation’s collective history, and ourselves. A deeply researched and transporting exploration of the legacy of slavery and its imprint on centuries of American history, “How the Word Is Passed” illustrates how some of our country’s most essential stories are hidden in plain view—whether in places we might drive by on our way to work, holidays such as Juneteenth, or entire neighborhoods like downtown Manhattan, where the brutal history of the trade in enslaved men, women, and children has been deeply imprinted.
Image and description courtesy of Goodreads.
by Michelle Alexander
“The New Jim Crow” is a stunning account of the rebirth of a caste-like system in the United States, one that has resulted in millions of African Americans locked behind bars and then relegated to a permanent second-class status—denied the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement. The novel challenges the civil rights community—and all of us—to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.
by Mehrsa Baradarian
When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, the black community owned less than 1 percent of the total wealth in America. More than 150 years later, that number has barely budged. “The Color of Money” seeks to explain the stubborn persistence of this racial wealth gap by focusing on the generators of wealth in the black community: black banks.
Image and description provided by Amazon.
by Colson Whitehead
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned, and Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.
Image and description provided by Penguin Random House.
by Kiese Laymon
In “Heavy,” the author Kiese Laymon writes eloquently and honestly about growing up a hard-headed black son to a complicated and brilliant black mother in Jackson, Mississippi. From his early experiences of sexual violence, to his suspension from college, to his trek to New York as a young college professor, he charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and ultimately gambling. By attempting to name secrets and lies he and his mother spent a lifetime avoiding, Laymon asks himself, his mother, his nation, and us to confront the terrifying possibility that few in this nation actually know how to responsibly love, and even fewer want to live under the weight of actually becoming free.
Image and description provided by Simon & Schuster.
by Brit Bennett
The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?
Image and description provided by Goodreads.
by James McBride
In September 1969, a fumbling, cranky old church deacon known as Sportcoat shuffles into the courtyard of the Cause Houses housing project in south Brooklyn, pulls a .38 from his pocket, and, in front of everybody, shoots the project’s drug dealer at point-blank range. The author brings to vivid life the people affected by the shooting: the victim, the residents who witnessed it, the local cops assigned to investigate, and the neighborhood’s Italian mobsters. When the truth does emerge, McBride shows us that not all secrets are meant to be hidden, that the best way to grow is to face change without fear, and that the seeds of love lie in hope and compassion.
Image and description provided by Goodreads.
This blog post was written by Kaylan Williams, Student Engagement Assistant at FSU Libraries.