7 Books You Should Be Reading During Black History Month

updated May 3, 2019
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I’m the first to get ridiculously excited about a good reading list, but Black History Month is something special—not to mention a time to honor the history of black Americans and further your education about past and present issues. From biographies to historical fiction to memoirs (and even a classic children’s book), here’s a starting point for what you should be reading during Black History Month and beyond.

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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Image credit: Amazon)

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

In Whitehead’s award-winning story (and by many accounts, the best book of 2016), the Underground Railroad is no symbol; it’s a literal secret network of tracks and tunnels crossing beneath the Southern landscape. The tale follows the journey of two slaves, Cora and Caesar, in a narrative that blends history with present day issues.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Throughout this series of essays—all penned as letters from the author to his son—Coates takes a head-on approach to the idea of race in America and the way it has shaped and been shaped by history. An exploration of everything from personal events to history, this book offers up difficult questions and works to answer them, too. (It’s also one of the options for NYC’s inaugural citywide book club.)

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Set in rural Georgia, this Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner focuses on the lives of women of color in the South during the 1930s. It’s a forthright portrayal of difficult truths – and the instances of abuse and sometimes violent content make this a story not for the faint of heart.

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

A Newberry Award winner set during the Great Depression and segregation, this piece of children’s literature follows the life of the Logan family as they struggle to keep their cotton farm. A popular elementary and middle school book, this book is just as important of a read for adults.

This biography hones in on the complex Malcolm X, following the trajectory of his life, from a troubled youth to his rise as an activist and leader in the world of black nationalism to the story of his assassination at the age of thirty-nine. Called a definitive work that clearly captures the story of a man and force for social change, it’s a must-read.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Passionate, lyrical and dazzling, this testament to the strength and endurance of women – and one woman in particular, the main character Janie – was effectively rediscovered by author Alice Walker in the 1970s and has since become a seminal work in women’s and African American literature.

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

The incredible, true and previously untold story of the black female mathematicians who made behind the scenes contributions to some of NASA’s greatest accomplishments, this book (and the recently released film based on it) is an amazing addition to round out your list.

Are any of these books on your to be read list? What books would you add for Black History Month?