Black History Month honors and celebrates the contributions and achievements of African Americans who have helped shape the country. This celebration, which evolved from Carter G.Woodson’s Negro History Week, was originally intended to promote and educate people about Black history and culture.
In that spirit, EBCF staff curated a list of 10 must-read Black history books that celebrate the lives and contributions of African Americans. Each of these books will expand your knowledge and add context to the triumphs of many of the social justice issues embedded within our history. As philanthropists, it is important to learn more about these untold stories in order to enhance our efforts for fair and equitable access to an inclusive economy, housing, education, community health and well-being, and community power.
We invite you to take a look, pick a book, and learn more about Black history this month and every month!
- Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday by Angela Y. Davis. From one of this country’s most important intellectuals comes a brilliant analysis of the blues tradition that examines the careers of three crucial Black women blues singers through a feminist lens. Angela Y. Davis provides the historical, social, and political contexts with which to reinterpret the performances and lyrics of Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday as powerful articulations of an alternative consciousness profoundly at odds with mainstream American culture.
- The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee. Heather McGhee’s specialty is the American economy—and the mystery of why it so often fails the American public. From the financial crisis of 2008 to rising student debt to collapsing public infrastructure, she found a root problem: racism in our politics and policymaking
- My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem. Therapist Resmaa Menakem examines the damage caused by racism in America from the perspective of body-centered psychology. He argues this destruction will continue until Americans learn to heal the generational anguish of white supremacy, which is deeply embedded in all our bodies.
- Party Music: The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music by Rickey Vincent. Connecting the Black music tradition with the Black activist tradition, Party Music brings both into greater focus than ever before and reveals just how strongly the Black power movement was felt on the streets of Black America. Beyond the mainstream civil rights movement that is typically discussed are the stories of the Black Panthers, the Black Arts Movement, the antiwar activism, and other radical movements that were central to the impulse that transformed Black popular music—and created soul music.
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. 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.
- The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones. In August of 2019, on the 400-year anniversary of the introduction of African slavery to America, The New York Times Magazine released a 100-page spread called The 1619 Project, a collection of essays and profiles that discusses the history and legacy of slavery in America and, in the words of its authors, “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States’ national narrative.”
- Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad. This critical text helps you take the work deeper by adding more historical and cultural contexts, sharing moving stories and anecdotes, and including expanded definitions, examples, and further resources, giving you the language to understand racism, and to dismantle your own biases, whether you are using the book on your own, with a book club, or looking to start family activism in your own home.
- Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. Fifteen-year-old Lauren Olamina lives inside a gated community with her preacher father, family, and neighbors, sheltered from the surrounding anarchy. In a society where any vulnerability is a risk, she suffers from hyperempathy, a debilitating sensitivity to others’ emotions. Precocious and clear-eyed, Lauren must make her voice heard in order to protect her loved ones from the imminent disasters her small community stubbornly ignores.
- How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. Kendi weaves an electrifying combination of ethics, history, law, and science with his own personal story of awakening to antiracism. This is an essential work for anyone who wants to go beyond the awareness of racism to the next step: contributing to the formation of a just and equitable society.
- The Vanishing Half: A Novel by Brit Bennett. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.
Make a commitment to celebrate Black history year-round by supporting a Black-led organization!
Black-led organizations (B.L.O.s) in the Bay Area make up a strong, vibrant network of community anchors that serve as the backbone to many who call the Bay Area home. There are more than 380 BLOs in the Bay Area, the majority located in Alameda County, and most are based in Oakland.