The civil rights movement had seen another peak in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd sparked worldwide outrage and protests over the mistreatment of Black citizens under the hands of the law. This tragic event has inspired many of us to seek out more information on systematic oppression, racial inequality and perhaps address our own biases.
The study of Black history is vital in understanding race relations and working together towards a fairer future free from marginalisation, violence and prejudice. In this article, we have selected fifteen excellent Black history books available in the UK. Unsure where to start? We've included a buying guide to help you choose the best read for you and all of our books are available on Amazon and eBay.
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Table of Contents
There are so many fantastic books out there it can be tough to select just one. Perhaps you're well-versed in Black history, or are looking for a place to start. Either way, our guide is here to make the decision easier.
What type of Black history book should you choose? Some are collections of essays, others are autobiographical works and some focus on a longer narrative surrounding one particular area. In this section we'll discuss each type.
A great way to learn about the issues of a particular time period is to read the speeches and collected essays of activists and respected thinkers on the issues of racism and the fight for Black liberation. These are often emotionally stirring, encouraging the reader to think more deeply about the wider questions raised.
Collections of essays or compendiums of articles and pamphlets from a period of the Black rights movement allow you to hear from many voices on one particular issue, evoking the mood of a given era. Further, the concise format of essays means you can digest more information in shorter and more manageable chunks.
Another important element of learning about Black history is reading about the lived experiences of Black and mixed-race people in the UK and across the world. By choosing a book which blends Black history with autobiographical elements, you gain insight into an individual's personal journey through an inherently racist system.
This can be helpful in making issues of race and prejudice more tangible for readers, and deeply moving or relatable for those who have shared similar lived experiences.
Although they aren't 'history books' in the traditional sense, novels allow us to absorb the mood and sentiments of a particular time period, while also providing the thrill of a well-paced narrative.
If you find it hard to get enthusiastic about reading, a novel could be a good choice as the intrigue of a good book may mean you pick it up more often. Novels also provide an effective way of introducing teens to Black history.
If you find yourself particularly interested in a theme or topic raised by a novel, you might feel inspired to seek out non-fiction books for a more fact-based understanding of the event and era.
Some non-fiction Black History books take a more general approach, while still focusing on a certain issue, time period or part of the world.
These types of books are often filled with data and examples that underline their central message. They can be extremely informative for anyone looking to learn more in regards to how specific events, laws and socio-economic systems have impacted and shaped Black lives and experiences.
Sometimes a picture can say a thousand words. To help make information more memorable for children, consider a Black history book with illustrations.
Photo books are another appealing form of history book, as they invite the viewer to experience the zeitgeist of a particular time through vignettes and snapshots.
Suitable for readers of all ages, these can be a valuable way for visual learners to explore topics in an engaging way. They can also serve as a wonderful gift, mixing beautiful art with essential history.
Consider whether you'd like to read a book that focuses on a certain part of the world or gives a broader, global view of Black history. You may have a particular interest in the USA, hear stories from African countries or want to read about Black life closer to home.
The murder of George Floyd in Minnesota on May 25th 2020 has sparked the biggest wave of the civil rights movement in history, which has in turn inspired many readers to seek out books on the stories of Black lives in the USA.
Books focused on this part of the world range from tomes on slavery and its abolition, to the Jim Crow laws which encouraged racial segregation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
You may even be interested to learn more about the civil rights movement of the 1960s or look to inspirational Black figures in American history from Nobel Prize Winners to Olympians and beloved celebrities.
The UK of course has a large and vibrant Black population, and there are many books by British authors which discuss racial and generational issues in communities closer to home.
Learning about British Black history can help you to gain a better understanding of the particular experiences and issues faced within the UK. Some books even provide information and resources on how to get involved in local initiatives and steps you can take in your day to day life to stamp out discrimination.
Some of the books on our list delve into the traditions and customs of pre-colonial Africa. These titles explore how certain traditions have evolved, been lost or changed over time, and their importance within the African diaspora.
These stories are valuable in gaining a greater knowledge of African ancestry. By learning about the vast cultures and accomplishments of African peoples throughout history, these books can help reaffirm a sense of Black joy and pride.
Before you buy, take a look at the date the book was published. Books tend to reflect the sensibilities of the era in which they are printed, capturing the energy and language of the time period. Although the information may not be up to date, older publications allow for comparison and perspective on how times have evolved.
Books published more recently will still address topics from the past, but will approach them from a viewpoint that feels more current and relevant to the racial issues we see across the world today.
Finally, consider whether you'd like to try an audiobook or a version for eReader. While some people love the feel of a book, others prefer an eBook to keep all their reads in one handy place.
For those with busy schedules looking to learn on the go, with an audiobook you can multi-task while you listen. Audiobooks will let you discover Black history while at the gym or on the daily commute, something that is especially enjoyable if the narrator has a passionate delivery!
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Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire
A Historical and Political Tale from a UK Rapper and Poet
Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About
Systemic Racism in the UK From the Slave Trade to Today
Defining Moments in Black History: Reading Between the Lies
Exploring the African American Experience With Humour and Wit
Don't Touch My Hair
A Fascinating History Told Through Black Hair Styling
Martin Luther King Junior
Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King
The Speeches, Writings and Interviews of MLK
The Novel Behind the Hit Play About UK Life for Caribbean Families
Bobby Seale and Stephen Shames
Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers
A Guide to the Controversial Black Panther Party
The Underground Railroad
The Award-Winning Story of One Woman's Fight for Freedom
Afropean: Notes from Black Europe
Collected Stories of Europeans of African Descent
Nathan Irvin Huggins
The Harlem Renaissance
A Lively History of One of Black Culture's Most Vibrant Eras
Akala speaks so brilliantly on race, it makes perfect sense that he would produce a book that is at once accessible, funny, charming and deeply political. Described in literary reviews as a 'memoir-polemic' this book looks at Akala's early years as a bookworm who hoped to become a scientist and examines the factors which resulted in him carrying a knife as a teen.
This is not always an easy book, but it is absolutely vital in enlightening us Brits as to our country's shameful, and at times horrifying, racial history. Akala's thought-provoking work encourages readers to acknowledge the intersection of race and class, in ways we may have failed to before.
This book is an excellent choice if you want a straightforward history of racial inequality in the UK. Reni Eddo Lodge doesn't miss a beat, with a series of concise chapters painting a clear picture of institutionalised discrimination.
With examples ranging from the blatantly racist beliefs of UK police officers as recently as the 1980s, to the uproar from Harry Potter fans when the stage producers of The Cursed Child cast a Black Hermione, Eddo-Lodge makes no bones about the fact she's tired of trying to explain racism to white people who refuse to listen or learn.
Dick Gregory is one of the USA's most beloved, and controversial, comedians. His book takes a confident and critical look at the global experience of Black communities, with a keen focus on the specific lived experiences of African Americans.
We think you will enjoy this book if you want an unapologetic perspective on the key moments in Black history, both cultural and political. His wry witty tone and ability to summarise abstract ideas with sharp sound-bites of truth make this book as enjoyable as it is illuminating.
This brilliant book is one everyone should read. In her witty and charismatic style, Emma Dabiri explores the ties between hair and perceived 'Blackness', through a lens of popular culture. She documents the difficulties of white mothers caring for their mixed-race children's hair, and the 'hair hierarchy' that exists for Black hair.
A clever, engaging, must-read, packed with the histories and importance of African hair styling from the Yoruba people of Nigeria, to the Ashanti people of Ghana and the Mende of Sierra Leone.
This collection of speeches and essays from MLK provides the reader with an understanding of the work and ambitions of one of the best-known voices in the US civil rights movement. His powerful tone rings clearly throughout with a message of hope that is deeply moving.
Containing interviews with and sermons led by the Nobel Prize-winning activist, this book is arranged chronologically to give the reader an overview of the development of King's work towards integration in the US.
This book is a brilliant read, detailing the difficulties faced by families of the Windrush generation. This book helps fiction-lovers experience the painful reality of the Caribbean experience in mid century England.
Recently having been adapted into a stage play with a highly successful run at the National Theatre, it tells the tale of a Jamaican couple who have travelled to England on the ship HMT Empire Windrush and their experience in the UK after fighting for Britain in World War Two.
While Martin Luther King believed in peaceful protest, the Black Panthers were tired of tolerating white violence in an attempt to be seen as non-threatening. An important and eye-opening read, it reminds readers that although they may be best remembered for their striking aesthetics and proud use of guns, they also did vital work for Black children in their communities.
This book is full of powerful images, accompanied by interviews with some of the party's most prominent figures. It's an accessible and informative guide to the work of the Black Panthers and their role in the Black Power movement.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2017, this book provides a way for fans of lyrical prose and storytelling to build a deeper understanding of the horrors of life faced by Black people sold as slaves.
A superbly inventive book that builds a painful and evocative context for the modern African American experience. The main character Cora's search for freedom reflects the wider issues in North America's bloody and disturbing history of racism.
The writer, Johnny Pitts is a photographer and TV presenter, and his visual approach is part of the book's appeal. This book has some fantastic insights into the experience of Europeans of African descent, a group perhaps sometimes slightly overlooked on the world stage.
Drawing together and exploring the distinct concepts of 'European-ness' and 'African-ness', this book is filled with anecdotes and vignettes, shedding light on the often parallel experiences of African individuals making their way in Europe, from Paris to Lisbon, via Sheffield and Bilbao.
This book tells the story of the Harlem Renaissance, a glorious era for Black music, art, and intellectualism that continued throughout the 1920s in New York City. It's a great read on a topic not many of us Brits are au fait with.
Exploring the work of powerful Black writers and thinkers as well as voices from the Black LGBTQ community, author Nathan Irvin Huggins links these achievements to the social and economic questions of the day. An important addition to the study of African-American life.
Angela Davis is an exceptional thinker, writer and leader, who was at the forefront of the US civil rights movement in the 1960s. Her seminal book blends the history of slavery and the abolition movement with the inherent racism of women's suffrage.
Just as relevant today, Davis focuses on a selection of brilliant women who have fought for racial equality and pushed forward the Black rights movement throughout history. Her brilliant synthesis of racial issues and women's issues is a call to arms, proving how feminism is incomplete without a rounded understanding of racial injustice.
If you'd like to lean about Black history through fiction, we recommend Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Written with flair, it's an effortless page-turner that's impossible to forget!
Following the story of two sisters, one sold into slavery and the other a slave trader's wife, the book moves through seven generations to paint a picture of how slavery has shaped contemporary North America. A top pick that sheds light upon the Atlantic Slave Trade and its modern-day reverberations.
Race Today was a journal published by a group of Black and mixed race activists, academics and thinkers based in the UK. It was circulated between the early seventies and late eighties, and featured many contributions from some of the top writers of the era including Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou.
As a collection of articles and extracts, this book serves as a fine companion for students. It not only brilliantly captures the mood of the times, but also features the voices of key figures in the UK's battle for civil equality.
An ideal accompaniment to the film Paris is Burning, this glossy photobook celebrates the 1980s ballroom scene and the style and talent of New York's Black queer community.
Through collected histories, it highlights the message that Black gay men, drag queens and transgender women were pioneers, not only of the dance style 'voguing', but also of the gay rights movement we celebrate today. A genuinely joyful read, this collection of words and images reminds us of the roots of Pride.
This book reaches all the way back to Roman times, moving through the middle ages to the Elizabethan era, recounting slavery and civil rights movements all the way up to the present day. It re-examines the histories many of us learned in school, presenting them from a fresh perspective.
Some Black literary critics have claimed Olusoga's work provides a 'lukewarm' approach to topics in favour of avoiding controversy. However, what it lacks in force, it certainly makes up for in breadth and variety of topics.
There is no world history without Black history. Despite centuries of oppression, violence and hatred, Black communities worldwide have continued to thrive, struggling against systemic racism and internalised prejudice to produce some of today's most celebrated writers, thinkers and activists.
Many books aim to encourage the celebration of Black history through achievements, cultures and traditions, refusing to only show the sadness and suffering. Unfortunately, many authors have little choice but to talk about race, since racism in its various forms remains prevalent everywhere, as much today as ever.
If your favourite way to learn is through reading, we have some other articles we think you're going to love. Whether it's reference books, language guides or books on important topics you can read with your kids, here are some great ideas to help you see the world from a new perspective!
Understanding the struggles Black people and communities have endured historically, and continue to face today, is a vital lesson regardless of race or background. We hope you will find these books valuable for expanding your perspective on racial inequality, as well as celebrating the sensational achievements of Black communities in all walks of life.
Author: Annie Hopkins
No. 1: Akala｜Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire
No. 2: Reni Eddo-Lodge｜Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About
No. 3: Dick Gregory｜Defining Moments in Black History: Reading Between the Lies
No. 4: Emma Dabiri｜Don't Touch My Hair
No. 5: Martin Luther King Junior｜Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King
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