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6 Thought-Provoking Books About the Black Experience in America

You’re probably well aware that February is Black History Month. But, how much do you actually know about black history? Excluding your primary and secondary school educations, there’s a very good chance that you only received part of the real history of the United States and its treatment of black people. So, why does this matter? When you’re misinformed or completely uninformed, you are more likely to believe racist stereotypes and hold prejudices against certain groups of people. If we want unity (which we desparately need in this country), then everyone has to do their part in educating themselves so that we can come to respect the diverse groups that make up the United States of America. If you’re looking for a place to start, here’s a list of six great books that will give you an understanding of the black experience in America.

Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi
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Design by Gabi Maynard

This is the history book full of everything your middle school teacher left out. It details the black experience starting with the first black people to step foot on American soil all the way to present-day as it ends with the election of President Trump. This was hands down the best book I read in 2020 and possibly of all time. If you only have time to read one book on this list, I highly reccommend this one.   

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

This book tells the story of the Great Migration that took place in the United States of America through the first half of the 20th century. Black people moved in large numbers from southern states all across the country in an effort to escape the racism that still plagued the South. The book is told through the perspective of multiple people that Wilkerson interviewed who took part in the Great Migration. Reading this book helps you to understand the emotions that black people had during this time in American history and also to understand the hard decisions that many had to make in order to seek a better life. 

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

You’ve heard of this autobiography, but have you actually read it? This is the first of seven books Maya Angelou writes to tell her life story and it starts with her childhood. Growing up in the Deep South in the 1920’s as a young black girl is as challenging as it seems and at times, the subject matter in this book can be difficult to read. But, there’s a reason this is one of the most famous books of all time. Check out the hype for yourself!

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Despite being written in the 1960’s, Baldwin’s words about racial inequality in America still rings true today. It focuses on Baldwin’s life growing up in New York City and his experience navigating racism. This book is short, but it is extremely powerful and will have you thinking about it for months after you’ve finished reading. 

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates

This book serves as a letter to Coates’ teenage son about what it is like to be black in America. It is personal and heartbreaking, but does a fantastic job at illuminating the troubled history of America and the way in which racism still infiltrates our society today. 

Four Hundred Souls by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

This is the newest book on this list and one that is receiving worldwide accolades right now. Edited and compiled by Dr. Kendi and Dr. Blain (a professor at Pitt!), this book covers 400 years of history from the year 1619 all to the way to 2019, with the help of 80 authors. Each author wrote about a five-year increment of time and was given the autonomy to tell that piece of history in whatever way they thought would be most impactful and insightful. This book is next on my list to read, so consider adding it to yours, too!

Hi, I'm Olivia! I'm a senior at the University of Pittsburgh pursuing a major in Neuroscience, minors in Spanish, Africana Studies, and Chemistry, and a certificate in Global Health! In my free time you can find me at the gym, listening to a podcast, or hanging out with my friends!
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