For Black History Month this year, I decided not to buy anything and read books that were already on my shelf. I was sad that I lost a week of reading at the beginning of the month because I was moving but it ended up being a great reading month still.

I’ve been excited to share these books.

1. Blood Done Sign My Name: A True Story

by Timothy B. Tyson

This one is set in Eastern North Carolina, which is where I’m originally from. It was neat to see small towns that I’m familiar with mentioned. It’s true crime, race-related nonfiction that reads like a memoir. Stories of the author’s family and childhood are told alongside the author’s search for details on the murder of Henry Marrow, a twenty-three-year-old black veteran whose untimely, unjust death is the center of the book.

Among the most interesting aspects of the book are stories about the author’s Methodist preacher father who is constantly at odds with congregations over his anti-racism views. I remember thinking that I wish all Christians would at least read the parts of this book concerning the church, especially the reactions brought on by the pastor inviting a black preacher to speak.

Blood Done Sign My Name was my first and favorite book of the month.

2. Native Son

by Richard Wright

I originally bought this book for an African American History class I took in college, but I don’t remember actually reading it. I took this month as an opportunity to finally read this classic. It was a struggle—not because the book was bad, but because it was terrifying. It was actually very good. Unforgettable.

It’s one of those books where you have to look past the story itself (and the glaring offensiveness of the characters and their actions) to read between the lines in order to understand the author’s meaning. Set in 1930s Chicago, there’s a lot to uncover about the dynamics of systemic racism in Native Son but because it’s fiction, and good fiction, it’s below the surface.

3. The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors

by Thabiti M. Anyabwile

This is a biography of three influential African American pastors: Lemuel Haynes (1753–1833), Daniel A. Payne (1811–1893), and Francis J. Grimké (1850–1937). Once I got over my initial shame that I wasn’t already familiar with these men, I took this short book in slowly. The format of the book is a profile about each pastor followed by three selected sermons.

While these men and their life stories are important parts of black history, this book is just as much about important ministry lessons (on faithfulness, character, the necessity of study, the conflict of white supremacy and true Christianity, etc.) that we can learn from them.

4. Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II

by Douglas A. Blackmon

I barely know what to say about this one. It’s important history that, for me, has been hard to read on multiple levels. Not only is it just slightly more engaging than a history textbook, but no details of this injustice are spared (not that they should be). Those details are hard to stomach.

The book covers the shameful practice of “convict leasing” and other shocking, gross maltreatments and methods of control that black Americans were subjected to during this time period. It’s heartbreaking to perceive the stories of former slaves who couldn’t read the illegal labor contracts they were coerced into signing after emancipation and whose illiteracy also made it difficult or impossible to record what was happening to them. Personal narratives, excerpts from court documents, and more are included in the book.

It’s also pretty long, so I’m still reading it.

5. The Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’’s Dream

by Gary Younge

Although I didn’t read this one this month, I wrote a full review of it for The Witness which was appropriately published this month. The Speech is a well-researched book with way more interesting details than I expected. Reading it is an opportunity to go beyond sound bites about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream for a comprehensive view of the historical significance of the speech and the March on Washington.


My only regret this month (besides losing a week and not being able to finish Slavery by Another Name by the end of February) is maybe that I didn’t choose the most well-rounded set of books. Black history isn’t only slavery, sadness, and Klan violence. I was a bit concerned at one point about the effect that reading heaviness back-to-back would have on me. The Faithful Preacher was really my only break from that.

They were all excellent works, though, and I believe in “Black History 365” so I still have plenty of time to read more—like that copy of Hidden Figures

I didn’t get to.

What are your favorite black history books? Do share! I’d love to know in the comments or on everyone’s favorite method for telling me things: Twitter.