Engaging history book that documents the african american experience
February 18, 2008 6:39 PM   Subscribe

Looking for a good book that gives an overview of the African American experience in the United States. It should be readable, engaging, but also informative.

This would be a book that would be for the teachers at my school to read, so the less encyclopedic, and the more narrative, the better. Its hard to get buy in when something is dry and factual. However, I do want them to get a good working knowledge of the major movements and characters in African American history.
posted by allthewhile to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Roots by Alex Haley
posted by hal_c_on at 6:48 PM on February 18, 2008

i don't think you're going to find a single pop-history book that covers everything, unfortunately. w.e.b. dubois's "the souls of black folk" is a standard text for any student of african american history or literature, though. it was published in 1903 and is a readable blend of literary essay, sociology, anthropology, and history.

obviously, it doesn't cover the 20th century, which is pretty important, but it's a great foundation for making sense of the 20th century.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:02 PM on February 18, 2008

If you want to read what african americans tell each other to read your should try The Autobiography of Malcolm X
posted by Rubbstone at 7:04 PM on February 18, 2008

Taylor Branch has a series of huge, excellent books documenting the history of the civil rights movement. Great, probably not your first stop for this project but good to have in the school library for teachers to refer to if they're doing a civil rights unit.

Another civil rights source: the documentary miniseries "Eyes on the Prize" from PBS in the 1980s was a great one, well worth getting a copy of for the school if it's available.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:19 PM on February 18, 2008

I'd recommend going for context. Black Boy and Coming of Age in Mississippi are amazing books, and will give you a good feel for what led to the civil rights movement of the 60s.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 8:48 PM on February 18, 2008

Robin Kelley and Earl Lewis edited an outstanding collection of essays entitled To Make Our World Anew in 2005. It doesn't have the "seamless" feel that a single-author text might--but then, it's next to impossible for a single author to employ a narrative style and cover the entire sweep of Af-Am history. The Kelley and Lewis book is something that would be appropriate for school teachers, I think.
posted by historybuff at 8:56 PM on February 18, 2008

From Slavery to Freedom by John Hope Franklin

African American Odyssey by Darlene Clark Hine

These are probably the two best textbooks on the subject. They capture the voices of African Americans, Whites and others who were involved in the making of African American history. They are easy to follow, possess a good narrative and also provide analysis of important issues.
posted by anansi at 9:26 PM on February 18, 2008

God yeah

Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.

Wonderful book
posted by mattoxic at 10:15 PM on February 18, 2008

To Kill a Mockingbird is also a wonderful book
posted by mattoxic at 10:16 PM on February 18, 2008

Michael Eric Dyson Expounds brilliantly on the struggle. Pick up The Michael Eric Dyson Reader. Although it is not history-centric, it addresses the problems facing black America today. Thereby chronicling the African-American experience at present. Densely at that. Keep a Webster's nearby!
posted by Student of Man at 7:33 AM on February 19, 2008

There Eyes Are Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston is a classic.

Also, The Color Purple by Alice Walker.

bell hooks has a lot of amazing non-fiction, though it tends to fall more on the radical/feminist side of things as opposed to the mainstream side.

And, seconding the Autobiography of Malcolm X. Start there.

To Kill A Mockingbird is solidly white folks lit. Not at all from a black perspective, and pretty patronizing to boot.
posted by lunit at 8:20 AM on February 19, 2008

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