This week for our Black History Month reading list series we are featuring five biographies of groundbreaking women who challenged and altered the course of Black life in the United States, from the 20th and into the current century.
For more background on the founding and annual themes of Black History Month, check out the website of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.
Save 40% on all UNC Press books with discount code 01DAH40. Visit the sale page to browse more recommended titles in African American History, or view our full list of books in African American Studies.
Pauli Murray: A Personal and Political Life
by Troy R. Saxby
The Rev. Dr. Anna Pauline “Pauli” Murray (1910–1985) was a trailblazing social activist, writer, lawyer, civil rights organizer, and campaigner for gender rights. In the 1930s and 1940s, she was active in radical left-wing political groups and helped innovate nonviolent protest strategies against segregation that would become iconic in later decades, and in the 1960s, she cofounded the National Organization for Women (NOW). In addition, Murray became the first African American to receive a Yale law doctorate and the first black woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest.
Half in Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Nellie Y. McKay
by Shanna Greene Benjamin
Nellie Y. McKay (1930–2006) was a pivotal figure in contemporary American letters. The author of several books, McKay is best known for coediting the canon-making Norton Anthology of African American Literature with Henry Louis Gates Jr., which helped secure a place for the scholarly study of Black writing that had been ignored by white academia. However, there is more to McKay’s life and legacy than her literary scholarship. After her passing, new details about McKay’s life emerged, surprising everyone who knew her.
Florynce “Flo” Kennedy: The Life of a Black Feminist Radical
by Sherie M. Randolph
Often photographed in a cowboy hat with her middle finger held defiantly in the air, Florynce “Flo” Kennedy (1916–2000) left a vibrant legacy as a leader of the Black Power and feminist movements. In the first biography of Kennedy, Sherie M. Randolph traces the life and political influence of this strikingly bold and controversial radical activist.
In Love and Struggle: The Revolutionary Lives of James & Grace Lee Boggs
by Stephen M. Ward
James Boggs (1919-1993) and Grace Lee Boggs (1915-2015) were two largely unsung but critically important figures in the black freedom struggle. Born and raised in Alabama, James Boggs came to Detroit during the Great Migration, becoming an automobile worker and a union activist. Grace Lee was a Chinese American scholar who studied Hegel, worked with Caribbean political theorist C. L. R. James, and moved to Detroit to work toward a new American revolution. As husband and wife, the couple was influential in the early stages of what would become the Black Power movement, laying the intellectual foundation for racial and urban struggles during one of the most active social movement periods in recent U.S. history.
Ella Baker & the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision
by Barbara Ransby
In this deeply researched biography, Barbara Ransby chronicles Ella Baker’s long and rich political career as an organizer, an intellectual, and a teacher, from her early experiences in depression-era Harlem to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Ransby shows Baker to be a complex figure whose radical, democratic worldview, commitment to empowering the black poor, and emphasis on group-centered, grassroots leadership set her apart from most of her political contemporaries.