Black History Month Reading List: Biographies

To celebrate Black History Month we have been sharing reading lists of relevant Black history titles for you to enjoy all month long. The final installment of our reading lists focuses on biographies, telling the stories of Black lives and experiences.

Make sure to also browse our full list of African American studies titles, learn about our new Black Women’s History Series, and keep up with previous reading lists. Plus, if you’re interested in purchasing any of these titles, you can get 30% off plus free shipping on orders over $75 with code 01UNCP30.

Half in Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Nellie Y. McKay by Shanna Greene Benjamin

2022 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Nonfiction: Memoir/Biography

Honorable Mention, 2022 William Sanders Scarborough Prize, Modern Language Association

“Illustrating the challenges and exclusion often experienced by Black women in academia, Shanna Greene Benjamin has written this compelling and unexpected biography of Nellie Y. McKay, a formidable scholar of contemporary literature and women’s studies.”—Ms. Magazine

Half in Shadow is a significant contribution to the intersecting fields of African American and women’s studies and stands as a lasting tribute to a devoted mentor.”—Cherene Sherrard-Johnson, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Open Access ebook sponsored by an award from the National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships Open Book Program

Aaron McDuffie Moore: An African American Physician, Educator, and Founder of Durham’s Black Wall Street by Blake Hill-Saya with a foreword by Rep. G. K. Butterfield and an afterword by C. Eileen Watts Welch

“A readable, lyrically written biography. . . . Hill-Saya imbues this work with love and admiration for the physician, entrepreneur, and educator that has endured across generations.”—Journal of Southern History

“A well-written narrative. . . . [Hill-Saya] brings[s] to the fore not only the accomplishments of one of the outstanding Black community leaders of the Jim Crow South but . . . shine[s] a light on the vastly overlooked role that the Black professional class had in shaping the South during the segregation era.”—Journal of African American History

Shirley Chisholm: Champion of Black Feminist Power Politics by Anastasia C. Curwood

“A well-rounded portrait of the late politician, who, half a century ago, helped set the tone for contemporary Black and feminist politics . . . Curwood deftly reveals Chisholm’s complexities and sometimes secretive nature as well as her tenacity in political struggles . . . A model political biography that all modern activists should read.”—Kirkus Reviews (*STARRED* review)

“A vivid biographical assessment of a remarkable woman, Anastasia Curwood reminds us of Chisholm’s legacy & makes her absence on the current political scene seem even more profound.”—Foreword Reviews (*STARRED* review)

“Accessible and enlightening, this is a well-rounded portrait of a pioneering politician.”—Publishers Weekly

David Ruggles: A Radical Black Abolitionist and the Underground Railroad in New York City by Graham Russell Gao Hodges

2010 Hortense Simmons Prize for the Advancement of Knowledge, Underground Railroad Free Press

“Hodges contributes to a better understanding of antebellum black activism and to shaping a fresh synthesis regarding how abolitionism shook America to its core. . . . Essential for readers and scholars interested in antebellum America, the antislavery movement, black activists, or New York City history.”—Library Journal, STARRED review

“Mention American abolitionists and David Ruggles rarely comes to mind. . . . Graham Russell Gao Hodges goes a long way toward rectifying that oversight.”—New York Times

“Skillfully weaves the life of abolitionist David Ruggles into the larger history of black abolitionists. . . . Highly recommended.”—CHOICE

Free Joan Little: The Politics of Race, Sexual Violence, and Imprisonment by Christina Greene

Finalist, 2023 Association for the Study of African American Life and History Book Prize

“This is a hugely important book by a veteran historian of civil rights and women’s activism.”—Annelise Orleck, author of Common Sense and a Little Fire: Women and Working-Class Politics in the United States, 1900–1965

“Christina Greene’s painstaking research reveals how Joan Little and Black women like her have triumphed against unspeakable violence, punitive laws, and incarceration in order to create a more just world.  This book is a triumph.”—Ashley D. Farmer, author of Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era