Must-Read Books During Black History Month

Happy Black History Month! Since 1976 the US has been celebrating Black History during the entire month of February. Long before that, however, UNC Press was already publishing distinguished scholarship on African American studies and we are proud to continue to do so. Most recently we announced the launch of our Black Women’s History Series which also hosts an incubator program that gives two selected applicants the opportunity to receive feedback on their work-in-progress from series editors (Dr. Talitha L. LeFlouria, Dr. Ashley D. Farmer, and Dr. Daina Ramey Berry) as well as other invited interlocutors in their field.

While we celebrate and publish Black History year round at UNC Press, this month we will be shining an even brighter light on it with reading lists, excerpts of books written by Black authors, and more here on the blog. This week, we’re kicking things off with a list of some must-read books, but you can also browse our full list of African American Studies books here.

The Vice President’s Black Wife: The Untold Life of Julia Chinn by Amrita Chakrabarti Myers

“The [fascinating] story of a remarkable woman who experienced freedom and slavery simultaneously . . . . Myers has conducted arduous research, and she ably introduces a little-known yet important figure in American history . . . . A valuable addition to antebellum history.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Myers carefully stitches together the story of Julia Ann Chinn, the enslaved wife of Richard Mentor Johnson, Martin Van Buren’s vice president, recounting her life on his estate and the public controversy over their relationship.”—New York Times Book Review

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)

The Famous Lady Lovers: Black Women and Queer Desire before Stonewall by Cookie Woolner

“Extraordinary in its scope and inventiveness to focus on their intimate lives . . . . Woolner’s beautiful prose and writing style makes this book a delight to read. Academics and general readers alike will be drawn to it.”—Library Journal (STARRED Review)

“Impeccably researched and compellingly written examination of Black women who loved women during the 1920s and 1930s.”—Karla J. Strand, Ms. Magazine

From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century, second edition, by William A. Darity Jr. & A. Kirsten Mullen

2021 Best Book Awards in Social Change Category, American Book Fest
2023 Outstanding Book Award, Section on Inequality, Poverty, and Mobility, American Sociological Association
2021 Association for the Study of African American Life and History Book Prize

“Darity and Mullen challenge the United States to bear the moral weight of the legacies of slavery and deeply entrenched racism: to reject trifling, half-hearted measures and to approach—and perhaps even achieve—wholeness through reparations.”—New York Review of Books

“In From Here to Equality, William A. Darity and A. Kirsten Mullen draw on both journalistic and scholarly sources to make a strong case for cash payments to Black descendants of slaves. . . A rich historical account of how the economic inequalities between Black and white Americans were created and perpetuated through centuries of slavery and the legally enforced systems of discrimination and political disfranchisement that followed.”—The Nation

Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

A 2020 Choice Outstanding Academic Title
Longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award
Finalist, 2020 Pulitzer Prize in History

“Details bungling mismanagement, gross corruption, distorted incentives, civil rights regulations that went unheeded and unenforced — what Taylor calls a system of “predatory inclusion” that was distinct yet not entirely free from the racist system of exclusion that preceded it.”—The New York Times

“A groundbreaking new book.”—The New Yorker

“Essential for readers wishing to understand the depth and differentials of U.S. racial discrimination . . . “—Library Journal, (STARRED) review