Biographies to Read During Black History Month

February is Black History Month and to celebrate we’ve been sharing book excerpts and reading lists of our African American studies titles here on the blog. Black History cannot be understood without taking an individual look at the lived experiences and stories of Black people themselves. As such, we have curated a list of Biographies highlighting the Black experience. Ranging in topics from politicians to Jimmi Hendrix we’ve compiled a list of biographies that highlight the Black experience. But you don’t have to stop with these recommendations. Browse our African American studies list to find even more biographies.

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

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

2023 Liberty Legacy Foundation Award, Organization of American Historians
2023 Frank L. and Harriet C. Owsley Award, Southern Historical Association
Honorable Mention, 2023 Darlene Clark Hine Award, Organization of American Historians
Finalist, 2023 Association for the Study of African American Life and History Book Prize

“Joan Little’s self-defense case unfolded at the epicenter of the histories of women’s rights, the criminal legal system, and Black liberation struggles. 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

Last of the Lions: An African American Journey in Memoir by Clarence B. Jones and Stuart Connelly
Distributed for Redhawk Publications

“When I was a young lawyer looking to make a difference, Dr. Jones was the ultimate inspiration.”—President Barack Obama (August 2021)

“Clarence B. Jones, in telling the story of his remarkable, consequential life, takes us on a searing and unforgettable journey. This revelatory and essential memoir is simply extraordinary.”—Ken Burns, American Documentary Filmmaker

“Lawyer, activist, speechwriter, and confidant of Dr. King, Clarence Jones is an unsung hero of the Civil Rights movement. His story is inspiring, compelling, and wonderfully affirming. A beautifully written, urgent, and timely memoir.”—Bryan Stevenson, American lawyer, social justice activist, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and the author of Just Mercy

Julius Chambers: A Life in the Legal Struggle for Civil Rights by Richard A. Rosen and Joseph Mosnier

“This first biography of Chambers captur[es] his personality, character, and self-effacing determination. . . . Though books on legal topics are hardly known for their readability, this one is an exception. More than a simple biography of a lawyer, this account chronicles an entire law firm and how civil rights are achieved in the real world. Verdict: Essential.”—Library Journal, Starred Review

“An excellent resource for understanding how the civil rights struggle played out in less-heralded venues.”—Publishers Weekly

“Rosen and Mosnier provide a painstakingly researched account of a civil rights lawyer and icon of the last quarter of the 20th century. Highly recommended.”—CHOICE

Stone Free by Jas Obrecht

Stone Free: Jimi Hendrix in London, September 1966–June 1967 by Jas Obrecht

“The story is woven seamlessly from . . . many disparate strands and is a very enjoyable read.”–Jimpress: Jimi Hendrix Magazine

“This is the book on Jimi Hendrix I’ve been waiting for. Jas Obrecht captures the frenzy and the excitement of the most extraordinary moment in rock guitar’s history, when Jimi Hendrix reinvents the electric guitar, becomes an international superstar, and stuns his contemporaries into humble self-reevaluation. Each chapter is full of wonderful stories, details, and revelations about Jimi’s surprising yet inevitable journey to stardom. I know I’ll be re-reading this book for years.”–Joe Satriani

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

“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

“Groundbreaking . . . . A deeply researched and elegantly written biography, The Vice President’s Black Wife investigates Chinn’s life at home and within her community to explore how she navigated the racial and social hierarchies of the 19th century.”—Ms. Magazine