Founded in 1915, Black History Month (also known as African American History Month in the United States) has been observed for over a century and makes February a time for celebration and recognition of Black history and persons who have made a lasting impact on the world. Every year, a theme is assigned to correlate with the commemoration of Black History Month; the theme for 2021 is Black Family. As January comes to an end and February approaches, books are a great way for us to honor, learn, and listen to the history of African Americans and Black persons. Below are several books that speak of the Black experience, Black family, and extraordinary, history-making African Americans.

Fiction

  • “Zikora: A Short Story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    From the author of “Americanah,” “We Should All Be Feminists,” and “Half a Yellow Sun,” Adichie’s newest short story examines the unique set of difficulties Black mothers face in the United States. Successful D.C. lawyer, Zikora, watches her seemingly perfect life crumble to pieces when her boyfriend leaves after she tells him she’s pregnant. Grappling with sudden life changes and impending parenthood, it’s not until her mother comes to town for the birth that Zikora reflects back on the challenges they faced together in Nigeria and comes to realize all the things a mother wants for herself and children.
  • “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison
    After being published in 1952, “Invisible Man” became an instant classic and forever stamped Ellison’s name into the canon of American literary works. Telling the story of a nameless protagonist as he journeys through the Deep South all the way to Harlem, Ellison showcases the voices and realities of Black Americans of the time, relaying the vast racial inequities and effects and consequences of this divide felt by the victims; Ellison’s novel changed the course of American literature and spoke the truths of discrimination with themes that still resonate today. 
  • “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi
    Spanning several hundred years and numerous generations, “Homegoing” traces two sisters as their lives in Ghana take opposite paths. Effia is married to a wealthy Englishman and lives a life of comfort on the Gold Coast. Meanwhile, her half-sister, Esi, is sold into slavery and later shipped to America. Following both women’s families through history, “Homegoing” takes readers from the antebellum South, through the Great Migration into the Harlem Jazz Age, brutal wars in Ghana, all the way through the present day. Gyasi’s visceral novel shows the brutal effects of the slave trade by making history a little more tangible and highlighting the fact that these historical events really weren’t that long ago.
  • “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe
    Depicting pre-colonial life in Nigeria and the effects of European colonialism, “Things Fall Apart” continues to receive global acclaim since its publication in 1958. Following the fictional Nigerian clan of Umuofia, the novel tells the story of Okonkwo and is told in three parts. In the first, Okonkwo tells of his family and culture with the second and third parts telling of his attempts at resisting British imperialism. Because of Achebe’s ability to capture pre-colonial African village life while simultaneously depicting its tragic decline, “Things Fall Apart” continues to be an integral part of education in schools around the world. 

Nonfiction

  • “I Never Had it Made: An Autobiography of Jackie Robinson” by Jackie Robinson
    Before 1947, one thing all baseball players had in common was the fact that they were all white. When Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers, he not only made history as the first black man in MLB but broke racial barriers and changed the face of professional sports forever. In this autobiography, Robinson discusses playing four sports at UCLA, his time in the army during World War II, his activism in the Civil Rights Movement, his friendships with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and, of course, the experience of joining the Brooklyn Dodgers.
  • “We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    A phrase originally used by Black politicians after the end of the multiracial congress of the Reconstruction era following the Civil War, Coates highlights how the original use of the phrase “we were eight years in power” mirrors the happenings of modern day America. This collection of essays not only examines the effects of the election of America’s first Black president but assesses the eight years of the Obama administration and the major racial and civil movements that arose during this period.
  • “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina” by Misty Copeland
    At every turn, Misty Copeland faced adversity with someone telling her “it’s not going to happen.” Not starting ballet until she was 13 years old, she was told she was already too old to go anywhere serious with the artform. When everyone quickly realized she was a child prodigy, people then told her that Black ballet dancers rarely were hired into professional and elite companies, let alone cast in starring roles or promoted to soloists. After being hired by the prestigious American Ballet Theatre, she was promoted to soloist several years later and became the first Black woman to dance the coveted lead role of the Firebird, launching her to international fame and highlighting the space and need for Black women in ballet.
  • “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey” by Kamala Harris
    In 2019, before she became the first female, Black, and Asian-American to be sworn as the Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris published “The Truths We Hold” to tell the story of how she achieved her incredible accomplishments. Having been raised in Oakland, California, by civil rights activist parents, Harris was emboldened by justice early on. After graduating law school, she quickly rose through the ranks as prosecutor, deputy district attorney, district attorney, to being the first female and African American to serve as attorney general in California, eventually becoming a Senator for the state in 2017. Using her experiences and impressive career, Harris writes of the truths that unite Americans and how we can use them to overcome our struggles and look to a brighter vision for America.

For more Black History Month reading recommendations chat with our staff online on our website or visit our Instagram page: @salinapubliclibrary