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Black History Books: A 2023 Review

Posted about 1 year ago by Meldon Jenkins-Jones

In Virginia, it is generally believed that African American History began with the importation of West Africans into Jamestown in 1619. After the Civil War, the Daughters of the Confederacy wrote the history of Black Americans as a happy immigration tale, with one drawing depicting nicely dressed Blacks traveling at leisure, while white workers labored on the ship. Books written by enslaved Africans told a very different story. These include:  Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup (1853) after being dictated to David White; The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano; or, Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself (1789); Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave by William Wells Brown (1847); Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself by Frederick Douglass (1845)

Indeed, horrific accounts of race-based brutal chattel slavery unknown to the world prior to its invention in the United States are verified by signs and other artifacts—from accounting records of human beings counted as property to leg shackles—in museums in Richmond and beyond, the 1672 law concerning “runaway negroes and slaves”  and the 1705 Slave Code—are more than ample evidence that negative conditions existed for Blacks during the 17th; 18th, and 19th centuries in what is now the United States and abroad. Added to that, abolitionists—African Americans, European Americans, and Europeans—wrote about the horrors of American slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, highlighting and politicizing the issue to the point where slave trading was abolished by England in 1807 by the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade and slavery itself by the 1834 Slave Abolition Act, years before the U.S. abolished slavery in 1865 by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Abolitionist publications included: the provocative Appeal…to the Colored Citizens of the World…  by David Walker (1829); and The Liberator the newspaper founded by William Lloyd Garrison (1831-65).

During slavery, some European Americans believed that Blacks had no history of note. As African American scholars began to study history and publish books, a different image of Black Americans began to emerge. We now know that the people who were stolen from the African continent descended from peoples with a long, rich, and pre-eminent history. In fact, the San civilization in southern Africa is one of the oldest in the world! In more modern times, in western Africa, the Ghana Empire (Wagadu) existed from 300 to 1100, the Mali Empire was in power from 1226 to 1670, and the Songhai Empire ruled from 1430 to 1591.

Modern-day historians continue to research and write about African and African American history and culture. One of the greatest proponents of this activity is the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) which began with Carter G. Woodson, born in 1875 in New Canton, Virginia,  – 1950). Woodson was the son of an African American coal miner father and an African American mother, both previously enslaved. To help his family, Carter G. Woodson worked in coal mines and was finally able to attend high school at the age of 20. A man who picked himself up by his bootstraps, as it were, he proved to be an excellent student. He attended Berea College, Harvard University, and The University of Chicago. He was a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. In 1912 Woodson “was the second African American, after W. E. B. Du Bois, to obtain a Ph.D. degree from Harvard University. Woodson remains the only person whose parents were enslaved in the United States to obtain a Ph.D. in history ( He taught at Howard University, one of the leading HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges or Universities), and later became Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences there. In 1915 Woodson, along with several others, founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (later renamed the Association for the Study of African American Life and History — ASALH). Woodson started Negro History Week in 1926. It became Black History Month in 1976. Woodson wrote 17 books, including The Mis-Education of the Negro (1933).

To read more about Black History and culture, there are a number of awards given to outstanding publications written by Black authors, including Black Caucus/ALA awards (adult books written by African American authors) ( and the Coretta Scott King Award (books for children or teens) ( ASALH started its own book award, the ASALH Book Prize for the Best New Book in African American History and Culture. See for past winners.

There have been a number of recent films that give an interesting perspective of Black History, including: Selma; Judas and the Black Messiah; Hidden Figures; and 12 Years a Slave.

To learn more about Black History and culture, read some of these:

African Founders: How Enslaved People Expanded American Ideals by David Hackett Fischer

Before the Mayflower : a history of Black America by Lerone Bennett Jr.

The Black Experience: Readings in Afro-American History and Culture From Colonial Times Through the Nineteenth Century

Black Ghost of Empire: The Long Death of Slavery and the Failure of Emancipation by Kris Manjapra

Black People Who Made the Old West by William Loren Katz

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 edited by Kendi, Ibram X.

From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century by William A. Darity and A. Kirsten Mullen

The Grimkes: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family by Kerri K. Greenidge

Hidden Figures by Margot Shetterly

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

One Person, No Vote by Carol Anderson

On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker by A’Lelia Bundles

Richmond’s Unhealed History by Benjamin P. Campbell

Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement by Bettye Collier-Thomas

Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram Kendi

Story of the Negro by Arna Bontemps

World’s Great Men of Color. Volume II  by J. A. Rogers (Joel Augustus),

Meldon Jenkins-Jones

Meldon Jenkins-Jones, Hull Street Library/Community Services Manager, had been the Law Librarian of the Richmond Public Law Library from 2013 thru July 2022. She is the first recipient of the Virginia Library Association's Librarian of Color Forum Award in 2021. She is a Graduate of Leadership Metro Richmond, Class of 2022. She received her Master of Science degree in Library and Information Studies from Florida State University. Meldon spends her free time with family and writing inspirational stories and her memoirs.

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