“State of Emergency” by Tamika D. Mallory 

Recommended by Reina DuFore 

I love Tamika D. Mallory and have been following her for a while. I wanted to read her thoughts on everything that was happening in the world and learn from her activism.

“After the murder of George Floyd, Tamika D. Mallory’s powerful speech was shared far and wide. Rooted in her own thoughts and experiences as a social justice leader and a Black woman in America, this book is an honest interrogation of what it means to be Black in America and traces centuries of racist policies and practices. It’s raw and angering—but you’ll walk away ready and inspired to make real change. Highly recommend.”

Stamped from the Beginning” by Ibram X. Kendi

Recommended by Aida Fernandez Brillet

I wanted to understand and read about the history of the US from a perspective that is not that of a white historian. 

“Writing as the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, the Charleston Nine and Sandra Bland came to light, Kendi traces the structural violence at the heart of American history and argues that now is the time to secure lasting change. Crucially, his anti-racism is rooted in Kimberlé Crenshaw’s notion of intersectionality. We are all urged to refuse racism, sexism, elitism, homophobia, ethnocentrism and class bias in favour of embracing humanity and ensuring that the dispossessed secure the right to be their “imperfect selves”. To be imperfectly human should never be a white privilege, or a black death sentence.” (Sadiah Qureshi's review)

The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Recommended by Doug Hattaway

I’ve read this and other books about the experiences of enslaved people to gain perspective on a dark part of American history that shapes our society today.

"In prose that sings and imagination that soars, Coates further cements himself as one of this generation's most important writers, tackling one of America's oldest and darkest periods with grace and inventiveness. This is bold, dazzling, and not to be missed." (Publisher’s Review)

“The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson 

Recommended by Carlos Diaz Barriga

Not being from the U.S., I'm always interested in learning more about the country's history. Isabel Wilkerson's book does an incredible job of explaining the Great Migration in full detail. It should be required reading for everyone.

“The Warmth of Other Suns is a bold, remarkable, and riveting work, a superb account of an “unrecognized immigration” within our own land. Through the breadth of its narrative, the beauty of the writing, the depth of its research, and the fullness of the people and lives portrayed herein, this book is destined to become a classic.”

Malcolm X, The Dead Are Arising” by Les Payne 

Recommended by Casey Campbell

After seeing the play "Detriot Red," which tells the story of a young Malcolm X living in Boston, I realized I knew very little about his origin story and was eager to learn more.

“Compiled from hundreds of hours of interviews and countless archival documents, this biography broadens the narrative on the life of Malcolm X. The book starts before his birth, with a gut-wrenching account of the 1919 Ohama Lynching, contexualizing the environment that Malcolm X would be born into.”

We Love You, Charlie Freeman” by Kaitlyn Greenidge 

Recommended by Casey Campbell

I'm drawn to Kaitlyn Greenidge's work because it is largely informed by extensive historical research and covers topics you don't find in more mainstream works of history.

“Kaitlyn Greenidge's first novel starts with the Freeman's, a Black family hired to participate in a linguistics experiment in a predominantly white town in western Massachusetts. The story that follows is shadowed by American eugenics movements and animated by conversations on family, language, and race.”

“A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance” by Hanif Abdurraqib 

Recommended by Lily Werlinich

Hanif Aburraqib is one of my favorite writers of cultural criticism out there. Who else can write an essay about My Chemical Romance that will make me cry? 

“Abdurraqib writes masterfully about Black culture and entertainment. In his lyrical essays, he explores how Black performance has become irrevocably wound through American culture, from Josephine Baker to Merry Clayton to Beyoncé.”

“Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination” by Toni Morrison 

Recommended byLily Werlinich

This book changed the way I think about American freedom and whiteness—and how neither can really exist without American enslavement and blackness. 

“Toni Morrison’s fiction is a must-read for everyone. But this incredibly brief book of literary criticism should be, too. Morrison’s essays reveal how classic writers like Hemingway and Poe used Black and “Africanist” presences to explore themes of freedom, individualism, and innocence.” 

“Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson

Recommended by Carrie Schum 

This book illustrates two big things. First, the incredible impact that one courageous person can have; second, that one particular story can illuminate big issues that affect us all.

“Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.”

“How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America” by Clint Smith

Recommended by Megan King

Making connections between the history of slavery in the United States and the present day atmosphere of racial injustice is important to understanding who we are as a nation and how we got here so that we can move toward a more equitable future.

“In a deeply researched and transporting exploration of the legacy of slavery and its imprint on centuries of American history, How the Word Is Passed illustrates how some of our country’s most essential stories are hidden in plain view-whether in places we might drive by on our way to work, holidays such as Juneteenth, or entire neighborhoods—like downtown Manhattan—on which the brutal history of the trade in enslaved men, women and children has been deeply imprinted.”