Don’t Know Much About African American History? A Reading List

Released in 1960, Sam Cooke sang and co-wrote the single “Wonderful World,” the first line of which is:

Don’t know much about history. . .

As Da Hype 1 and I planned our posts for Black History Month, we decided that we wanted to include a list of must-read books for the 2 Dope Sistahs blog. Of course, there are many such lists on other blogs and websites, but we still wanted to provide our recommendations as well. Between a literary scholar and a historian, this proved to be an overwhelming task. I had 48 books on my preliminary list, and I wasn’t sure how to narrow it. There were just too many books, and, of course, I thought people should read all of them.

After much agonizing, I decided to focus on books I would recommend to those who “Don’t know much about African American history.” I thought of my friend who was always wanted me to teach him because he hadn’t taken any history classes in college. I also considered books that I have chosen for my African-American history survey courses over the years. And I wanted to select books that have moved me. Finally, I thought it was best not to overwhelm readers with a long list or declare this as the definitive “must-read” list. The final product, I hope, is a list of six titles that will be helpful for those who are new to African American history and that it will encourage them to read more.


Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, Written by Himself, 1845.


Mary Prince, History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, Related by Herself, 1831.


Deborah Gray White, Ar’n’t I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South, Revised Edition, 1999.


Carter G. Woodson, The Miseducation of the Negro, 1933.


W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903.


Cheikh Anta Diop, The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality, 1974.

The great thing about this list is that many of these titles available on the web free or charge or for a nominal fee for e-readers. Enjoy!

*Thanks to my colleagues and friends, Drs. Tiwanna Simpson and Cherisse Jones-Branch, whom I consulted as I was compiling this list.


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