In celebration of Black History Month, and in order to share Black voices and the history of civil rights, segregation, and the continued fight for equality more widely, the University of Notre Dame Press has put together a page of some of our most important books in African American studies and African American Intellectual History.
If you see a book that you think would be good for classroom use, you can request an examination copy here. We are happy to offer a 30% discount on all books on this post. Simply enter code 14BLKHIST in the “Promotion Code” section at checkout.
In a society still plagued by injustice and racism, it is our hope that our books can be a powerful resource and force for good in the world.
William Still: The Underground Railroad and the Angel at Philadelphia is the first major biography of the free black abolitionist William Still, who coordinated the Eastern Line of the Underground Railroad and was a pillar of the Railroad as a whole. This monumental work details Still’s life story beginning with his parents’ escape from bondage in the early nineteenth century and continuing through his youth and adulthood as one of the nation’s most important Underground Railroad agents and, later, as an early civil rights pioneer. Unique to this book is an accessible and detailed database of the 995 fugitives Still helped escape from the South to the North and Canada between 1853 and 1861.
“William C. Kashatus’s William Still, along with providing a rich account of the great abolitionist and archivist of the Underground Railroad, brilliantly conveys the courage, the resourcefulness, and the intelligence of the slaves escaping towards freedom. This is history as it should be written: poignant, passionate, and trenchant.”—Kenneth A. McClane, author of Color: Essays on Race, Family, and History
Distinguished historian and civil rights activist Howard Ball has written dozens of books during his career, including the landmark biography of Thurgood Marshall, A Defiant Life, and the critically acclaimed Murder in Mississippi, chronicling the Mississippi Burning killings. In Taking the Fight South: Chronicle of a Jew’s Battle for Civil Rights in Mississippi, arguably his most personal book, Ball focuses on six years, from 1976 to 1982, when, against the advice of friends and colleagues in New York, he and his Jewish family moved from the Bronx to Starkville, Mississippi. For Ball, his wife, Carol, and their three young daughters, the move represented a leap of faith, ultimately illustrating their deep commitment toward racial justice.
“As we examine the horrific examples of public racism, Islamophobia, and anti-immigrant policy and behavior in contemporary society, I read this book personally, internalizing it deeply to ask if I would have had similar courage.”—Mark Curnutte, author of Across the Color Line
Nannie Helen Burroughs (1879–1961) is just one of the many African American intellectuals whose work has been long excluded from the literary canon. Burroughs was a celebrated female activist, educator, and intellectual. This book represents a landmark contribution to the African American intellectual historical project by allowing readers to experience Burroughs in her own words. Nannie Helen Burroughs: A Documentary Portrait of an Early Civil Rights Pioneer, 1900–1959 is an anthology written between 1900 and 1959 that encapsulates Burroughs’ work as a theologian, philosopher, activist, educator, intellectual, and evangelist.
This is a tremendous scholarly reintroduction of Nannie Helen Burroughs as a black thinker, a civil rights activist, and a race woman. It not only makes a substantial contribution to black intellectual history, but provides invaluable resources to black historians and black political theorists looking to theorize black women anew.—Tommy J. Curry, University of Edinburgh
Despite the extensive scholarship on Max Weber (1864–1920) and W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963), very little of it examines the contact between the two founding figures of Western sociology. Drawing on their correspondence from 1904 to 1906, and comparing the sociological work that they produced during this period and afterward, The Spirit vs. the Souls: Max Weber, W. E. B. Du Bois, and the Politics of Scholarship examines for the first time the ideas that Weber and Du Bois shared on topics such as sociological investigation, race, empire, unfree labor, capitalism, and socialism.
Conceptually intriguing and rigorously documented, Christopher McAuley’s astute observations on the rival notions of Weber and Du Bois—and the broader politics of thinking about race—should be measured as an outstanding contribution to African American intellectual history.—Patrick B. Miller, Northeastern Illinois University
Black Domers: African-American Students at Notre Dame in Their Own Words tells the compelling story of racial integration at the University of Notre Dame in the post–World War II era. In a series of seventy-five essays, beginning with the first African-American to graduate from Notre Dame in 1947 to a member of the class of 2017 who also served as student body president, we can trace the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of the African-American experience at Notre Dame through seven decades.
“Reading this book left me emotional at times. Still, I remained inspired with a resolute sense of pride to walk the campus where these trailblazers broke down barriers. Black Domers serves not only as a testament to how far we have come, but as a charge to continue the important work of ensuring that the experiences of every member of the Notre Dame family are consistent and reflect well of Our Lady.”—Eric Love, Director of Staff Diversity and Inclusion, University of Notre Dame
Colin Powell: Imperfect Patriot is the fascinating story of Powell’s professional life, and of what we can learn from both his good and bad followership. This biography demonstrates that Powell’s decades-long development as an exemplary subordinate is crucial to understanding his astonishing rise from a working-class immigrant neighborhood to the highest echelons of military and political power.
“This is no hagiography. Consisting of equal parts admiration and critical scrutiny, it is a tough and insightful portrayal of a commanding personality who was capable of both towering professional achievements and astonishing failures of judgment and ethics. Beyond pure biography, Matthews has produced a fascinating case study of the human elements of public service and leadership.”—Malcolm Byrne, deputy director, National Security Archive
In Abandoned Tracks: The Underground Railroad in Washington County, Pennsylvania, W. Thomas Mainwaring bridges the gap between scholarly and popular perceptions of the Underground Railroad. Historians have long recognized that many aspects of the Underground Railroad have been mythologized by emotion, memory, time, and wishful thinking. Mainwaring’s book is a rich, in-depth attempt to separate fact from fiction in one local area, while also contributing to a scholarly discussion of the Underground Railroad by placing Washington County, Pennsylvania, in the national context.
“In recent years, there has been an outpouring of important new scholarship on the Underground Railroad. W. Thomas Mainwaring’s Abandoned Tracks will stand with the best of these efforts as a shining example of a carefully researched local history that deftly puts the story of Washington County, Pennsylvania, in the full context of the coming of the Civil War.”—Matthew Pinsker, Dickinson College
A timely installment in our national narrative, Color: Essays on Race, Family, and History is a chronicle of the black middle class, a group rarely written about with sensitivity and charity. In evocative, trenchant, and poetic prose, McClane employs the art of the memoirist to explore the political and the personal. He details the poignant narrative of racial progress as witnessed by his family during the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. We learn of his parents’ difficult upbringing in Boston, where they confronted much racism; of the struggles they and McClane encountered as they became the first blacks to enter previously all-white institutions, including the oldest independent school in the United States; and of the part his parents played in the civil rights movement, working with Dr. King and others.
“Graceful, incisive, humane, Ken’s writing is both beautifully wrought and deeply informative about how we live life. All of us practicing essayists can only marvel in delight at his skill and envy his accomplishment.”—Gerald L. Early, author of The Culture of Bruising and This is Where I Came In
With essays by fourteen prominent African American intellectuals, including Langston Hughes, Sterling Brown, Mary McLeod Bethune, A. Philip Randolph, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Roy Wilkins, What the Negro Wants explores the policies and practices that could be employed to achieve equal rights and opportunities for Black Americans, rejecting calls to reform the old system of segregation and instead arguing for the construction of a new system of equality. Stirring intense controversy at the time of publication, the book serves as a unique window into the history of the civil rights movement and offers startling comparisons to today’s continuing fight against racism and inequality.
“This book provides a marvelous window into the contours of mid-twentieth century black political though. . . . More than half a century after its publication, this book remains a valuable document for anyone interested in the origins of the modern civil rights movement. Its indictment of American racism remains powerful and relevant even today.”—Chicago Tribune