It's Black History Month! I believe that the best way to honor people of color this month (and everyday) is to educate ourselves about Black struggles, culture, and tradition. Here are eight books that you could read this month to do just that, all ranging in length and subject, but all featuring strong Black characters, and some written by wonderful Black authors.
1. "Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine" by Bebe Moore Campbell
This was the last book I read for an African American authors class I took last semester, and it moved to the top of my favorite book list pretty quickly. It's heartbreaking and honest and so well-written. Bebe Moore Campbell is such a talented writer. Her words are poetic and passionate and she tells this story better than anyone could.
It follows several different characters in a small town in Mississippi after the racially motivated murder of a teenage boy. Her characters each represent a different pillar of racism, proving how easily a society can learn to accept and even embrace racism, but then also how it can begin to abolish it.
It's a sad story, but it's worth it if you're interested in learning about racial injustice in a historical context.
2. "Kindred" by Octavia Butler
This book is almost a mix between sci-fi and historical fiction and it's SO good!! The main character finds out that she can time travel from her 1970's life in California to the 1800s at the plantation where her ancestors were kept as slaves. She's repeatedly transported between her two worlds, sent to save the life of the plantation owner's son, Rufus. An intriguing, unique, and poignant novel for the scientifically and historically curious.
3. "The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd
"The Secret Life of Bees" is my favorite book I've ever read and a really empowering book for all women, but especially women of color. A young girl with a traumatic childhood decides to escape her abusive father and is taken in by a group of free-spirited Black beekeepers.
Sue Monk Kidd beautifully captures womanhood through her memorable characters, but also tells the honest truth about racism in South Carolina in 1964.
4. "Through My Eyes" by Ruby Bridges
This is a short children's book, but it still powerfully tells Ruby Bridges' story and the story of all Black children following the desegregation of schools in the south. Her self-written narrative details the events of the day that Ruby Bridges walked into school surrounded by federal marshals while angry segregationists tried to keep her out.
5. "Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neale Hurston
This was one of the few required readings I actually really enjoyed from high school! It follows a Black woman in her 30s through love and loss. The language switches between Janie's rural Southern Black dialect to her articulate inner thoughts and narration, mirroring Janie's quest to find her voice. This is a culturally rich novel for historical fiction lovers!
6. "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee
Some may consider this a cliché in contemporary American literature, but its message and storyline are still moving and thought-provoking. It follows the trial of a Black man in a small Southern town wrongly accused of raping a White girl. We see the story through the eyes of a young girl, contrasting her innocence with the wickedness of the world she lives in.
7. "The ABCs of Black History" by Rio Cortez
Another children's book, but still informational and incredibly moving. This book goes A to Z through events, people, and places that are all important to Black history and raises up Black children to celebrate their culture, not hide it. Such an important read for both children and adults!
8. "Gal: A True Life" by Ruthie Bolton
I love a good memoir, and this one is so beautifully written. It follows the story of Ruthie Bolton from her birth to her young mother in Charleston, South Carolina as she grows up and encounters all the hardships that a Black woman in the later half of the twentieth century would have to deal with. Heartbreaking but moving, a wonderful portrait of a resilient Black woman.
Educating yourself is a process, and it's one that is deeply personal. Through observation and self reflection we begin to notice where we fall short and where we need to better ourselves to honor others.