There have been some stellar books about Black history, as well as memoirs by and biographies of prominent African American leaders, including Barack Obama's A Promised Land, the bestselling nonfiction book of 2020. A new one to add to your reading pile: Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song (Feb. 16), about the complex role the church has played in the lives of African Americans over 400 years. It's a companion to the fascinating PBS documentary of the same name that Gates (also host of the PBS series Finding Your Roots) wrote, produced and hosts (Feb. 16 and 17; check local listings).
With Black History Month just beginning, we asked the famed historian to share with us his favorite recent books about the Black experience in America. See his recommendations and explanations below.
Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie Glaude Jr. (2020)
"James Baldwin's prophetic voice is a go-to for so many of us searching for revelation in our bruising times, and in this lyrical odyssey, Glaude takes us on his own journey in discovering and rediscovering the genius of this most essential essayist who never flinched in confronting the tragic dimensions of race in America."
Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David Blight (2018)
"This is the definitive biography of the most influential African American leader of the 19th century, covering his obscure birth in enslavement through his central role in the freedom struggle that culminated in the Civil War and Emancipation. It continues through his later career as a powerbroker during Reconstruction and fierce critic of lynching and the drawing of the color line in the dawning Jim Crow era. There's a reason David won the Pulitzer Prize for this heroic effort, and it's certain to stand the test of time."