Ten Influential Books on African American People

Stolen Legacy, George James

Stolen Legacy stands among the scholarly works that have attempted to recover the “lost” history of early African civilization. Stolen Legacy argues that Greek philosophers were not the originators of Greek philosophy, that they derived it form Egyptian priest. James states that the Greek philosophy was the offspring of the Egyptian Mystery and that the Egyptians educated the Greeks.

Black Reconstruction, WEB DuBois

In Black reconstruction, DuBois deals with the question of post-civil War Reconstruction and why it failed. DuBois catalogues the reversal of the post-Reconstruction South and presents Reconstruction as a lost opportunity for all Americans. He describes the Civil War, emancipation of African Americans, and Reconstruction as being part of an all-too brief historical moment of true democracy in America.

Souls of Black Folk, WEB DuBois

Souls of Black Folk presents a vivid portrait of the conditions of facing newly emancipated blacks at the turn of the twentieth century and problem of race in America. In this book, DuBois introduces his influential concept of double-consciousness: the struggle of black people trying to define themselves as both African and American. Dubois also advanced his prophetic statement of race on race in America: “The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.”

The New Negro, Alain Locke

The New Negro became a “Who’s Who” of the Harlem Renaissance and its defining text. In this Landmark text, Locke set forth the defining characteristic of the new personality of the African American. The New Negro Movement intended to define blacks in new terms, outside of the convenient stereotype of white America. The New Negro symbolized the cleansing of the effects of the dehumanization of slavery.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston draws a sharp portrait of a proud independent black woman looking for her own identity and resolving not to live lost in sorrow, bitterness, fear or romantic dreams Through the changes Hurston’s main character goes through, she kept a death-grip commitment to live on her own terms, relying on her own creativity, strength, passions, and the power she drew from her community to pull her through.

Native Son, Richard Wright

Native Son is a powerful statement about racial inequality and social injustices so deep that it becomes nearly impossible to determine where societal expectations/conditioning end and free will begins. Indeed, one of the great strengths of Native Son as a chronicle of the effects of oppression is Wright’s extraordinary ability to explore the psychology not only of the oppressed but of the oppressors as well. Wright illustrates that racism is destructive to both groups, though for very different reasons.

Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

Invisible Man addresses many of the social and intellectual issues facing African-American identity, including the relationship between this identity and Marxism, black nationalism, and the reformist racial policies of Booker T. Washington. As the narrator of Invisible Man struggles to arrive at a conception of his own identity, he finds his efforts complicated by the fact that he is a black man living in a racist American society. As the narrator attempts to define himself through the values and expectations imposed on him, he finds that, in each case, the prescribed role limits his complexity as an individual and forces him to play an inauthentic part.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Alex Haley

The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a work of enduring value for African Americans and produced one of the sharpest and most insightful critiques of race and racism in American society and set the conceptual framework for the Black Consciousness and Black Power Movements in the 1960s. In this book, Malcolm X speaks on behalf of the black people, the poor, and the marginalized. The Autobiography of Malcolm is considered one of the best critiques of the black condition in America.

The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, Harold Cruse

The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual is one of the most influential works published after the 1960s Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. Cruse’s central augment is that the failure of the black bourgeoisie, artists, and intellectuals to create autonomous black cultural institutions and scholarship fostered and unhealthy reliance on white patronage. Cruses maintains that this failure of the black intellectual to crate a paradigm for looking at the world based on black sensibilities and viewpoints were abdicating their responsibility to the black masses.

Race Matters, Cornel West

In Race Matters, West asks for a renewed engagement on the question of race and presents a bracing call to action to establish a new framework from which to discuss the issue. West believes race represents a dire paradox for the nation: either America recognizes the common humanity of all its citizens, acknowledges its spiritual impoverishment, and overturns a political environment dominated by the image rather than substance, or it risks the unmaking of the democratic order.

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