Essential Reading for Black History Month

We are well into Black History Month, so if you’re looking to stack your TBR full of books by Black authors, you’re in the right place. The list below covers ground from memoir to self-help, from Black history to social commentary, and there are even activity books below, for those who want to further educate themselves. With no further ado, let’s get this February reading goal started!


You might know Eboni Williams as one of the participants on Real Housewives of New York, but she’s also a lawyer, journalist, and podcaster. Her book is part memoir, part self-help, and part Black history. It covers topics like being Black and proud, subverting stereotypes, disrupting oppressive power structures, and code switching.


Jason Reynolds adapted Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi for a middle-grades audience in this book, which won both the Goodreads Choice Award and the National Book Award. He’s quick to establish that this is not a history book, but rather it illustrates the crucial connections between the horrific past and the subtler (or not so subtle) racism of today. It also works to help middle-grades readers figure out the role they play in being anti-racist.


This book is essentially a field guide that works to un-engrain hustle culture and the concept of “productivity as the cornerstone of success” that exploits Black people on a regular basis. Hersey also illuminates how resting is a form of resisting that exploitation.



For those wanting a traditional narrative of strategy and achievement, but for African American women, this book is for you. Shellye Archambeau tells both her own story of how she got it all and how others can follow her example: she climbed the IBM ladder, became a Silicon Valley CEO, and balances her family, career, and company like the professional she is.


In this memoir, Kendra James talks about her position as an admissions officer who specialized in diversity recruitment for independent preparatory schools similar to the one she attended herself. It is memoir, but the focus of this book is the social critique of this type of school.


For those unfamiliar, John Lewis was a big part of the Civil Rights Movement, chairman of SNCC, and he was the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th congressional district. These are his thoughts in his late life, and they’re organized by topic, like courage, mentorship, forgiveness, or voting. I’d put this book first on my own BHM TBR.


Yusef Salaam was one of the Central Park Five, the now-exonerated children who were imprisoned for seven years on a false conviction. This memoir tells his individual story as a survivor of a grave miscarriage of justice and calls its readers to action in reformation of the criminal justice system.


This book answers the questions people don’t want to ask about race, but that we all should learn the answers to. She addresses the landscape of racism in America by explaining the relationships between issues like privilege, micro-aggressions, and intersectionality to name but a few. It’s the perfect primer for someone who wants to learn about institutional racism but feels like they waited too long to ask.

Mary Kay McBrayer is the author of America’s First Female Serial Killer: Jane Toppan and the Making of a Monster. You can find her short works at Oxford American, Narratively, Mental Floss, and FANGORIA, among other publications. She co-hosts Everything Trying to Kill You, the comedy podcast that analyzes your favorite horror movies from the perspectives of women of color. Follow Mary Kay McBrayer on Instagram and Twitter, or check out her author site here.