The Best Black History Books of 2018

We asked editors and bloggers of Black Perspectives to select the best books published in 2018 on Black History, and they delivered! Check out this extraordinary list of great books from 2018 that offer varied historical perspectives on the Black experience in the United States and across the globe. From books on slavery in the Atlantic and the Haitian Revolution to works on the Harlem Renaissance, urban planning in Canada, and independence movements in Colombia, the diverse selections included in this list will enhance your reading list for the new year, and deepen your understanding of Black people’s ideas and experiences in every part of the globe.

Carol Anderson, One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy (Bloomsbury).

“Looking at gerrymandering, voter ID laws, the closure of polling places, and a host of other forms of voter suppression; Carol Anderson brilliantly shows how African Americans have systematically lost their voting rights since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Today, as voter suppression disproportionately affect Black voters and our elections, One Person, No Vote is a necessary read that explains how disguised racism continues to impact our political institutions.”–Louis Moore 

Lilian Calles Barger, The World Come of Age: An Intellectual History of Liberation Theology (Oxford University Press).

“Barger provides a meticulous account of the converging and politically fraught worlds that produced, stirred up, and conjured the liberation sensibilities of marginalized peoples in the United States, Latin America and across the globe during the twentieth century. For Barger, liberation theology emerged out of global political struggle, and she demonstrates how theologians reckoned with the concept of “God” as both a racialized and gendered construct, and charted new intellectual terrain in church, academy and society for reckoning with the evils of patriarchy, colonialism, and white supremacy. Barger also richly underscores the intersections and “joint struggle” between Black liberation theology, Latin American liberation theology, and feminist liberation theology.”–Ahmad Greene-Hayes

Herman L. Bennett, African Kings and Black Slaves: Sovereignty and Dispossession in the Early Modern Atlantic (University of Pennsylvania Press).

African Kings and Black Slaves is an important new book that sheds new light on the first century of African-European interaction. Bennett does an excellent job of centering the histories of African-descended people in West-Central Africa as well as in the Americas. His work compellingly argues for the need to recuperate African sovereignty in order to change scholarly and popular understandings of sub-Saharan African polities and political formation.–Nicholas Jones

Daina Ramey Berry and Leslie Harris, Sexuality and Slavery: Reclaiming Intimate Histories in the Americas (University of Georgia Press).

“Berry and Harris have complied a groundbreaking volume that asks readers to consider how sexuality and intimacy transforms their understanding of enslaved people and slavery. With essays addressing enslaved peoples from Barbados to Peru, and issues such as Concubinage and legal cases, the temporal breath and geographical range of the volume make it an ideal read for those interested in learning more about slavery across the Americas, Black women’s history, and enslaved people’s inner lives.”–Ashley D. Farmer 

R.J.M. Blackett, Captive’s Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the Politics of Slavery (Cambridge University Press).

“Many years in the making, Blackett’s text is a magnum opus. At the heart of this book are the actions of the men and women who “declared their undying opposition to the Fugitive Slave Law,” and then, acted on it from all possible directions. Centering a magisterial collection and examination of national and provincial newspapers, the themes of persistent flight, personal narrative, and transnational migration are at the heart of this story of unyielding resistance. Blackett shows us that fugitivity was not only an emancipatory feat, but also an effective political act that pressured state and national legislatures.”–Rachel Zellars 

Keisha N. Blain, Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom (University of Pennsylvania Press).

“Keisha N. Blain’s Set the World On Fire does important work to recover a tradition of Garveyite and post-Garveyite Black nationalist women such as Mittie Maude Lena Gordon, Celia Jane Allen, and Amy Jacques Garvey. These women challenged not only white supremacy but also the perpetuation of confining roles for women within Black nationalist organizations. This work is particularly important for the nuance, texture, and care it allots these figures. Blain skillfully analyzes the tensions and dynamics emerging between these women’s visions of Black nationalist futures, their sometimes heterodox cosmologies and political rubrics, and the complicated terrain of Jim crow America.”–J.T. Roane

David W. Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (Simon and Schuster).

“As one of the world’s foremost American historians, David Blight brings together decades of teaching and research to produce the single most comprehensive biography of the fabled abolitionist giant Frederick Douglass. Nuanced, detailed, and yet ever mindful of the big picture, this book is simply a model of historical biography. From Douglass’s childhood and family life, to his transnational globe trotting and political career, this book not only re-frames “Old Man Eloquent” himself but also the entire narrative of nineteenth century America writ large.”–Guy Emerson Mount 

Sylvia Chan-Malik, Being Muslim: A Cultural History of Women of Color in American Islam (New York University Press).

“In this timely monograph, cultural studies scholar Sylvia Chan-Malik embarks on the incredible and necessary task of detailing the historical contributions of women of color in American Islam. Highlighting the contributions of mostly African American, but also Asian, Arab, Latino, African diasporic, white, and multiracial women, Chan-Malik makes clear how women of all colors have labored in ways that have been historically obscured from our vision.  Bringing these labors to the fore, Chan-Malik destabilizes male driven and immigrant Arab and South Asian focused narratives demonstrating the how women various backgrounds have worked separately and together to forge a uniquely American Islam influenced by American racial, gender, and class dynamics.”–Alaina Morgan

Peter Cole, Dockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area (University of Illinois Press).

“In this original transnational and comparative study, historian Peter Cole highlights the diverse experiences of dockworkers in Durban, South Africa, and the San Francisco Bay Area, California from the 1950s to the 2000s. Skillfully weaving together an array of sources, Cole compellingly shows how these workers agitated for labor and civil rights in these cities, utilizing various strategies and tactics. The fascinating stories he centers in Dockworker Power capture the dynamics of global social movements, the significance of black internationalism, and the power of grassroots organizing.”–Keisha N. Blain

Kevin Dawson, Undercurrents of Power: Aquatic Culture in the African Diaspora (University of Pennsylvania Press).

“Kevin Dawson’s Undercurrents of Power provides a compelling history of diasporic Africans’ maritime skills throughout the duration of the transatlantic slave trade. Marshaling an impressive array of primary sources, he uncovers many enslaved people who held highly specialized skills, as they dived, swam, fished, and sailed throughout the Greater Caribbean. By transcending the land-based models of plantation slavery, Dawson’s work forces us to reconsider Atlantic enslavement in broader geographical, chronological, and conceptual terms.”–Tyler Parry

Chris Dixon, African Americans and the Pacific War, 1941-1954 (Cambridge University Press).

“Chris Dixon’s study examines the tension between race and nationality—between African American identity and American identity. It emphasizes the importance of Asia in the formation of the Black radical tradition in the 20th century, and explores how African Americans’ imagined and real solidarities with peoples of Asia produced an uncompromising critique of white supremacy. This study underscores African Americans’ determination to struggle for freedom and advancement both in the military and at home.”–Karen Cook Bell

Eve Ewing, Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side (University of Chicago).

“A powerfully written account of how Chicago’s public schools failed students of color. Eve Ewing’s expertise runs three-fold; as a student at, teacher in, and researcher of the Chicago Public School system. Using the 2013 school closings orchestrated by the Rahm administration as an entry point, Ewing expertly maps a broader history of systemic racism, educational neglect, and community resistance.”–E. James West

Gerald Horne, The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, and Capitalism in 17th Century North America and the Caribbean (Monthly Review Press).

“Horne excavates and analyzes the entanglements of white supremacy, capitalist expansion, imperial dispossession, and war, offering keen insight not only into the making of the United States in the seventeenth century, but also into our current historical moment. His meticulous documentation of the mutually constitutive violence against Africans, Native Americans, and ‘lesser’ whites compels readers to take seriously the international and political economic foundations of conquest, genocide, and enslavement that gave rise to the modern U.S. state.”–Charisse Burden-Stelly

Martha Jones, Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America (Cambridge University Press).

“In a year where misinformation and confusion surrounding the history and legacy of birthright citizenship abound, Martha S. Jones has published a masterful and definitive study of the roots of a right Americans of all races often take for granted. Exploring the roots, presumptions, and emergence of birthright citizenship in the United States, Jones provides necessary context for popular conversations about the rights and privileges due individuals born within these United States.”–Jessica Marie Johnson

Ethan Kytle and Blain Roberts, Denmark Vesey’s Garden: Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of the Confederacy (The New Press).

“This comprehensive 150 year history of the memorialization of slavery in Charleston, South Carolina provides essential historical context to current debates over the commemorative landscape in the South and beyond. Those wanting to understand why Charleston, a city intent on claiming the mantle of “America’s Most Historic City,” could be so inclined to ignore or whitewash certain aspects of its past can look no further than Denmark Vesey’s Garden. Kytle and Roberts argue that the memory of slavery both undergirds the historical landscape in Charleston and that the whitewashed memory of slavery erases a vibrant history of African American commemoration and memorialization.”–Ashleigh Lawrence-Sanders

Claudia Leal, Landscapes of Freedom: Building a Postemancipation Society in the Rainforests of Western Colombia (University of Arizona Press).

“Claudia Leal uncovers the making of the post-emancipation economy and society of the Colombian Pacific lowlands, a remarkable rainforest region of the African Diaspora where people of African descent experienced unprecedented levels of independence. Combining environmental history with cultural and economic approaches, Leal reveals the possibilities afforded by the gold mining economy and rich terrain to Afro-Colombian peasants after the abolition of slavery in 1852, as well as contentious racial and cultural struggles over the region’s landscape. This book is central to understanding how geography shaped the post-emancipation worlds of Black people in the afterlife of slavery.”–Yesenia Barragan 

Imani Perry, May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem (University of North Carolina Press).

“Through comprehensive research and poignant writing, Imani Perry explores how the song evolved over time, was cultivated in an array of Black spaces, and became a hopeful, rallying hymn for African Americans. This timely, must-read details how “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as a song connected the political with the spiritual while also creating a lane for how we discuss liberation and Black activism. May We Forever Stand is a book that not only acknowledges and pays tribute to the past but plays a role in understanding the current social and political climate of today’s society.”–Grace Gipson

Barbara Ransby, Making All Black Lives Matter: Reimagining Freedom in the Twenty-First Century (University of California Press).

“Barbara Ransby takes on the difficult task of writing a history of a social movement still in development, and she does it with the rigor, clarity, and empathy that she has used in her biographies of Black radicals Ella Baker and Eslanda Robeson. This short but deep book provides both a primer on Black Lives Matter as well as a critical interrogation of its possible futures from someone who has nurtured as well as observed its growth. Making All Black Lives Matter is a work of tremendous immediacy, reflection, and power.”–Dan Berger    

Ted Rutland, Displacing Blackness: Planning, Power, and Race in Twentieth–Century Halifax (University of Toronto Press).

Displacing Blackness re-centers Black Canadian experiences to argue that, from the 1910s into the 1970s, urban planning and renewal was not a reflection of anti-Black racism, it was racism in and of itself. In doing so, Rutland questions assumptions of universal benevolence that embedded within historic conceptions of Canada as a ‘raceless’ state and society. The author shows how 20th urban planning and renewal initiatives purposely excluded, oppressed, and harmed Black people, including residents in Africville, North Preston, and the North End. Augmented by the work of a diverse range of Black scholars spanning the continent, this book locates Canadian anti-Blackness in very inconspicuous intimate spaces and state policies.”–Melissa N. Shaw

Julius S. Scott, The Common Wind: Afro-American Currents in the Age of the Haitian Revolution (Verso Books).

“Over the past three decades, scholarship on the Black Atlantic and black internationalism has flourished. The Common Wind deserves a great deal of credit for this development. In his highly-anticipated book based on his widely-acclaimed dissertation, Julius S. Scott shows how free and enslaved people of African descent discussed current events, whispered rumors about emancipation, undermined imperial power, and created common cause throughout the Americas during the Age of Revolutions. Through careful examination of archival records from the Anglophone, Hispanophone, and Francophone worlds, he offers an inspiring history about the subaltern production, transformative power, and global circulation of ideas.”–Brandon Byrd

Sandra Staton-Taiwo, Broad Sympathies in a Narrow World: The Legacy of W. E. B. Du Bois (Wayne State University Press).

“Staton-Taiwo’s book of poems masterfully covers Du Bois’s 95 years in breathtaking verse, lyrical description, and insightful turns of phrase. The book powerfully conveys the complexities of the private lives of the Du Bois women–his first wife Nina, his daughter Yolande, and second wife Shirley Graham Du Bois–to show how the intellectual sophistication of a public scholar did not always translate into relational brilliance at home. At the same time, Staton-Taiwo grippingly textualizes the “broad sympathies” of Du Bois’s capacious intellect, innovative scholarship across multiple disciplines, and deep love for people of African descent.”–Phillip Luke Sinitiere

Jeffrey C. Stewart, The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke (Oxford University Press).

“In this 2018 National Book Award winning biography, Jeffrey C. Stewart depicts Alain Leroy Locke–the first African-American Rhodes Scholar, philosopher, and chief curator of the Harlem Renaissance–as a conflicted spokesperson of Black modernity who leads a life of complex magnitude, wrought by protean misfortune shot through with shards of loneliness. Painstakingly exhaustive in detail, the book culls Locke from the historical recesses of Black and queer thought in a way that speaks to this current moment. The book recovers an aesthetic turn in the Black Radical Thought tradition that anticipates the Black Arts Movement of the sixties and seventies and the Black Queer Renaissance of the eighties and nineties.”–Keelyn Bradley

Jeanne Theoharis, A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History (Beacon Press).

“Theoharis delivers a deeply necessary and uncomfortable corrective on the popularity of the Civil Rights Movement, the role of the media in limiting racial progress, and how these myths continue to limit the efficacy of civil rights demands today. Theoharis’s text is written for a non-specialist audience and enters a growing lexicon on the Black Freedom Struggle that forces readers to question the meaning of progress and the mythology we construct to prevent future change.”–Denise Lynn

Elizabeth Todd-Breland, A Political Education: Black Politics and Education Reform in Chicago Since the 1960s (University of North Carolina Press).

“Elizabeth Todd-Breland offers a new history of post-1960s Black politics that captures how teachers, parents, students and community members (primarily Black women) continued to organize in their local contexts, even as the national apparatus of Black political organizing waned. A narrative of predatory educational policies on the one hand, the book is also an intellectual and social history of Black grassroots organizers on the other; Black education reformers constantly striving for equity and justice in schools on their own terms.” —Jarvis R. Givens 

Imaobong D. Umoren, Race Women Internationalists: Activist-Intellectuals and Global Freedom Struggles (University of California Press).

“In this compelling narrative, Umoren centers the lives, experiences, and literature of American Eslanda Robeson, Martinican Paulette  Nardal, and Jamaican Una Marson. She shows how these women carved out spaces for themselves that entailed positioning themselves as thinkers, doers, and leaders in their own right. Umoren uncovers how these women’s mobility and politics of location, along with transnational exchanges and networks, informed their intersecting versions of internationalism and approaches to challenge racism, sexism, fascism, and colonialism.”–Tiffany Florvil

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