Racist Violence, Anti-Racist Struggle, and American History: A Reading List

This reading list originated in response to the brutal murder in February 2020 of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, by three white men in Glynn County, Georgia. Our goal was to provide Red Madison readers with a means of contextualizing this crime within America’s long history of anti-black violence. These books are not adjacent or supplemental to standard narratives of American history—they are American history, and any narrative that ignores these events is a false one. 

As a sad reminder of this fact, in the few weeks between the time we decided to pull together this list and our publishing of it yet another Black man was murdered—George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police officers. 

The systemic changes that are required to make this country safe for Black Americans will take more than a reading list. But understanding the historical roots of this violence can play an important role: educating ourselves can make us better listeners, can help us spread these truths to people who need to hear them, and can provide a basis for thinking about what a society would look like that actively encourages not just the survival but the flourishing of Black Americans.


  • Najia Aarim-Heriot, Chinese Immigrants, African Americans, and Racial Anxiety in the United States, 1848-82 (2006) 
  • James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963)
  • Edward E. Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (2016)
  • Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Goss, A Black Women’s History of the United States (2020)
  • W. Fitzhugh Brundage, ed., Under Sentence of Death: Lynching in the South (1997)
  • Nicholas Buccola, The Fire Is Upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Debate over Race in America (2019) NB: for a discussion of this book with the author, see the following podcast episode: https://askhistorians.libsyn.com/askhistorians-episode-144-the-fire-is-upon-us 
  • Stephanie Camp, Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women & Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South (2004)
  • Karen L. Cox, Dixie’s Daughters, with a new preface: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture (2019 edition)
  • Crystal Feimster, Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching (2011) 
  • Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 (1988)
  • Taylor Branch, Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65 (1988)
  • Taylor Branch, At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68 (1988)
  • Terence Finnegan, A Deed So Accursed: Lynching in Mississippi and South Carolina, 1881–1940 (2013)
  • Sally E. Hadden, Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas (2003)
  • Dorothy Roberts, Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty (1997)
  • Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, From Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation (2016)
  • Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers, They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South (2019)
  • Blair L. Kelly, Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson (2010) 
  • Ibram X. Kendi, How To Be An Antiracist (2019) [NB: not strictly history, but important]
  • Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (2017)
  • Danielle L. McGuire, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance—A New History of Civil Rights from Rosa Parks to Black Power (2011) 
  • Elizabeth Gillespie McRae, Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy (2018)
  • Robin D. G. Kelley, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression (1990; 25th anniversary edition 2015)
  • Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom (1975)
  • Sowande’ M. Mustakeem, Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage (2016) 
  • Safiya Umoja Noble, Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism (2018) [NB: not strictly history, but important book on technology and race]
  • Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (second edition, 2007)
  • Cornel West, Race Matters (1993; new edition 2017)
  • Kidada E. Williams, They Left Great Marks on Me: African American Testimonies of Racial Violence from Emancipation to World War I (2012) 
  • Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin, Detroit: I Do Mind Dying (1998; third edition 2012)

List compiled and introduced by David Boffa

So you need to order some books but you’d rather walk across the hot coals of this burnt-down Amazon warehouse than order books from Amazon. No problem! Here are some alternatives. 

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