1. To Kill a Mockingbird
This novel has earned its place as the quintessential starting point for those wanting to read about topics such as race, class, and their intersections. Its archetypal status is mostly due to the fact that the novel presents these topics through the eyes of children who are not yet fettered by the racial constructs that are undeniably present within adulthood. If you are looking for a period piece that encapsulates many of the systemic problems that still plague communities of color today, this is certainly one of the most praised pieces of fiction.
2. Sula by Toni Morrison
The late Toni Morrison is one of the most recognizable and championed black novelists of all time, and these praised attributes are exhibited clearly within Sula. This is a nice starting place for Morrison’s work due to its brevity and impactful plotline that handles race, class, and selfhood in a tactful way. Sula is recommended for those who are seeking something that has more adult-oriented content than To Kill a Mockingbird, while still being a work of fiction.
3. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
William Faulkner presents readers a diverse household with features that are exhibitions of the human spirit and life itself. In grappling with race, class, sex, sexuality, and disability all within a single family, Faulkner leaves readers in a position of understanding that is not frequently seen today. Although his stream of consciousness style of writing is not the easiest to tread through, Faulkner’s poignant style shines alongside the variety of lessons to be learned from the text. This book forces readers to question their humanity as well as the parameters of what constitutes a human being.
4. Women, Race, and Class by Angela Y. Davis
Angela Davis is a well-known professor and academic who has been a champion for civil rights in the U.S. for decades. In this nonfiction work, Davis provides a detailed history of the civil rights movement, which encapsulates a variety of possible considerations related to it. These considerations come in the form of differing political focal points and information about how these points were met with conflict for reasons of political success rather than any logical difference. This book is a great starting point for those who are interested in historical occurrence as it relates to the same system of government being grappled with today.
5. Lay Bare the Heart by James Farmer
One of the most severely underrated actors in the civil rights movement, James Farmer, details his journey to becoming one of the most influential presences in the movement by his organization of the freedom riders and his other political activism. This book spans the entirety of Farmer’s life and contains plenty of information that exhibits just what it takes to become a symbol for peace and egalitarian views. This autobiography is recommended for those looking for a first-person, nonfiction recapitulation of the civil rights movement during its peak.
6. The Rebellious Life of Rosa Parks by Jeanne Theoharis
Award-winning nonfiction author and professor Jeanne Theoharis gives us a retelling of Rosa Parks’ story which expands far beyond her legacy as it stands today. This novel is recommended for those who think that Rosa Parks’s legacy is simply refusing to give up her seat. In order to understand the scope of her bravery and influence, this book is a must-read.
7. Standing Fast: The Autobiography of Roy Wilkins by Roy Wilkins and Tom Matthews
Another one of the “Big Four” leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, Roy Wilkins details his life as a black man in the south and his eventual rise to the position of executive director of the NAACP. Roy Wilkins’ story is one not frequently mentioned when speaking about the civil rights movement, although his work as executive secretary, and subsequently executive director, played a large role in the civil rights movement’s legislative aftermath. This autobiography is recommended for those who believe legislative change to be the most viable means to a revolutionary end.
8. At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance – a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle L. McGuire
This book offers another viewpoint of Rosa Parks’ influence and relates that influence to the historical occurrences that preceded her and continued throughout her life. This book is for anyone looking to educate themselves on the investigative work of Rosa Parks when she worked for the NAACP. It can easily supplement the biography already included on this list.
9. To Die for the People by Huey Newton (Edited by Toni Morrison)
Although Newton’s essays included in this collection are markedly theory-based and a bit harder to comprehend than the works already mentioned on this list, they are nonetheless rife with relevant, practical theories that are more than applicable to the current climate being addressed by Black Lives Matter. This collection is recommended for those looking for an academically focused solution to the racial problems still occurring today.
10. The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther by Jeffrey Haas
This novel recounts the assassination of 21-year-old socialist political activist Fred Hampton. Hampton was a political activist known for his involvement in the Black Panther Party, as well as for his work championing non-violence within his Chicago community. This is an important story regarding the rights of law enforcement agencies to monitor U.S. citizens. It ultimately leaves readers with the knowledge that our government will suppress non-violent action if it is given the chance to do so. For anyone who is invested in their right to a personal ideology devoid of violent action, Fred Hampton’s story is critical.
Davis, Angela Y. Women, Race and Class. London: Penguin Books, 2019.
Farmer, James. Lay Bare the Heart: An Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1998.
Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. London: Vintage, 2015.
Haas, Jeffrey. The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2019.
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1999.
McGuire, Danielle L. At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance - a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.
Morrison, Toni. Sula. Vintage Classics, 2020.
Newton, Huey P. To Die for the People: The Writings of Huey P. Newton. Edited by Toni Morrison. San Francisco, CA: City Lights, 2009.
Theoharris, Jeanne. The Rebellious Life of Rosa Parks. S.l.: Beacon, 2021.
Wilkins, Roy, and Tom Mathews. Standing Fast: The Autobiography of Roy Wilkins. New York: Da Capo Press, 1994.