Once a year, we as a nation dedicate a month to celebrate the incredible achievements and contributions of black Americans. This is not only an opportunity to strike up necessary and educational conversations with our friends, coworkers, and neighbors, it’s also a great opportunity to read some incredible books. The 10 we’ve collected here offer some of the most poignant, inspiring, and incredible stories in our shared history—stories that demonstrate the struggles, challenges, and triumphs of black Americans throughout history, and stories that form a powerful reading list that will broaden your understanding of the world and the people who live in it.
Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly Not everyone knows that the word “computer” once referred to a human being who literally computed sums by hand. And not everyone knows the names Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Christine Darden, and Gloria Champine—or at least they didn’t until Shetterly’s book arrived, followed by the film adaptation starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Kevin Costner. These patriotic, courageous women were instrumental in making America’s early space program a success, despite the institutional racism and prejudice of the pre–Civil Rights Jim Crow era. Their story isn’t just one of incredible achievement, it’s also a lesson in how easily people can be erased from history when the system itself is bigoted. Read the book, see the excellent film based on it, and then listen to both the incredible theatrical score and the soundtrack album, both produced by Pharrell Williams and featuring the work of the legendary Hans Zimmer, Janelle Monae, Lalah Hathaway, Mary J. Blige, and Kim Burrell.