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10 Books to Understand Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Legacy in 2020

Five decades after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death, American society is still working towards the dream that he envisioned. These ten essential nonfiction books shed light on these decades after Dr. King’s life, the Civil Rights movement, and show how his legacy has shaped the past half-century. Learn from the experiences of activists, lawyers, and journalists about the ongoing and necessary work towards racial equality.

  1. 1
    Begin Again Book Cover Picture
    Begin Again Book Cover Picture

    Begin Again

    by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.

    Mixing biography–drawn partially from newly uncovered interviews–with history, memoir, and trenchant analysis of our current moment, Begin Again is Glaude’s attempt, following Baldwin, to bear witness to the difficult truth of race in America today. It is at once a searing exploration that lays bare the tangled web of race, trauma, and memory, and a powerful interrogation of what we all must ask of ourselves in order to call forth a new America.
    Begin Again Book Cover Picture
    Begin Again Book Cover Picture

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  2. 2
    The Source of Self-Regard Book Cover Picture
    The Source of Self-Regard Book Cover Picture

    The Source of Self-Regard

    by Toni Morrison

    Here is Toni Morrison in her own words: a rich gathering of her most important essays and speeches, spanning four decades. These pages give us her searing prayer for the dead of 9/11, her Nobel lecture on the power of language, her searching meditation on Martin Luther King Jr., her heart-wrenching eulogy for James Baldwin. She looks deeply into the fault lines of culture and freedom: the foreigner, female empowerment, the press, money, “black matter(s),” human rights, the artist in society, the Afro-American presence in American literature.
    The Source of Self-Regard Book Cover Picture
    The Source of Self-Regard Book Cover Picture

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  3. 3
    How to Be an Antiracist Book Cover Picture
    How to Be an Antiracist Book Cover Picture

    How to Be an Antiracist

    by Ibram X. Kendi

    In How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi takes readers through a widening circle of antiracist ideas—from the most basic concepts to visionary possibilites—that will help readers see all forms of racism clearly, understand their posionous consequences, and work to oppose them in our systems and in ourselves. Kendi weaves an electrifying combination of ethics, history, law, and science with his own personal story of awakening to antiracism. This is an essential work for anyone who wants to go beyond the awareness of racism to the next step: contributing to the formation of a just and equitable society.
    How to Be an Antiracist Book Cover Picture
    How to Be an Antiracist Book Cover Picture

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  4. 4
    Making Our Way Home Book Cover Picture
    Making Our Way Home Book Cover Picture

    Making Our Way Home

    by Blair Imani

    Making Our Way Home is a powerful illustrated history of the Great Migration and its sweeping impact on Black and American culture, from Reconstruction to the rise of hip hop. The book explores issues like voting rights, domestic terrorism, discrimination, and segregation alongside the flourishing of arts and culture, activism, and civil rights. Imani shows how these influences shaped America’s workforce and wealth distribution by featuring the stories of notable people and events, relevant data, and family histories.
    Making Our Way Home Book Cover Picture
    Making Our Way Home Book Cover Picture

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  5. 5
    Black Is the Body Book Cover Picture
    Black Is the Body Book Cover Picture

    Black Is the Body

    by Emily Bernard

    In these twelve deeply personal, connected essays, Bernard details the experience of growing up black in the south with a family name inherited from a white man, surviving a random stabbing at a New Haven coffee shop, marrying a white man from the North and bringing him home to her family, adopting two children from Ethiopia, and living and teaching in a primarily white New England college town. Each of these essays sets out to discover a new way of talking about race and of telling the truth as the author has lived it.
    Black Is the Body Book Cover Picture
    Black Is the Body Book Cover Picture

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  6. 6
    There Will Be No Miracles Here Book Cover Picture
    There Will Be No Miracles Here Book Cover Picture

    There Will Be No Miracles Here

    by Casey Gerald

    There Will Be No Miracles Here Book Cover Picture
    There Will Be No Miracles Here Book Cover Picture

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  7. 7
    Just Mercy (Movie Tie-In Edition) Book Cover Picture
    Just Mercy (Movie Tie-In Edition) Book Cover Picture

    Just Mercy

    by Bryan Stevenson

    Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.
    Just Mercy (Movie Tie-In Edition) Book Cover Picture
    Just Mercy (Movie Tie-In Edition) Book Cover Picture

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  8. 8
    On the Other Side of Freedom Book Cover Picture
    On the Other Side of Freedom Book Cover Picture

    On the Other Side of Freedom

    by DeRay Mckesson

    In August 2014, DeRay Mckesson stood with hundreds of others on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, to push a message of justice and accountability. These protests, and others like them in cities across the country, resulted in the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. Honoring the voices of a new generation of activists, On the Other Side of Freedom is a visionary’s call to take responsibility for imagining, and then building, the world we want to live in.
    On the Other Side of Freedom Book Cover Picture
    On the Other Side of Freedom Book Cover Picture

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  9. 9
    Stony the Road Book Cover Picture
    Stony the Road Book Cover Picture

    Stony the Road

    by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

    A profound new rendering of the struggle by African-Americans for equality after the Civil War and the violent counter-revolution that resubjugated them, as seen through the prism of the war of images and ideas that have left an enduring racist stain on the American mind.
    Stony the Road Book Cover Picture
    Stony the Road Book Cover Picture

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  10. 10
    The Nickel Boys Book Cover Picture
    The Nickel Boys Book Cover Picture

    The Nickel Boys

    by Colson Whitehead

    As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is “as good as anyone.” For a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, which is a grotesque chamber of horrors. Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold onto Dr. King’s ringing assertion “Throw us in jail and we will still love you.” The tension between Elwood’s ideals and his friend’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades.
    The Nickel Boys Book Cover Picture
    The Nickel Boys Book Cover Picture

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