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The 1619 Book List

In August 1619 the first enslaved Africans were brought to North America. 400 years later, American society is still racially divided and unequal on almost every institutional level, from prisons to universities. Inspired by The 1619 Project, we’ve compiled essential fiction and nonfiction books that focus on the work towards continued liberation, center African Americans in the story of American democracy, and examine the flawed power structure that has shaped our country since its founding day.

  1. 1
    The Fire Next Time Book Cover Picture
    The Fire Next Time Book Cover Picture

    The Fire Next Time

    by James Baldwin

    At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin’s early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, The Fire Next Time is an intensely personal and provocative document. It consists of two “letters,” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism. Described by The New York Times Book Review as “sermon, ultimatum, confession, deposition, testament, and chronicle…all presented in searing, brilliant prose,” The Fire Next Time stands as a classic of our literature.
    The Fire Next Time Book Cover Picture
    The Fire Next Time Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $13.95

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  2. 2
    Just Mercy (Movie Tie-In Edition) Book Cover Picture
    Just Mercy (Movie Tie-In Edition) Book Cover Picture

    Just Mercy (Movie Tie-In Edition)

    by Bryan Stevenson

    Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever. 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

    Paperback
    $17.00

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  3. 3
    We Were Eight Years in Power Book Cover Picture
    We Were Eight Years in Power Book Cover Picture

    We Were Eight Years in Power

    by Ta-Nehisi Coates

    “We were eight years in power” was the lament of Reconstruction-era black politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. In this sweeping collection of new and selected essays, Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time.  We Were Eight Years in Power features Ta-Nehisi Coates’s iconic essays first published in The Atlantic, including “Fear of a Black President,” “The Case for Reparations,” and “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” along with eight fresh essays that revisit each year of the Obama administration through Coates’s own experiences, observations, and intellectual development.
    We Were Eight Years in Power Book Cover Picture
    We Were Eight Years in Power Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $18.00

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  4. 4
    The Source of Self-Regard Book Cover Picture
    The Source of Self-Regard Book Cover Picture

    The Source of Self-Regard

    by Toni Morrison

    The Source of Self-Regard is divided into three parts: the first is introduced by a powerful prayer for the dead of 9/11; the second by a searching meditation on Martin Luther King Jr., and the last by a heart-wrenching eulogy for James Baldwin. In the writings and speeches included here, Morrison takes on contested social issues. She looks at enduring matters of culture: the role of the artist in society, the literary imagination, the Afro-American presence in American literature, and in her Nobel lecture, the power of language itself.
    The Source of Self-Regard Book Cover Picture
    The Source of Self-Regard Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $16.95

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  5. 5
    Complete Writings Book Cover Picture
    Complete Writings Book Cover Picture

    Complete Writings

    by Phillis Wheatley

    This volume collects both Wheatley’s letters and her poetry: hymns, elegies, translations, philosophical poems, tales, and epyllions–including a poignant plea to the Earl of Dartmouth urging freedom for America and comparing the country’s condition to her own. With her contemplative elegies and her use of the poetic imagination to escape an unsatisfactory world, Wheatley anticipated the Romantic Movement of the following century.
    Complete Writings Book Cover Picture
    Complete Writings Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $16.00

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  6. 6
    The Autobiography of Malcolm X Book Cover Picture
    The Autobiography of Malcolm X Book Cover Picture

    The Autobiography of Malcolm X

    by Malcolm X

    In the searing pages of this classic autobiography, originally published in 1964, Malcolm X, the Muslim leader, firebrand, and anti-integrationist, tells the extraordinary story of his life and the growth of the Black Muslim movement. His fascinating perspective on the lies and limitations of the American Dream, and the inherent racism in a society that denies its nonwhite citizens the opportunity to dream, gives extraordinary insight into the most urgent issues of our own time. The Autobiography of Malcolm X stands as the definitive statement of a movement and a man whose work was never completed but whose message is timeless. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand America.
    The Autobiography of Malcolm X Book Cover Picture
    The Autobiography of Malcolm X Book Cover Picture

    Hardcover
    $28.00

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  7. 7
    The Underground Railroad Book Cover Picture
    The Underground Railroad Book Cover Picture

    The Underground Railroad

    by Colson Whitehead

    The Underground Railroad Book Cover Picture
    The Underground Railroad Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $16.95

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  8. 8
    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

    Antiracism is a transformative concept that reorients and reenergizes the conversation about racism—and, even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. At it’s core, racism is a powerful system that creates false hierarchies of human value; its warped logic extends beyond race, from the way we regard people of different ethnicities or skin colors to the way we treat people of different sexes, gender identities, and body types. Racism intersects with class and culture and geography and even changes the way we see and value ourselves. 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.
    How to Be an Antiracist Book Cover Picture
    How to Be an Antiracist Book Cover Picture

    Hardcover
    $27.00

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  9. 9
    Beloved Book Cover Picture
    Beloved Book Cover Picture

    Beloved

    by Toni Morrison

    Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has borne the unthinkable and not gone mad, yet she is still held captive by memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Meanwhile Sethe’s house has long been troubled by the angry, destructive ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Sethe works at beating back the past, but it makes itself heard and felt incessantly in her memory and in the lives of those around her. When a mysterious teenage girl arrives, calling herself Beloved, Sethe’s terrible secret explodes into the present.
    Beloved Book Cover Picture
    Beloved Book Cover Picture

    Hardcover
    $28.00

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  10. 10
    Harriet Tubman Book Cover Picture
    Harriet Tubman Book Cover Picture

    Harriet Tubman

    by Beverly Lowry

    Harriet Tubman was an escaped slave, lumberjack, laundress, raid leader, nurse, fund-raiser, cook, intelligence gatherer, Underground Railroad organizer, and abolitionist. In Harriet Tubman, Lowry creates a portrait enriched with lively imagined vignettes that transform the legendary icon into flesh and blood. We travel with Tubman on slave-freeing raids in the heart of the Confederacy, along the treacherous route of the Underground Railroad, and onto the battlefields of the Civil War. Integrating extensive research and interviews with scholars and historians into a rich and mesmerizing chronicle, Lowry brings an American hero to life as never before.
    Harriet Tubman Book Cover Picture
    Harriet Tubman Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $18.95

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  11. 11
    Homegoing Book Cover Picture
    Homegoing Book Cover Picture

    Homegoing

    by Yaa Gyasi

    Ghana, eighteenth century: two half sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery. Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed—and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.
    Homegoing Book Cover Picture
    Homegoing Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $16.95

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  12. 12
    Killing the Black Body Book Cover Picture
    Killing the Black Body Book Cover Picture

    Killing the Black Body

    by Dorothy Roberts

    In 1997, this groundbreaking book made a powerful entrance into the national conversation on race. In a media landscape dominated by racially biased images of welfare queens and crack babies, Killing the Black Body exposed America’s systemic abuse of Black women’s bodies. From slave masters’ economic stake in bonded women’s fertility to government programs that coerced thousands of poor Black women into being sterilized as late as the 1970s, these abuses pointed to the degradation of Black motherhood—and the exclusion of Black women’s reproductive needs in mainstream feminist and civil rights agendas.
    Killing the Black Body Book Cover Picture
    Killing the Black Body Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $17.00

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  13. 13
    The Water Dancer Book Cover Picture
    The Water Dancer Book Cover Picture

    The Water Dancer

    by Ta-Nehisi Coates

    In his boldly imagined first novel, Ta-Nehisi Coates, the National Book Award–winning author of Between the World and Mebrings home the most intimate evil of enslavement: the cleaving and separation of families. This is the dramatic story of an atrocity inflicted on generations of women, men, and children—the violent and capricious separation of families—and the war they waged to simply make lives with the people they loved. Written by one of today’s most exciting thinkers and writers, The Water Dancer is a propulsive, transcendent work that restores the humanity of those from whom everything was stolen.
    The Water Dancer Book Cover Picture
    The Water Dancer Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $18.00

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  14. 14
    Policing the Black Man Book Cover Picture
    Policing the Black Man Book Cover Picture

    Policing the Black Man

    by Angela J. Davis, Bryan Stevenson, Marc Mauer, Bruce Western and Jeremy Travis

    Policing the Black Man explores and critiques the many ways the criminal justice system impacts the lives of African American boys and men at every stage of the criminal process, from arrest through sentencing.  Essays range from an explication of the historical roots of racism in the criminal justice system to an examination of modern-day police killings of unarmed black men. The contributors discuss and explain racial profiling, the power and discretion of police and prosecutors, the role of implicit bias, the racial impact of police and prosecutorial decisions, the disproportionate imprisonment of black men, the collateral consequences of mass incarceration, and the Supreme Court’s failure to provide meaningful remedies for the injustices in the criminal justice system.
    Policing the Black Man Book Cover Picture
    Policing the Black Man Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $16.00

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  15. 15
    The Souls of Black Folk Book Cover Picture
    The Souls of Black Folk Book Cover Picture

    The Souls of Black Folk

    by W. E. B. Du Bois

    When The Souls of Black Folk was first published in 1903, it had a galvanizing effect on the conversation about race in America—and it remains both a touchstone in the literature of African America and a beacon in the fight for civil rights. Believing that one can know the “soul” of a race by knowing the souls of individuals, W. E. B. Du Bois combines history and stirring autobiography to reflect on the magnitude of American racism and to chart a path forward against oppression, and introduces the now-famous concepts of the color line, the veil, and double-consciousness.
    The Souls of Black Folk Book Cover Picture
    The Souls of Black Folk Book Cover Picture

    Hardcover
    $25.00

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  16. 16
    Washington Black Book Cover Picture
    Washington Black Book Cover Picture

    Washington Black

    by Esi Edugyan

    Eleven-year-old George Washington Black—or Wash—a field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation, is initially terrified when he is chosen as the manservant of his master’s brother. To his surprise, however, the eccentric Christopher Wilde turns out to be a naturalist, explorer, inventor, and abolitionist. Soon Wash is initiated into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning, and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human. But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash’s head, they must abandon everything and flee together. Over the course of their travels, what brings Wash and Christopher together will tear them apart, propelling Wash ever farther across the globe in search of his true self.
    Washington Black Book Cover Picture
    Washington Black Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $16.95

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  17. 17
    The Warmth of Other Suns Book Cover Picture
    The Warmth of Other Suns Book Cover Picture

    The Warmth of Other Suns

    by Isabel Wilkerson

    From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. With stunning historical detail, Wilkerson tells this story through the lives of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago, where she achieved quiet blue-collar success and, in old age, voted for Barack Obama when he ran for an Illinois Senate seat; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem, where he endangered his job fighting for civil rights, saw his family fall, and finally found peace in God; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue a medical career, the personal physician to Ray Charles as part of a glitteringly successful medical career, which allowed him to purchase a grand home where he often threw exuberant parties.
    The Warmth of Other Suns Book Cover Picture
    The Warmth of Other Suns Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $17.95

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  18. 18
    A Mercy Book Cover Picture
    A Mercy Book Cover Picture

    A Mercy

    by Toni Morrison

    In the 1680s the slave trade in the Americas is still in its infancy. Jacob Vaark is an Anglo-Dutch trader and adventurer, with a small holding in the harsh North. Despite his distaste for dealing in “flesh,” he takes a small slave girl in part payment for a bad debt from a plantation owner in Catholic Maryland. This is Florens, who can read and write and might be useful on his farm. Rejected by her mother, Florens looks for love, first from Lina, an older servant woman at her new master’s house, and later from the handsome blacksmith, an African, never enslaved, who comes riding into their lives. A Mercy reveals what lies beneath the surface of slavery. But at its heart, like Beloved, it is the ambivalent, disturbing story of a mother and a daughter—a mother who casts off her daughter in order to save her, and a daughter who may never exorcise that abandonment.
    A Mercy Book Cover Picture
    A Mercy Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $15.95

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  19. 19
    Between the World and Me Book Cover Picture
    Between the World and Me Book Cover Picture

    Between the World and Me

    by Ta-Nehisi Coates

    In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden? Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder.
    Between the World and Me Book Cover Picture
    Between the World and Me Book Cover Picture

    Hardcover
    $26.00

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  20. 20
    The Portable Frederick Douglass Book Cover Picture
    The Portable Frederick Douglass Book Cover Picture

    The Portable Frederick Douglass

    by Frederick Douglass

    Edited by renowned scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Pulitzer Prize–nominated historian John Stauffer, The Portable Frederick Douglass includes the full range of Douglass’s works: the complete Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, as well as extracts from My Bondage and My Freedom and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass; The Heroic Slave, one of the first works of African American fiction; the brilliant speeches that launched his political career and that constitute the greatest oratory of the Civil War era; and his journalism, which ranges from cultural and political critique (including his early support for women’s equality) to law, history, philosophy, literature, art, and international affairs.
    The Portable Frederick Douglass Book Cover Picture
    The Portable Frederick Douglass Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $23.00

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  21. 21
    American Prison Book Cover Picture
    American Prison Book Cover Picture

    American Prison

    by Shane Bauer

    In 2014, Shane Bauer was hired for $9 an hour to work as an entry-level prison guard at a private prison in Winnfield, Louisiana. An award-winning investigative journalist, he used his real name; there was no meaningful background check. Four months later, his employment came to an abrupt end. But he had seen enough, and in short order he wrote an exposé about his experiences that won a National Magazine Award and became the most-read feature in the history of the magazine Mother Jones. Still, there was much more that he needed to say. In American Prison, Bauer weaves a much deeper reckoning with his experiences together with a thoroughly researched history of for-profit prisons in America from their origins in the decades before the Civil War. For, as he soon realized, we can’t understand the cruelty of our current system and its place in the larger story of mass incarceration without understanding where it came from. Private prisons became entrenched in the South as part of a systemic effort to keep the African-American labor force in place in the aftermath of slavery, and the echoes of these shameful origins are with us still.
    American Prison Book Cover Picture
    American Prison Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $18.00

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  22. 22
    12 Years a Slave (Movie Tie-In) Book Cover Picture
    12 Years a Slave (Movie Tie-In) Book Cover Picture

    12 Years a Slave (Movie Tie-In)

    by Solomon Northup

    Twelve Years a Slave recounts how Solomon Northup, born a free man in New York, was lured to Washington, D.C., in 1841 with the promise of fast money, then drugged and beaten and sold into slavery. He spent the next twelve years of his life in captivity on a Louisiana cotton plantation. After his rescue, Northup published this exceptionally vivid and detailed account of slave life. It became an immediate bestseller and today is recognized for its unusual insight and eloquence as one of the very few portraits of American slavery produced by someone as educated as Solomon Northup, or by someone with the dual perspective of having been both a free man and a slave.
    12 Years a Slave (Movie Tie-In) Book Cover Picture
    12 Years a Slave (Movie Tie-In) Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $17.00

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  23. 23
    Red at the Bone Book Cover Picture
    Red at the Bone Book Cover Picture

    Red at the Bone

    by Jacqueline Woodson

    Two families from different social classes are joined together by an unexpected pregnancy and the child that it produces. Moving forward and backward in time, with the power of poetry and the emotional richness of a narrative ten times its length, Jacqueline Woodson’s extraordinary new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of this child.
    Red at the Bone Book Cover Picture
    Red at the Bone Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $16.00

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  24. 24
    Stony the Road Book Cover Picture
    Stony the Road Book Cover Picture

    Stony the Road

    by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

    The abolition of slavery in the aftermath of the Civil War is a familiar story, as is the civil rights revolution that transformed the nation after World War II. But the century in between remains a mystery: if emancipation sparked “a new birth of freedom” in Lincoln’s America, why was it necessary to march in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s America? In this new book, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., one of our leading chroniclers of the African-American experience, seeks to answer that question in a history that moves from the Reconstruction Era to the “nadir” of the African-American experience under Jim Crow, through to World War I and the Harlem Renaissance. Through his close reading of the visual culture of this tragic era, Gates reveals the many faces of Jim Crow and how, together, they reinforced a stark color line between white and black Americans. Bringing a lifetime of wisdom to bear as a scholar, filmmaker, and public intellectual, Gates uncovers the roots of structural racism in our own time, while showing how African Americans after slavery combatted it by articulating a vision of a “New Negro” to force the nation to recognize their humanity and unique contributions to America as it hurtled toward the modern age.
    Stony the Road Book Cover Picture
    Stony the Road Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $20.00

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  25. 25
    What the Eyes Don't See Book Cover Picture
    What the Eyes Don't See Book Cover Picture

    What the Eyes Don’t See

    by Mona Hanna-Attisha

    Here is the inspiring story of how Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, alongside a team of researchers, parents, friends, and community leaders, discovered that the children of Flint, Michigan, were being exposed to lead in their tap water—and then battled her own government and a brutal backlash to expose that truth to the world. Paced like a scientific thriller, What the Eyes Don’t See reveals how misguided austerity policies, broken democracy, and callous bureaucratic indifference placed an entire city at risk. And at the center of the story is Dr. Mona herself—an immigrant, doctor, scientist, and mother whose family’s activist roots inspired her pursuit of justice.
    What the Eyes Don't See Book Cover Picture
    What the Eyes Don't See Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $18.00

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  26. 26
    Americanah Book Cover Picture
    Americanah Book Cover Picture

    Americanah

    by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

    Americanah Book Cover Picture
    Americanah Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $16.95

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