Black History Month is a time of observance in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom during which we reflect on important people and events in history. The precursor to Black History Month was Negro History Week, created in 1926 and since expanded to a month long celebration during the bicentennial of the United States in 1976. For more about the origins of this observance, read Ralph Crowder’s “Historical Significance of Black History Month” in Black History Bulletin (requires AU login) or check out our African American Studies LibGuide. Here at the American University Library, we have curated this selection of books, films, and music to recognize just a few of the many important contributions made by African Americans.
African-American history extends from the time of slavery to present day America, as activist organizations such as the Black Lives Matter Movement work to raise awareness of institutional racism. These selected books highlight experiences of black Americans, both fictional and real, throughout history.
Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama [E185.97 .O23 A3 1995]
Written at the beginning of his political career, President Obama explores his heritage in this memoir and offers a personal and poignant account of his young life.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas by Frederick Douglas [E449 .D749 2005]
This highly influential book changed the abolitionist movement forever in 1845 through its account of Douglass’ life as a slave and his ambition to become a free man.
The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois [E185.5 .D83 2005]
Du Bois’ 1903 collection of essays was groundbreaking in creating an intellectual argument for the black freedom struggle in the twentieth century—which continues to resonate in the twenty-first.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie [PL8021.A35 A44 2013]
While this award-winning novel is initially set in the 1990s, the issues within are highly relevant today. The central characters struggle with their experiences of immigration, acculturation, identity, and love.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates [E185.615 .C6335 2015]
Deeply moving, critically acclaimed, and beautifully written, this series of essays is a message from the author to his son and an unflinching look at the author’s experience as a black man in America.
Freedom Is a Constant Struggle Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Y. Davis [JC571 .D38 2016]
Angela Davis is an iconic figure for good reason and through this powerful collection, the scholar/ activist/ author addresses issues such as intersectionality, police violence, and human rights.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, these films tell a score of struggles and triumphs in black history.
Roots (1977) [HU DVD 6121]
Based on the novel, Roots: the Saga of an American Family, Alex Haley chronicles the story of his own family across many generations. It begins with an 18th century African, Kunta Kinte, who is captured and sold into slavery in the United States, then traces the lives of his descendants in America.
Malcolm X (1992) [DVD 165]
Denzel Washington holds nothing back in his Academy Award nominated portrayal of the influential activist and Black Nationalist leader in this epic Spike Lee film.
Beloved (1998) [DVD 1747]
Adapted from Toni Morrison’s groundbreaking magical realism novel, this film boasts an all-star cast (including Oprah Winfrey and Thandie Newton.)
12 Years A Slave (2013) [DVD 11176]
This emotionally devastating film is adapted from the memoirs of Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, who was abducted and sold into slavery.
42 (2013) [BLU 4622]
An inspiring depiction of the story of Jackie Robinson from his signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in 1945 to his historic 1947 rookie season when he broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball.
Fruitvale Station (2013) [DVD 11125]
A biographical film based on the tragic death of a young man at the hands of a police officer. Michael B. Jordan is compelling in the lead role as Oscar Grant, heightening the film’s heart-rending intensity.
Music is an integral component of the American history. Here is just a small sampling you can find in our streaming content or at the American University Music Library, located in the Katzen Arts Center.
This collection catalogs a sampling of songs slaves sang for inspiration while working and, sometimes, used in secretly coordinating flights to freedom.
Jazz originated in African American culture, evolving from Negro spirituals and European music. Some influential black jazz artists include Louis Armstrong [CD 3332], Duke Ellington, Miles Davis [CD 2335], and Billie Holiday [CD 1700]. All of these artists, and many more, used their talents and prestige in the 20th century to fight for equality in the United States and across the world.
Originating in Washington, D.C. during the 1970s, Chuck Brown, the “Godfather of Go-Go,” introduced this subgenre of funk to the black music circuit. Get a taste of the culture, and D.C. history, with a live recording of Chuck Brown at the 9:30 Club [CD 9827].