13 Essential Books on Black Women’s History

We’re proud to have a large collection of Black women’s history titles that tell Black women’s stories and feature their voices. These 13 essential books on Black women’s history are must-read recent additions in our collection that have furthered the scholarship in this diverse area of study.

1. Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women by Brittney C. Cooper

“A work of crucial cultural study. . . . [Beyond Respectability] lays out the complicated history of black woman as intellectual force, making clear how much work she has done simply to bring that category into existence.”—NPR

2. Colored No More: Reinventing Black Womanhood in Washington, D.C. by Treva B. Lindsey

“The politics of respectability confront the politics of pleasure in this outstanding study.”Martha S. Jones, author of All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture, 1830-1900 

3. Reverend Addie Wyatt: Faith and the Fight for Labor, Gender, and Racial Equality by Marcia Walker-McWilliams

“Walker-McWilliams masterfully weaves the influences of the Great Migration from Mississippi to segregated Chicago, the vibrant religious culture of the Church of God, Chicago’s meatpacking industry and labor movements, the emergence of the Civil Rights and women’s movements, and her enduring marriage to Rev. Claude Wyatt to create a fascinating portrait of a historical activist icon.”—Chicago Review of Books 

4. Sex Workers, Psychics, and Numbers Runners: Black Women in New York City’s Underground Economy by LaShawn Harris

“This outstanding first monograph by historian Harris continues Deborah Gray White’s 1987 call for historians to reclaim the voices of African American women lost in the margins. . . . Highly Recommended.”—Choice

5. Black Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century by Nazera Sadiq Wright

“Wright’s research is breathtaking. Her subject matter is of the utmost importance. This book lays the foundation for all future scholarship on African American girls in representation and in life.”Robin Bernstein, author of Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights

6. Daughter of the Empire State: The Life of Judge Jane Bolin by Jacqueline A. McLeod

“McLeod draws on archival material and an interview with Bolin to    rescue from obscurity this juvenile-justice activist and pioneer in the advancement of African Americans and women in the legal profession.”—Booklist

7. Daisy Turner’s Kin: An African American Family Saga by Jane C. Beck

“Folklorist Beck’s story of the Turner family’s transition from freedom to slavery to freedom again is a marvel of scholarly storytelling. . . . An engrossing American tale.”—Publisher’s Weekly 

8. Nursing Civil Rights: Gender and Race in the Army Nurse Corps by Charissa J. Threat

“This book links nurses’ struggles to broader drives for racial and gender justice. Highly recommended.”—Choice 

9. Regina Anderson Andrews, Harlem Renaissance Librarian by Ethelene Whitmire

“Andrews was a fascinating librarian. . . . Fans of the Harlem Renaissance will enjoy this book.”—Library Journal 

10. Fannie Barrier Williams: Crossing the Borders of Region and Race by Wanda A. Hendricks

“In 1899, the Washington Post referred to Williams as ‘one of the best known colored women on the continent.’ Hendricks’ highly readable and long overdue biography explains why.”—Women’s Review of Books 

11. Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC edited by Faith S. Holsaert, Martha Prescod Norman Noonan, Judy Richardson, Betty Garman Robinson, Jean Smith Young, and Dorothy M. Zellner

“The stories of the ‘beloved community’ of unknown women in Hands on the Freedom Plow convey a transcendent message of how history can be changed by committed individuals who stand up to what is wrong and live by that old freedom song ‘Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me roun.’”—Essence, Charlayne Hunter-Gault 

12. Divas on Screen: Black Women in American Film by Mia Mask

“[A] remarkable, straightforward book. . . . Mask interrogates the star personae of each of her subjects with a rigor that is unique and as refreshing as it is accessible and well written. Mask’s cultural critique of her subjects and the world in which they operate resonates long after one has finished the volume. Highly recommended.”—Choice

13. Beauty Shop Politics: African American Women’s Activism in the Beauty Industry by Tiffany M. Gill

“A comprehensive addition to the bookshelves of women’s studies, African-American studies, and entrepreneurial studies, as well as to history, business, and political-science departments. It is a truly interdisciplinary endeavor.”—The Chronicle of Higher Education 

About Heather Gernenz

University of Illinois Press Publicity Manager