28 Essential Black History Books Educators Need to Read

Feb 1, 2023 1:49:25 PM


In celebration of Black History Month, and in collaboration with the Center for Black Educator Development, Ed Post offers a list of 28 essential books on Black history and culture that educators need to read.

They offer insight into the historical and present-day hurdles that have long hindered black educators, students and parents in their quest for high-quality and equitable education.

They include:

Know Thyself

"How wonderful it is to be taught by a free teacher, a spiritual leader, a member of our family who truly loves the family, an architect of transforming processes, a defender of African people. Dr. Na'im Akbar is a special treasure. This book is another important gift from him to us. It is our responsibility to study these thoughts carefully. To allow these teachings is to guarantee our liberation and to guide us toward our divine destiny ." 

Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity, and Pedagogy

"Bringing together theory, research, and practice to dismantle Anti-Black Linguistic Racism and white linguistic supremacy, this book provides ethnographic snapshots of how Black students navigate and negotiate their linguistic and racial identities across multiple contexts. By highlighting the counterstories of Black students, Baker-Bell demonstrates how traditional approaches to language education do not account for the emotional harm, internalized linguistic racism, or consequences these approaches have on Black students' sense of self and identity. This book presents Anti-Black Linguistic Racism as a framework that explicitly names and richly captures the linguistic violence, persecution, dehumanization, and marginalization Black Language speakers endure when using their language in schools and in everyday life." 

Ordinary Children, Extraordinary Teachers

"Marva Collins embodies all that is meant by that hallowed word ... teacher. She gives of herself tirelessly so that those whose minds are supple may grasp knowledge and power through her love. Indeed love, like that of a mother for her children, is the essence of the Marva Collins Way ... love of learning, love of teaching, and love of sharing. It charges her mission with an incredible power to heal broken spirits."

Other People's Children: Cultural Conflict In The Classroom

"In a radical analysis of contemporary classrooms, MacArthur Award–winning author Lisa Delpit develops ideas about ways teachers can be better “cultural transmitters” in the classroom, where prejudice, stereotypes, and cultural assumptions breed ineffective education. Delpit suggests that many academic problems attributed to children of color are actually the result of miscommunication, as primarily white teachers and “other people’s children” struggle with the imbalance of power and the dynamics plaguing our system. A new classic among educators, Other People’s Children is a must-read for teachers, administrators, and parents striving to improve the quality of America’s education system."

For White Folks Who Teach In The Hood

"Drawing on his own experience of feeling undervalued and invisible in classrooms as a young man of color and merging his experiences with more than a decade of teaching and researching in urban America, award-winning educator Christopher Emdin offers a new lens on an approach to teaching and learning in urban schools. is the much-needed antidote to traditional top-down pedagogy and promises to radically reframe the landscape of urban education for the better."

Black Teachers On Teaching

"Black Teachers on Teaching is an honest and compelling account of the politics and philosophies involved in the education of black children during the last fifty years. Michele Foster talks to those who were the first to teach in desegregated southern schools and to others who taught in large urban districts, such as Boston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. All go on record about the losses and gains accompanying desegregation, the inspirations and rewards of teaching, and the challenges and solutions they see in the coming years."

School Clothes: A Collective Memoir of Black Student Witness

"Black students were forced to live and learn on the Black side of the color line for centuries, through the time of slavery, Emancipation, and the Jim Crow era. And for just as long--even through to today--Black students have been seen as a problem and a seemingly troubled population in America's public imagination. Through over one hundred firsthand accounts from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Professor Jarvis Givens offers a powerful counter-narrative in School Clothes to challenge such dated and prejudiced storylines. He details the educational lives of writers such as Zora Neale Hurston and Ralph Ellison; political leaders like Mary McLeod Bethune, Malcolm X, and Angela Davis; and Black students whose names are largely unknown but who left their marks nonetheless. Givens blends this multitude of individual voices into a single narrative, a collective memoir, to reveal a through line shared across time and circumstance: a story of African American youth learning to battle the violent condemnation of Black life and imposed miseducation meant to quell their resistance."

Black Intellectual Thought In Education: The Missing Traditions Of Anna Julia Cooper, Carter G. Woodson, and Alain Leroy Locke

"Black Intellectual Thought in Education celebrates the exceptional academic contributions of African-American education scholars Anna Julia Cooper, Carter G. Woodson, and Alain Leroy Locke to the causes of social science, education, and democracy in America. Focusing on the lives and projects of these three figures specifically offers a powerful counter-narrative to the dominant, established discourse in education and critical social theory, helping to better serve the population that critical theory seeks to advocate. Rather than attempting to "rescue" a few African American scholars from obscurity or marginalization, this powerful volume highlights ideas that must be probed and critically examined to address prevailing contemporary educational issues. Cooper, Woodson, and Locke's history of engagement with race, democracy, education, gender and life is a dynamic, demanding, and authentic narrative for those engaged with these important issues."

Black Children: Their Roots, Culture, And Learning Styles

"American educators have largely failed to recognize the crucial significance of culture in the education of African-American children, contents Janice E. Hale in the revised edition of her groundbreaking work, Black Children. As African-American children are acculturated at home and in the African-American community, they develop cognitive patterns and behaviors that may prove incompatible with the school environment. Cultural factors produce group differences that must be addressed in the educational process. Drawing on the fields of anthropology, sociology, history, and psychology, Hale explored the effects of African-American culture on a child's intellectual development and suggests curricular reforms that would allow African-American children to develop their intelligence, pursue their strengths, and succeed in school and at work."

Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students

"The achievement gap remains a stubborn problem for educators of culturally and linguistically diverse students. With the introduction of the rigorous Common Core State Standards, diverse classrooms need a proven framework for optimizing student engagement and facilitating deeper learning. Culturally responsive pedagogy has shown great promise in meeting this need, but many educators still struggle with its implementation. In this book, Zaretta Hammond draws on cutting-edge neuroscience research to offer an innovative approach for designing and implementing brain-compatible, culturally responsive instruction."

SBA: The Reawakening Of The African Mind

"SBA is a collection of essays addressing the socialization and education of African people. Hilliard calls for using socialization practices grounded in African values and culture. He provides a historical context, practical suggestions, and useful analysis to assist teachers, teachers, students and others attempting to understand the, often turbulent, experiences of Africans seeking an education in a hostile culture."

Teaching To Transgress

"In Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks—writer, teacher, and insurgent black intellectual—writes about a new kind of education, education as the practice of freedom. Teaching students to "transgress" against racial, sexual, and class boundaries to achieve the gift of freedom is, for hooks, the teacher's most important goal. Bell hooks speaks to the heart of education today: how can we rethink teaching practices in the age of multiculturalism? What do we do about teachers who do not want to teach and students who do not want to learn? How should we deal with racism and sexism in the classroom? Full of passion and politics, Teaching to Transgress combines practical knowledge of the classroom with a deeply felt connection to the world of emotions and feelings. This is the rare book about teachers and students that dares to raise critical questions about eros and rage, grief and reconciliation, and the future of teaching itself."

Culturally Responsive School Leadership

"Culturally Responsive School Leadership focuses on how school leaders can effectively serve minoritized students—those who have been historically marginalized in school and society. The book demonstrates how leaders can engage students, parents, teachers, and communities to promote learning by honoring indigenous heritages and local cultural practices. Based on an ethnography of a school principal who exemplifies the practices and principles of culturally responsive school leadership, Muhammad Khalifa provides educators with the pedagogical tools and strategies for immediate implementation in today’s urban classrooms."

The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers Of African American Children

"Education, like electricity, needs a conduit, a teacher, to transmit its power-- i.e., the discovery and continuity of information, knowledge, wisdom, experience, and culture. Through the stories and experiences of eight successful teacher-transmitters, The Dreamkeepers keeps hope alive for educating young African Americans."

We Want To Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching And The Pursuit Of Educational Freedom

"Drawing on her life's work of teaching and researching in urban schools, Bettina Love persuasively argues that educators must teach students about racial violence, oppression, and how to make sustainable change in their communities through radical civic initiatives and movements. She argues that the US educational system is maintained by and profits from the suffering of children of color. Instead of trying to repair a flawed system, educational reformers offer survival tactics in the form of test-taking skills, acronyms, grit labs, and character education, which Love calls the educational survival complex. To dismantle the educational survival complex and to achieve educational freedom--not merely reform--teachers, parents, and community leaders must approach education with the imagination, determination, boldness, and urgency of an abolitionist. Following in the tradition of activists like Ella Baker, Bayard Rustin, and Fannie Lou Hamer, We Want to Do More Than Survive introduces an alternative to traditional modes of educational reform and expands our ideas of civic engagement and intersectional justice."

Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework For Culturally And Historically Responsive Literacy

"In Cultivating Genius, Dr. Gholdy E. Muhammad presents a four-layered equity framework—one that is grounded in history and restores excellence in literacy education. This framework, which she names, Historically Responsive Literacy, was derived from the study of literacy development within 19th-century Black literacy societies. The framework is essential and universal for all students, especially youth of color, who traditionally have been marginalized in learning standards, school policies, and classroom practices." 

Unearthing Joy: A Guide to Culturally and Historically Responsive Teaching and Learning

"In this sequel to Cultivating Genius, Gholdy Muhammad adds a fifth pursuit—joy—to her groundbreaking framework. Dr. Muhammad shows how joy, which is rooted in the cultural and historical realities of Black students, can enhance our efforts to cultivate identity, skills, intellect, and criticality for ALL students, giving them a powerful purpose to learn and contribute to the world. Dr. Muhammad’s wise implementation advice is paired with model lessons that span subjects and grade levels."

Nothing's Impossible: Leadership Lessons From Inside And Outside The Classroom

"In 1991, Dr. Lorraine Monroe founded the Frederick Douglass Academy, a public school in Harlem, in the belief that caring instructors, a disciplined but creative environment, and a refusal to accept mediocrity could transform the lives of inner-city kids. Her experiment was a huge success. Today the Academy is one of the finest schools in the country, sending graduates to Ivy League colleges and registering the third highest SAT scores in New York City. The key to its success is a unique leadership method Monroe calls the "Monroe Doctrine," which she developed over decades as a teacher and principal in some of America's toughest schools. In this book, Monroe tells her own remarkable story and explains her "Doctrine" through pithy, memorable rules and observations and a host of wonderful true stories. This is an inspiring read for new and experienced educators —and anyone who wants to succeed in the face of seemingly impossible odds."

Teach Freedom: Education For Liberation In The African-American Tradition

"The self-conscious use of education as an instrument of liberation among African Americans is exactly as old as education among African Americans. This dynamic anthology is about those forms of education intended to help people think more critically about the social forces shaping their lives and think more confidently about their ability to react against those forces. Featuring articles by educator-activists, this collection explores the largely forgotten history of attempts by African Americans to use education as a tool of collective liberation. Together these contributions explore the variety of forms those attempts have taken, from the shadow of slavery to the contradictions of hip-hop. Contributors address "Lessons from the Past" and discuss Citizenship Schools in the South, Ella Baker and the Harlem Y, Mississippi Freedom Schools, and Black Panther Liberation Schools. Contemporary models are also covered, demonstrating the tradition's depth and tenacity in such efforts as the Freedom Schools established by the Children's Defense Fund."

Young, Gifted, and Black: Promoting High Achievement Among African- American Students

"Young, Gifted, and Black is a unique joint effort by three leading African-American scholars to radically reframe the debates swirling around the achievement of African-American students in school. Theresa Perry, Claude Steele, and Asa Hilliard place students' social identity as African-Americans at the center of the discussion in three separate but allied essays. They all argue that Black students' unique social and cultural position, in a society that often devalues and stereotypes African American identity, fundamentally shapes students' school experience and sets up unique obstacles. And they all argue that a proper understanding of the forces at work can lead to practical, powerful methods for promoting high achievement at all levels."

We Are An African People

"By 1970, more than 60 "Pan African nationalist" schools, from preschools to post-secondary ventures, had appeared in urban settings across the United States. The small, independent enterprises were often accused of teaching hate and were routinely harassed by authorities. Yet these institutions served as critical mechanisms for transmitting black consciousness. Founded by activist-intellectuals, the schools strove not simply to bolster the academic skills and self-esteem of inner-city African-American youth but also to decolonize minds and embody the principles of self-determination and African identity. In We Are An African People, historian Russell Rickford traces the brief lives of these autonomous black institutions created to claim some of the self-determination the integrationist civil rights movement failed to provide. Influenced by Third World theorists and anticolonial movements, organizers of the schools saw formal education as a means of creating a vanguard of young activists devoted to the struggle for black political sovereignty throughout the world. Most schools were short-lived, but their stories have much to tell us about Pan Africanism as a social and intellectual movement and a key part of indigenous black nationalism."

Not Paved for Us: Black Educators and Public School Reform in Philadelphia

"Not Paved for Us chronicles a fifty-year period in Philadelphia education, and offers a critical look at how school reform efforts do and do not transform outcomes for Black students and educators. This illuminating book offers an extensive, expert analysis of a school system that bears the legacy, hallmarks, and consequences that lie at the intersection of race and education. Urban education scholar Camika Royal deftly analyzes decades of efforts to improve school performance within the School District of Philadelphia (SDP), in a brisk survey spanning every SDP superintendency from the 1960s through 2017."

Walking In Circles: The Black Struggle for School Reform

"In this examination of the American school system, a career education expert determines how existing policies have kept inner-city youth at a disadvantage, citing, among other issues, the achievement gap between black and white students, and lays the groundwork for future improvements."

Talkin That Talk: Language, Culture And Education In African America

"A highly readable collection of key articles and essays by a leading scholar on African American language and politics. Discussing the inter-relationship between African American language, culture and education, Talkin' that Talk is divided into sections, each introduced by the author, which include: African American language and education, language theory, research and the Black intellectual tradition, Black language and culture, Black women's discourse, language policy and global multilingualism."

The Lost Education Of Horace Tate: Uncovering The Hidden Heroes Who Fought For Justice In Schools

"The harrowing account of the black Southern educators who “bravely pressed on for justice in schools” (The New York Review of Books) even as the bright lodestar of desegregation faded. This “well-told and inspiring” story (Publishers Weekly, starred review) is the monumental product of Lillian Smith Book Award–winning author Vanessa Siddle Walker’s two-decade investigation into the clandestine travels and meetings — with other educators, Dr. King, Georgia politicians, and even U.S. presidents — of one Dr. Horace Tate, a former Georgia school teacher, principal, and state senator. In a sweeping work “that reads like a companion piece to ‘Hidden Figures,’” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution), post-Brown generations will encounter invaluable lessons for today from the educators behind countless historical battles — in courtrooms, schools, and communities — for the quality education of black children."

About Centering Possibility In Black Education

"Improving education outcomes for Black students begins with resisting racist characterizations of blackness. Chezare A. Warren, a nationally recognized scholar of race and education equity, emphasizes the imperative that possibility drive efforts aimed at transforming education for Black learners. Inspired by the "freedom dreaming" of activists in the Black radical tradition, the book comprises nine principles that clarify how centering possibility actively refuses limitations for what Black people can create, accomplish, and achieve. This interdisciplinary volume also features over 30 original images, poems, and lyrics by Black artists from around the United States, each helping to breathe new life into the concept of possibility and its relevance to remaking Black children's experience of school. Warren draws on history, cultural studies, and sociology research to cast a vision of Black education futures unencumbered by antiblackness and White supremacy. This justice-oriented text will inspire innovative solutions to eliminating harm and generating education alternatives that Black students desire and deserve."

 The Developmental Psychology Of The Black Child

"This seminal, thought-provoking, recently revitalized text visits many little-known facts and surprising details about Afrikan children. It presents and honest, poignant, spirited, and in-depth description of the world of Black parent and child — from conception to school age — in Eurocentric American society. The Developmental Psychology of the Black Child, first of a series dealing with the growth, development, and education of the Black children, is the first book that deals exclusively with the physical and psychological development of Black children in a scholarly but readily understandable way.

The Mis-Education Of The Negro

"The Mis-Education of the Negro is one of the most important books on education ever written. Carter G. Woodson shows us the weakness of Euro-centric based curriculums that fail to include African American history and culture. This system mis-educates the African American student, failing to prepare them for success and to give them an adequate sense of who they are within the system that they must live. Woodson provides many strong solutions to the problems he identifies. A must-read for anyone working in the education field."

Mark R. Lowery

Mark R. Lowery was formerly managing editor of Ed Post. He is a veteran journalist who has managed national magazines and worked for major newspapers, including New York Newsday, the Detroit Free Press and the Plain Dealer. He previously served as editorial director of October Research.

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