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Essence Picks 6 Must-Read Books for Black History Month

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Rock the Vote

Beacon Press

Thank goodness for Mary Frances Berry. At 78, the former chairperson of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights shows no signs of slowing down. In her latest book, Five Dollars and a Pork Chop Sandwich: Vote Buying and the Corruption of Democracy, Berry exposes election fraud, from vote buying to absentee ballots in communities that we call home.

This article originally appeared in Essence’s February 2016 issue.

The Roots of Roots

St. Martin's Press

It’s hard to believe that no one has done a full biography of the creator of Roots, arguably one of the best-selling works by an African-American author. Now, in Alex Haley: And the Books That Changed a Nation, historian Robert J. Norrell looks back at his subject’s storied career, first as one of New Journalism’s most interesting writers and then as the powerhouse mind behind two of the most popular books of the past century: The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965) and, of course, Roots (1976), the mega-selling classic.

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The Fugitive

W.W. Norton & Co.

Eight years ago, I was enraptured by Lawrence Hill’s epic novel Someone Knows My Name. It became an ESSENCE Book Club pick, and Aunjanue Ellis propelled The Book of Negroes, the television adaptation, into must-see TV. With his latest effort, The Illegal, Hill eerily captures a tale that could be ripped from the headlines. The engrossing narrative focuses on the journey of Keita Ali, a refugee who leaves fictitious Zantoroland and heads to Freedom State—a powerful nation that has cracked down on displaced persons. Suddenly, Keita is living life as an “illegal.” We feel his pain and walk in his shoes.

An American Story

Atlantic Monthly Press

I still remember reading The Hornes: An American Family by Gail Lumet Buckley. Lena Calhoun, Buckley’s great-grandaunt, was one of the standouts in the Horne’s clan of strivers. Three decades later, Buckley returns with more of her family’s saga: The Black Calhouns begins with Moses Calhoun, her great-great-grandfather, who became a successful Atlanta businessman. Buckley looks at the two disparate but equally compelling accounts of family members who remained in the South, and those who traveled to, and made a name for themselves in, Brooklyn, especially Lena Horne, her mother.

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Finding Your People

Lightswitch Learning

Like Gail Lumet Buckley, Cheryl Wills has long been fascinated by the history of her ancestors. If you’re looking to introduce your children to genealogy (it’s never too early to start), begin with The Emancipation of Grandpa Sandy Wills. The award-winning journalist traces her great-great-great-grandfather’s path from nineteenth-century slave plantations in Tennessee to freedom. Wills’s extensive research is sure to impress youngsters and adults.

Head of State

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Michael Eric Dyson once again proves his intellectual heft, critical thinking depth and finesse with words and messages. The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America won’t be final word on our nation’s first Black president, but this is a must-read for right now.

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