African-American Experiences

shelved under History and Non-Fiction

What distinguishes African American culture is also what unites it with the other ethnicities that comprise American culture: being at once distinctly American and decidedly different. The books on this list — all nonfiction and authored by African Americans — spotlight these two divergent aspects of African American life, via photos and/or prose.

 

Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years

by Amy Hill Hearth, A. Elizabeth Delany, Sarah L. Delany

The centenarian Delaney sisters of New York (by way of North Carolina) speak in the cadences of their southern heritage and with the eloquence of a bygone era as they reflect on their own lives during the late 19th through 20th centuries. Equal parts humor and dignity, this book is both a celebration of one African American family’s life (and its intersection with well-known people) and a treatise on U. S. social discourse. Fascinating!

 

From the Soul: Stories of Great Black Parents & the Lives They Gave Us

by Phyllis Y. Harris

A lovely compilation of several people’s reminiscences, this book honors black parents — their words of wisdom, their sacrifices, and their innumerable other contributions to the accomplishments of their now middle and upper-middle class offspring. In short, this book very movingly says thank you.

 

In Our Own Image: Treasured African-American Traditions, Journeys & Icons

by Karen Pugh, Patrik Henry Bass

Savoring the commonalities of the middle-class black experience across regions and over time, this beautiful depiction in words and photography elevates these experiences to homage. Whether this book offers you a nostalgic return to your youth or a discovery of formerly unknown cultural treasures, it’s worth reading again and again.

 

The Sweet Flypaper of Life

by Roy De Carava and Langston Hughes

Before I made this list, I was unaware that this book had become a collector’s item, though I nonetheless understand precisely why. Roy De Carava’s stunning black and white photos juxtaposed with the venerable Langston Hughes’s colloquial words provide a visual and verbal history of Harlem that is both raw and refined.

 

Brown Angels: An Album of Pictures and Verse

by Walter Dean Myers

Wonderful, sepia-toned photographs of children are accompanied by delightful, sometimes childlike verse in this beautiful book. Angels, indeed!

 

Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats

by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry; forward by Maya Angelou

It’s virtually impossible to visit an African American church and miss the flamboyant blend of personal style and tradition that have given hats their special place of honor among the women in the congregation. Giving the chapeau its due, Marberry writes the stories of black women’s hats as told by the wearers portrayed in Cunningham’s splendid black and white photos. These hats have lived!