The African American Experience: Booklist for Adults Inspired by the Charlottesville Community Civil Rights Pilgrimage

The African American Experience blog photo

In July 2018, roughly 100 members of the Charlottesville and Albemarle community participated in a community civil rights pilgrimage to Montgomery, Alabama. The group visited numerous museums and historic sites of critical importance to the Civil Rights Movement before reaching the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery. There, a collection of soil from the July 12, 1898, lynching of Mr. John Henry James in Albemarle County was added to the EJI Legacy Museum as part of their Community Remembrance Project.

For more information about Mr. James and the Community Remembrance Project, you can view a digital display that accompanies a local exhibit of soil from the site of the lynching.

This booklist was inspired by the Pilgrimage. 


The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Argues that the War on Drugs and policies that deny convicted felons equal access to employment, housing, education, and public benefits create a permanent under caste based largely on race.

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

From the end of the Civil War to the tumultuous issues in America today, an acclaimed historian reframes the conversation about race, chronicling the powerful forces opposed to black progress in America.

The Family Tree: A Lynching in Georgia, A Legacy of Secrets, and My Search for the Truth by Karen Branan

A true account of the hanging of four black people by a white lynch mob in 1912, written by a descendant of the sheriff charged with protecting them, draws on diaries and letters to piece together the events and motives that led up to the tragedy.

Twelve Days in May by Larry Dane Brimner

Documents the heroic 1961 campaign of the civil rights activists known as the “Freedom Riders,” describing their peaceful protests to raise awareness about unconstitutional segregation and the increasing violence they endured as they traveled south.

The Bloody Shirt: Terror after Appomattox by Stephen Budiansky

A narrative account of Reconstruction-era violence documents vigilante attacks on African Americans and their white allies, in a fast-paced analysis that traces the period as reflected by the careers of two Union officers, a Confederate general, a northern entrepreneur, and a former slave.

At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America by Philip Dray

A definitive history of lynching in America describes its common use, especially in the southern United States, when thousands of African-American men, women, and children were tortured, mutilated, hanged, or burned alive in ceremonies witnessed by white crowds, and discusses the crusade by a handful of black and white citizens to eliminate the shameful practice.

Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror by the Equal Justice Initiative

Documents the Institute’s multi-year investigation into lynching in twelve Southern states during the period between Reconstruction and World War II. Researchers verified 3959 racial terror lynchings of African Americans in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia between 1877 and 1950. Makes the case that lynching of African Americans was terrorism, a widely supported phenomenon used to enforce racial subordination and segregation.

Lynching in America: Targeting Black Veterans  by the Equal Justice Initiative

Lynching in America: Targeting Black Veterans documents the culture of targeted physical violence and social humiliation that black veterans were forced to confront during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, despite their hopes of achieving racial equality through the patriotic commitment of military service.

Segregation in America  by the Equal Justice Initiative

Segregation in America documents how millions of white Americans joined a mass movement of committed, unwavering, and often violent opposition to the Civil Rights Movement. EJI believes that understanding this mass opposition to racial equality, integration, and civil rights is central to confronting the continuing challenges of racial inequality today.

Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, A Virgina Town, A Civil Rights Battle by Kristen Green

Combining hard-hitting investigative journalism and a sweeping family narrative, this provocative true story reveals a little-known chapter of American history– the period after the Brown v. Board of Education decision when one Virginia school system refused to integrate.

Last Lynching in Northern Virginia: Seeking Truth at Rattlesnake Mountain by Jim Hall and Claudine L. Ferrell

In 1932, a black man was found hanging on Rattlesnake Mountain in Fauquier County. A mob set fire to his body. Officials identified the remains as Shedrick Thompson, wanted for the abduction and rape of a local white woman. Some claimed Thompson killed himself–the final act of a desperate fugitive. But residents knew better, calling the tragedy a lynching–the last one known in Virginia. Author Jim Hall takes an in-depth look at the events to expose a complex and disturbing chapter in Virginia history.

Stamped from the Beginning: the Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

A comprehensive history of anti-black racism focuses on the lives of five major players in American history, including Cotton Mather and Thomas Jefferson, and highlights the debates that took place between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and antiracists.

From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality  by Michael J. Klarman

Analyzes the interplay between race relations in the United States and Supeme Court decisions, looking at the social, political, and international forces that have influenced racial progress since the beginning of the nineteenth century.

The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle that Brought Down the Klan by Laurence Leamer

Describes the brutal killing of a young black man and subsequent conviction of two Klansmen in 1981 Alabama and the civil suit that exposed the true motives and philosophy of the organization and ultimately bankrupted them.

Separate: The Story of Plessy V. Ferguson, and America’s Journey from Slavery to Segregation

Documents the story of the infamous nineteenth-century Supreme Court ruling in favor of segregation, tracing the half-century of history that shaped the ruling and the reverberations that are still being felt today.

Sisters in the Struggle by SteveLuxenberg

Documents the story of the infamous nineteenth-century Supreme Court ruling in favor of segregation, tracing the half-century of history that shaped the ruling and the reverberations that are still being felt today.

The Lynching of Emmett Till: A Documentary Narrative ed. by Christopher Metress

Uses excerpts from newspapers and editorials and accounts of the murder and trial to examine the lynching of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till in 1955, in a volume which also contains selections from poems, songs, interviews, essays, and memoirs relating to the incident.

The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell

Coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of the Freedom Summer murders, traces the events surrounding the KKK lynching of three young civil rights activists who were trying to register African Americans for the vote.

And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank by Steve Oney

Describes the 1913 murder of Atlanta factory worker Mary Phagan, the arrest of her Jewish supervisor, Leo Frank, and the abduction and lynching of Frank, offering a compelling account of the crime and its aftermath, the history of Atlanta’s Jewish community, the miscarriage of justice, the lives of various members of the lynch mob, and the long-term repercussions.

Gordon Parks: Segregation Story by Gordon Parks

In September 1956, Life magazine published a photo-essay by Gordon Parks entitled “The Restraints: Open and Hidden,” which documented the everyday activities and rituals of one extended African American family living in the rural South under Jim Crow segregation. While 26 photographs were eventually published in Life and some were exhibited in his lifetime, The Gordon Parks Foundation discovered more than 70 color transparencies at the bottom of an old storage bin marked “Segregation Series” that are now published for the first time in Segregation Story.

Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Susan Goldman Rubin

An account of the civil rights crusade in Mississippi 50 years ago that brought on shocking violence and the beginning of a new political order.

A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History by Jeanne Theoharis

Examines the accepted narrative of the civil rights movement to reveal the myths and fables that diminish its scope, and reveals the diversity of activists and the immense barriers and repression they faced.

The Blood of Emmett Till by Timohty B. Tyson

Draws on previously untapped firsthand testimonies and recovered court transcripts to present a scholarly account of the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till and its role in launching the civil rights movement. By the award-winning author of Blood Done Sign My Name.

Freedom Summer: The Savage Season that Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy by Bruce Watson

Analyzes a critical shift in American race relations during the summer of 1964, documenting how civil rights demonstrations by hundreds of college students triggered African-American voter registries and violent uprisings.

The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-Lynching Crusader by Ida B. Wells-Barnett

The broadest and most comprehensive collection of writings available by an early civil and women’s rights pioneer . Seventy-one years before Rosa Parks’s courageous act of resistance, police dragged a young Black journalist named Ida B. Wells off a train for refusing to give up her seat. The experience shaped Wells’s career, and–when hate crimes touched her life personally–she mounted what was to become her life’s work: an anti-lynching crusade that captured international attention.

The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South: Civil Rights and Local Activism by Wayne A. Wiegand

In The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South, Wayne A. and Shirley A. Wiegand tell the comprehensive story of the integration of southern public libraries. As in other efforts to integrate civic institutions in the 1950s and 1960s, the determination of local activists won the battle against segregation in libraries. In particular, the willingness of young black community members to take part in organized protests and direct actions ensured that local libraries would become genuinely free to all citizens.

Charleston Syllabus: Readings on Race, Racism, and Racial Violence edited by Chad Williams,  Kidada E. Williams, and Keisha N. Blain

A collection of new essays and columns published in the wake of the 2015 Charleston, SC, massacre, along with excerpts from key scholarly books. It draws from a variety of disciplines–history, sociology, urban studies, law, critical race theory–and includes discussion questions and a selected and annotated bibliography for further reading.


If you are interested in more titles on this and other related topics, JMRL encourages you to use What Do I Read Next? to receive personal recommendations from JMRL librarians.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s