The African American Experience: Booklist for Teens Inspired by the 2018 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 for teens was inspired by the Pilgrimage. 


The Watsons Go To Birmingham, 1963  by Christopher Paul Curtis

The ordinary interactions and everyday routines of the Watsons, an African American family living in Flint, Michigan, are drastically changed after they go to visit Grandma in Alabama in the summer of 1963.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

After witnessing her friend’s death at the hands of a police officer, Starr Carter’s life is complicated when the police and a local drug lord try to intimidate her in an effort to learn what happened the night Kahlil died.

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March by Lynda Blackmon Lowery

Shares the story of the youngest person to complete the Selma to Montgomery March, describing her frequent imprisonments for her participation in nonviolent demonstrations and how she felt about her involvement in Civil Rights events.

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin

Presents an account of the 1944 civil rights protest involving hundreds of African-American Navy servicemen who were unjustly charged with mutiny for refusing to work in unsafe conditions after the deadly Port Chicago explosion.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

While on trial as an accomplice to a murder, sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon records his experiences in prison and in the courtroom in the form of a film script as he tries to come to terms with the course his life has taken.

Monster: A Graphic Novel  by Walter Dean Myers, graphic novel adaptation by Guy A. Sims

While on trial as an accomplice to a murder, sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon records his experiences in prison and in the courtroom in the form of a film script as he tries to come to terms with the course his life has taken.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Writing letters to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., seventeen-year-old college-bound Justyce McAllister struggles to face the reality of race relations today and how they are shaping him.

Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961 by Larry Dane Brimner

For twelve history-making days in May 1961, thirteen black and white civil rights activists, also known as the Freedom Riders, traveled by bus into the South to draw attention to the unconstitutional segregation still taking place. Despite their peaceful protests, the Freedom Riders were met with increasing violence the further south they traveled.

The March Against Fear:The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power by Ann Bausum

An account of James Meredith’s 1966 Mississippi march to peacefully protest discriminatory practices in voter registration describes the early contributions of such leaders as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Stokely Carmichael to the establishment of the Black Power movement. By the award-winning author of Marching to the Mountaintop.

Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement by Ann Bausum

Offers the true account of two young men who took the risk to venture into the segregated South at the peak of the Civil Rights era to take part as Freedom Riders and fight for equality for all–making their mark and doing their part to change history forever along the way.

Double Victory: How African American Women Broke Race and Gender Barriers to Help Win World War II by Cheryl Mullenbach

An account of the lesser-known contributions of African-American women during World War II reveals how they helped lay the foundations for the Civil Rights Movement by challenging racial and gender barriers at home and abroad.

We Are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson and Tonya Bolden

When America makes progress toward racial equality, the systemic response is a backlash that rolls back those wins. This edition adapted from the author’s White Rage especially for teens illuminates these dark moments of history.

In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives by Kenneth C. Davis

An examination of American slavery through the true stories of five enslaved people who were considered the property of some of our best-known presidents

Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction and the Dawn of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Tonya Bolden

The National Humanities Medal recipient shares real-life accounts from the periods spanning the end of the Civil War, Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow segregation, in a scholarly tribute to the resiliency of the African American people at times of progress and betrayal.

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

A dual-narrated tale by the author of Scarlett Undercover explores how race relations have changed in the past century through the story of 17-year-old Rowan, who investigates a century-old murder committed during the race riots of 1921 Tulsa. 

Brotherhood by Anne Westrick *

The year is 1867, and the South has lost the Civil War. Those on the lowest rungs, like Shad’s family, fear that the freed slaves will take the few jobs available. In this climate of despair and fear, a group has formed. Today we know it as the KKK.

Just Mercy: A True Story of the Fight for Justice: Adapted for Young Adults by Bryan Stevenson

Details the author’s personal experience, challenges, and efforts as a lawyer and social advocate to find justice for America’s most marginalized people.

Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody

Anne Moody provides a first person account of growing up black in the rural south during the nineteen forties and fifties.

Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden

Freed from slavery, Mariah and her young brother Zeke join Sherman’s march through Georgia, where Mariah meets a free black named Caleb and dares to imagine the possibility of true love, but hope can come at a cost.

The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon

In 1968 Chicago, fourteen-year-old Sam Childs is caught in a conflict between his father’s nonviolent approach to seeking civil rights for African Americans and his older brother, who has joined the Black Panther Party.

Chasing King’s Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin by James Swanson

The award-winning author of The President Has Been Shot! presents a dramatic account of the assassination of Civil Rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that shares the story of his killer, racist prison escapee James Earl Ray.

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose

Presents the life of the Alabama teenager who played an integral but little-known role in the Montgomery bus strike of 1955-1956, once by refusing to give up a bus seat, and again, by becoming a plaintiff in the landmark civil rights case against the bus company.

Simeon’s Story: An Eyewitness Account of the Kidnapping of Emmett Till by Simeon Wright

Documents the 1955 kidnapping and murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till as remembered by his cousin, sharing descriptions of life in period Mississippi and how the highly charged ensuing murder trial became a catalyst for the civil rights movement.

Mississippi Trial, 1955 by Chris Crowe

In Mississippi in 1955, a sixteen-year-old finds himself at odds with his grandfather over issues surrounding the kidnapping and murder of a fourteen-year-old African American from Chicago.

A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson

Presents fifteen interlinked sonnets to pay tribute to Emmitt Till, a fourteen-year-old African American boy who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 for whistling at a while woman, and whose murderers were acquitted.

Copper Sun by Sharon Draper

Two fifteen-year-old girls–one a slave and the other an indentured servant–escape their Carolina plantation and try to make their way to Fort Moses, Florida, a Spanish colony that gives sanctuary to slaves.

Day of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue by Julius Lester

Emma has taken care of the Butler children since Sarah and Frances’s mother, Fanny, left. Emma wants to raise the girls to have good hearts, as a rift over slavery has ripped the Butler household apart. Now, to pay off debts, Pierce Butler wants to cash in his slave “assets,” possibly including Emma.

Willow by Tonya Cherie Hegamin

In 1848 Willow, a fifteen-year-old educated slave girl faces an inconceivable choice — between bondage and freedom, family and love — as free born, seventeen-year-old Cato, a black man, takes it upon himself to sneak as many fugitive slaves to freedom as he can on the Mason-Dixon Line.

They Called Themselves K.K.K: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Documents the history and origin of the Ku Klux Klan from its beginning in Pulaski, Tennessee, and provides personal accounts, congressional documents, diaries, and more.

Growing Up in Slavery: Stories of Young Slaves as Told By Themselves edited by Yuval Taylor

Culled from full-length autobiographies, the voices of ten slaves–all under the age of nineteen–describe the full range of slave experiences, from starvation, torture, and violence, to love, laughter, and family life.

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.

Black and White: The Confrontation Between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Connor by Larry Dane Brimner

Examines a significant confrontation between Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and Commissioner Bull Connor in Birmingham, Alabama, during the Civil Rights Movement that brought violence and change to this southern city.

We’ve Got A Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson

Discusses the events of the 4,000 African American students who marched to jail to secure their freedom in May 1963.

Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge

An examination of the landmark march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., this book focuses on the children who faced terrifying violence in order to walk alongside him in their fight for freedom and the right to vote.

Sons of Liberty (Graphic Novel) by Alexander Lagos and Joseph Lagos

Hiding the truth about their supernatural abilities in pre-Revolutionary America, runaway slaves Graham and Brody are encouraged by their mentor to make a difference using an African martial art, in a graphic novel that casts new light on the faces and events of this historic period. Limited edition jacketed hardcover. Simultaneous.

Pemba’s Song: A Ghost Story by Tonya C. Hegamin and Marilyn Nelson

As fifteen-year-old Pemba adjusts to leaving her Brooklyn, New York, home for small-town Connecticut, a Black history researcher helps her understand the paranormal experiences drawing her into the life of a mulatto girl who was once a slave in her house.


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.


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