24 books for white people to read beyond Black History Month These great reads will help any reader discover the rich range of the African-American experience

For many years I was a clueless white guy. I suffered from one-ness. What I really needed was two-ness, and maybe three-ness and four-ness. I came to see my whiteness not as privilege but as insufficiency, thanks to W. E. B. Du Bois and his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk.

In a remarkable passage, the great scholar, author and activist described the Negro as “a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, — a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eye of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideas in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

Here is the good news. I am not there yet, but I am gaining on two-ness. My white skin is no longer a prison of cluelessness. With the help of African-American friends and colleagues, I am beginning to see America through the eyes of not the Other but others. Through their generosity, I have been invited to ask questions. I heard or saw things I didn’t understand. I did not yet know how to learn, nor did I have the courage to ask a question that might come off as racist. My fear was met by encouragement from the likes of Rev. Kenny Irby, DeWayne Wickham, Dr. Karen Dunlap, Keith Woods, Dr. Lillian Dunlap. “Don’t worry,” they indicated by one means or another. “Ask away. No one is going to leave the room or show you the door.”

Some of my clueless questions:

“When I see a police car, unless I am speeding, I think protection. Tell me why when you see a cop car you may think oppression?”

“I don’t get the absence of so many black fathers in the lives of their children. What is up with that?”

“I have learned to hate the N-word. When I hear it from black rappers, should I be offended?”

“I keep running into this idea of ‘good hair’ vs. ‘bad hair.’ As someone with very bad hair, I think that anyone with any kind of hair has good hair. What am I missing?”

There came a time during these interrogations when I felt a little fatigue setting in from my colleagues. And then Karen Dunlap, my boss and president of the Poynter Institute, made it explicit. It gets tiring, she explained, bearing the burden of white people’s ignorance about black people and African-American culture. “You know,” she gave me a Sunday school teacher look, “you could read something.”

Read something. Yes, read something!

And so I have. Over the past two decades I have developed quite a nice collection of what I might generally describe as African-American literature, some of it written by white journalists or scholars but most of it created by black poets, playwrights, scholars, novelists, essayists and critics. My collection is now large enough to be displayed, and I recently did just that in the library of the Poynter Institute.

I am not claiming this to be an expert collection of works, and certainly not a model one. But it is my collection, and I believe it has made me a better friend, colleague, parent, citizen and human being. I offer this list, with brief annotations, at the END of Black History Month to encourage readers not to limit their learning to the shortest month of the year.

So please learn, grow — and enjoy.

  • My Soul Is Rested: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement in the Deep South, by Howell Raines. A superb oral history of the key moments and key figures of the struggle.
  • The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, by James McBride. “What color is God?” a dark-skinned boy asks his light-skinned mother. “God is the color of water.”
  • Reporting Civil Rights (Parts One and Two) Library of America edition of great American journalism on race and social justice, 1941-1973.
  • The Authentic Voice: The Best Reporting on Race and Ethnicity, edited by Arlene Morgan, Alice Pifer and Keith Woods. Rich examples reveal the power of inclusiveness in all the stories we tell.
  • The Sound of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Concert That Awakened America, by Raymond Arsenault. A great biography of a great American artist by the historian who also gave us Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice.
  • Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, by Phillip Hoose. Before Rosa Parks became an American icon, a young teenage girl, Claudette Colvin, refused to give up her seat on a bus. Written for young readers, but important for all.
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. First came slavery, then came segregation, then came mass incarceration.
  • Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Framed as a letter to his adolescent son, the author digs down to consequences of the continuing exploitation of black people in America. By the author who has made the most eloquent case in favor of reparations for continuing effects of slavery.
  • Beloved, by Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. “Stares unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery.” Another must-read is The Bluest Eye, a terrifying novel about cultural definitions of beauty and the tragedy of self-hatred.
  • Fences, by August Wilson. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for drama, this play depicts what it means for a father to love his son — even at times when he doesn’t like him.
  • Woodholme: A Black Man’s Story of Growing Up Alone, by DeWayne Wickham. An orphan, black and poor, grows up to be one of America’s most prominent newspaper columnists.
  • Crossing the Danger Water: Three Hundred Years of African-American Writing, edited by Deirdre Mullane. If I had to recommend a single volume, this anthology would be it: more than 700 pages of history, literature and insight.
  • In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, by Alice Walker. Glowing essays expressed in what the author of The Color Purple calls “Womanist Prose.”
  • March (Books One, Two and Three), a trilogy, graphic-novel style, on the life and times of congressman John Lewis, with Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. A work for adults and young readers.
  • Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family, by Condoleezza Rice. This family memoir by the former U.S. secretary of state carries us back to when she was 8 years old and her young friends were murdered in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
  • Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63, by Taylor Branch. Widely hailed by critics of all races as “a vivid tapestry of America.”
  • Race Matters, by Cornel West. From W. E. B. Du Bois to Cornel West, African-American intellectuals have helped Americans of all colors understand the sources of racism and the need for change.
  • The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, James Weldon Johnson. The 1912 short novel narrates what it means for a person of mixed race to “pass for white” within the system of American apartheid.
  • The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation, by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff. Winner of a Pulitzer Prize. The stories behind the stories of civil rights, including the inspirational courage and leadership of African-American journalists and publishers.
  • On the Bus with Rosa Parks, by Rita Dove. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, her poetry captures a unique vision of the love and spirit of those who struggled against segregation.
  • Soul on Ice, by Eldridge Cleaver. Bought this as a college student in 1968 along with Look Out, Whitey! Black Power’s Gon’ Get Your Mama! by Julius Lester. Written from a California state prison by a key figure in the Black Panther movement.
  • Black and White Styles in Conflict, by Thomas Kochman. Are black people and white people the same — or different? Turns out, the answer is “both,” according to the white sociologist who drills down into American culture to reveal the sources of our misunderstanding.
  • The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin. Framed as a letter to his young nephew on the 100th anniversary of emancipation. A searing call for justice.
  • The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. The poet was black a black man in a white world, a gay man in a straight world. His experience of two-ness created, I would argue, one of the most impressive bodies of poetry in American history. Were there not an unofficial color line in the Pulitzer Prize judging, he would have won — and more than once.

In building this list, I emphasize again that it is only special in that it is mine, and in that it has led me to a place I wanted and needed to be. There are countless worthy works not on my list, and countless more that are soon to be written. If I may borrow a phrase from the late Julius Lester: Look out, Whitey! Read some of these books and, who knows, you may get a clue. May there be two-ness in your future — and more.

Pots & pans: My parents, both born on July Fourth, didn’t live to see their American dream For my father, our nation was fundamentally immoral. My mother saw a work in progress.

Tomorrow, I’ll pause and think of my parents, both born on the Fourth of July. My father grew up in the rural South, part of a sharecropping family. My mother, the daughter of a laborer and a conjure woman, was born in Philly, just as our nation was.

Sometimes, after summer Sunday dinners with Monday’s toil hours away, they’d cruise into a familiar conversation. It would begin with scenic meanderings about what they’d do after they retired. It would end at a fork in the road, if not an impasse: a discussion of how black people should seek to live their lives in America.

My mother, a child of the Depression, gloried in every example of black people doing unprecedented things, from Jackie Robinson playing major league baseball to Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price in opera.

Although my mother didn’t live to see it, the election of Barack H. Obama as president of the United States exemplified her fondest dream: a black person climbing to unprecedented heights, buoyed by hard work, intelligence and faith.

My father, born before the beginning of World War I, saw America as a nation whose fundamental immorality was revealed in its inability to recognize black people as decent and hardworking. If he’d lived, he’d see post-Obama America and the rise of white nationalism here and throughout Europe as ample evidence that nothing had changed and nothing ever would.

My mother felt that things changed all the time. She helped change things in small ways. When she was a young woman, she stood up for herself on her government jobs. “Jeffery,” she’d say, “I was a pistol.”

Had she lived, my mother would have smiled while the black president of the United States spoke at her grandson’s 2016 Howard University graduation. She would have smiled when she learned that her grandson had the audacity to hope he could earn a living as a film critic.

Had he lived, my father would have shaken his head when the black president said in that graduation speech that to make progress folks had to be willing to compromise, even with those they knew were wrong. My father didn’t believe anything could be gained from compromising with people he knew were wrong.

Although my father would not have discouraged my son’s ambitions, Daddy would have shaken his head at a grandson who, like me, didn’t hope to work for himself.

Although my father worked on an assembly line in the 1960s, he’d owned a garage in the 1950s and a store before serving in the Navy during World War II. He’d also tried to start an import-export business. On occasion, he played and hit the street number. He was always looking for ways to free himself and his family from the dictates of workaday life in black America.

His childhood in a sharecropping family had taught him that the people who owned the land and kept the books also made sure that the workers remained in poverty.

My mother believed fervently in the richness of the American promise. While striving for success, she sought to stand on the shoulders of her ambition and commitment to excellence. She thought that setbacks dictated that she or the larger black community had to work harder or employ different strategies, set new goals.

My father believed that anyone who committed himself to competing in a game where he didn’t make the rules was bound to lose again and again.

Neither of my parents lived to retire. Their Sunday conversations from more than 50 years ago live only in my fond memories. But the explosive question of how black people should best pursue the American dream, or endure when that dream gets deferred, gets answered by each new generation in different ways, by individuals and through national movements, Crispus Attucks to JAY-Z, abolition to Black Lives Matter.

As always, the African-American journey continues in our country. We are not alone: We lock arms with everyone who knows that the nation’s greatness is rooted in its people rather than clever phrases. With each step forward, we carry the nation and its most cherished ideals to higher ground.

And the rockets’ red glare.

Broadway icon Audra McDonald takes her talents to ‘Beauty and the Beast’ The new mom talks about battling stereotypes, her dream of portraying Marian Anderson, and her schoolmate Viola Davis

I will admit this,” said Audra McDonald before letting a giggle filter through. “Our baby — our new, 4-month-old baby — if you count backwards, she’s a Super Bowl baby, from the big Broncos win.”


“Big. Old. Shocker.”

Indeed, this time last year, the six-time Tony winner was surprised to discover she was about to be a mom again. So were the fans who were excited to see her in the historic, all-black Broadway production of Shuffle Along and in her West End debut for Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, which was set to open in London last summer, a production that earned her a Tony in 2014.

She had to take a maternity leave from Broadway (Shuffle closed) and the London show had to be postponed (she’ll head to the U.K. this summer for it) — but she said her husband, the actor Will Swenson, is the world’s biggest Denver Broncos fan, and well, when Von Miller was strip-sacking Cam Newton on his way to winning the game’s MVP in Levi’s Stadium last year, things got frisky in the McDonald-Swenson household.

The Broncos owe her a onesie.



“Theater is … my first language … That sounds contradictory, when you’re out there most of the time playing other people. But I feel most at home, most alive, most beautiful … I get that from being on stage.”

It’s all worked out — and then some. McDonald took a quick break from her beloved stage to co-star in Disney’s new Beauty and the Beast, a live-action version of the classic 1991 animated film. Production for the fairy tale began last May at London’s Shepperton Studios. As with the animated version, the film tells the story of a prince who is placed under a curse. All of his servants are turned into random objects in his castle, as well.

McDonald portrays Madame Garderobe, an opera-singing lady-in-waiting who is in love with fashion and helps doll up Belle (Emma Watson). With this role, McDonald is doing in film what she’s managed to expertly do on Broadway for years.

From the start of her career, McDonald has successfully defied racial typecasting. Part of a military family, she was born in West Berlin and raised in Fresno, California. She’s starred in Broadway roles that were never intended for a black actress, and she’s one of the most successful stage actors of all time.

[On Broadway: There is no ‘Hamilton’ without ‘Shuffle Along’]

“My parents were the ones who — literally and figuratively — led me to theater as a way to channel a hyperactivity and energy that I had that was … becoming an issue,” said McDonald. “We found this outlet for me, it was a perfect fit. And they were very concerned and made sure that I never played any role that was any type of stereotyping.” McDonald said there were a couple of shows that she wanted to audition for that would have perhaps been demeaning. Her parents weren’t having it. “It became buried in my psyche,” she said, “so that for me, it was all about, ‘What role am I right for? What essence of the character am I right for?’ As opposed to, ‘Well, that’s a black person so I can play that.’ I just refused to be stereotyped.”

It’s worked out nicely for her. McDonald has wowed critics in roles like Carrie Pipperidge in the 1994 Lincoln Center revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel (she won a Tony for it) and Lizzie Curry in Lonny Price’s 2007 revival of 110 in the Shade — both roles that only white actresses have ever held. It’s impressive in an industry where job descriptions are spelled out by race and sex: “black woman in her 30s,” “blond 20-something woman,” and so on. McDonald has forced casting directors to actually see her.

She’s the first person to win a Tony in all four acting categories.

“You don’t win every battle, that’s for sure. But you stick to your guns,” she said. “And that’s not to say I don’t want to play a character because they’re black. For me, it’s about what is the role? Is it something that I feel that I can connect to and can learn from and will challenge me? And is there something that I have enough of inside of me that will illuminate that role? That’s it. I just put no limitations, regardless of how aesthetically driven this society is. I try and listen to my gut.”

She’s part of a super successful sisterhood. McDonald’s Juilliard classmate, the two-time-Tony-winning Viola Davis, was awarded the best supporting actress Oscar last month for her role as Rose in Denzel Washington’s Fences, a portrayal that Davis also skillfully acted in the 2010 Broadway revival. About an hour before Davis’ category was even announced, McDonald semi-jokingly tweeted “did Viola get her Oscar yet?”

“Twenty five years ago, Viola and I we were in school together and we all knew then that she was the greatest thing that there had ever been. Viola … has not changed at all. It’s just the world is now awake, and sees that, and values that,” McDonald said. “She deserves it.”

“You don’t win every battle, that’s for sure. But you stick to your guns.”

As does McDonald. Her accomplishments are wildly impressive. She’s won an Emmy, two Grammys, five Outer Critics Circle Awards, and five Drama Desk Awards. She has four NAACP Image Awards nominations, and she’s the first person to win a Tony in all four acting categories. To be a part of the coveted and tiny fraternity known as EGOT (performers who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony) all she needs is an award from the academy. Only 12 people have earned all four awards. McDonald is pacing herself for whatever might be her big Hollywood moment — but her heart belongs to theater.

“Theater is my mother tongue, it’s my first language,” she said. “Anytime that I get on the stage — and this is something that I started to realize … when I was hospitalized for being suicidal — I feel the freest. I feel the most like myself. That sounds contradictory, when you’re out there most of the time playing other people, but I feel most at home, most alive, most beautiful, most all of that. The only other place I get that feeling is at home with my family. [The stage] has always been my savior. It’s a place to get the emotion out.”

“I can’t be silent. There’s a complicity in silence.”

McDonald’s is a voice that demands to be heard — and not just because she’s a lyric soprano who can hit a high F. Her Twitter handle — @AudraEqualityMc — reflects her views on marriage equality and she’s not shy about tweeting out opinions about the current political climate.

“I live in New York. There’s not one race, color, creed, anything, that is not represented here. So many of those people that I see and live among … can be disenfranchised by social injustices … immigrants or Muslims, or the LGBTQ community, or homeless children, or the homeless in general.” She said she sees the effects of injustice, and to raise her voice is the right thing to do. “I can’t be silent. And also … to quote Lin-Manuel Miranda: ‘Eyes on you.’ When we turn back around to look at the change that has occurred … who are we following? Who spoke up?’ There’s a complicity in silence. And I don’t want my kids to look back and say, ‘Wow, Mom was real quiet about all of that, and look at what ended up happening.’ ”

And even though she says being a mother is her most important role — McDonald has a 16-year-old daughter, Zoe Madeline, besides baby Sally James — there is a role that could properly woo her to the silver screen. It just hasn’t been written yet.

“There are women in history, and there’s one I’ve always thought about it. Wouldn’t it be neat to get a biopic about Marian Anderson? There’s so much to that life. That story that hasn’t been told,” she said. “That would marry my love of singing with a figure in time … someone who broke down all kinds of doors and … in her own quiet way … refused to be seen for anything but the artist she was. She let her talent do the talking.” McDonald has no idea if such a project will ever happen. “But if it does, I hope that I would be ready for it.”

Chances are good that she absolutely will be.

On this day in black history: The Dominican Republic is free; happy birthday, Marian Anderson and James Worthy; and the first black woman to become a lawyer Black History Month: The Undefeated edition Feb. 27

1844 Independence day for Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic gains its independence from the border nation of Haiti. The countries share the island of Hispaniola and both had been under Haitian rule for a more than a couple of decades, first by the Spanish and then by the French.

1872 Charlotte Ray becomes the first African-American female lawyer in the U.S.
Charlotte Ray graduated from Howard University School of Law and became the first black female lawyer in the U.S. She was also the first woman admitted to the District of Columbia bar, and the first woman admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia. Sadly but predictably, her practice could not withstand discrimination and prejudice, so she packed up and moved to New York, where she became a teacher and became involved in the women’s suffrage movement.

1902 Happy birthday, Marian Anderson (1897-1993)
Marian Anderson became a world-renowned opera singer and the first African-American soloist to perform at the White House. Born in Philadelphia, Anderson performed at major music venues.

1961 Happy birthday, James Worthy
Born in Gastonia, North Carolina, James Worthy played 12 seasons for the Los Angeles Lakers and was a seven-time NBA All-Star, a three-time NBA champion and the 1988 NBA Finals MVP.

On this day in black history: Michael Jordan, Jim Brown and Huey P. Newton are born and more Black History Month The Undefeated edition Feb. 17

1891 — Butter churn patented
Inventor Albert Richardson created the tall wooden cylinder with a plunger handle to improve the butter-making process. Richardson realized the up-and-down movement caused oily parts of cream or milk to separate them from the water portions.

1902 — Opera singer Marian Anderson born
Born in Philadelphia, Marian Anderson performed at the Lincoln Memorial in an open-air recital after her concert at Constitution Hall, which was controlled by the Daughters of the American Revolution, was canceled after they refused to allow her to perform. At the age of 17, Anderson placed first over 299 other singers in the New York Philharmonic competition. In 1930, she traveled to Europe after she was awarded a Rosenwald Fellowship, allowing her to study abroad for a year. Three years later, she debuted in Berlin and performed 142 concerts in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Anderson signed with the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1955.

1936 — Happy birthday, Jim Brown
Over the course of his nine-season tenure with the Cleveland Browns, Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown enjoyed three MVP seasons. The St. Simons Island, Georgia, native was a staunch civil rights activist and the founder of a plethora of organizations aimed at helping the disenfranchised.

1938 — Activist Mary Frances Berry is born
Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Berry went onto become the first woman to serve as a chancellor of a major research university at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She has been an active face in the fight for civil rights, gender equality and social justice. During four presidential administrations, Berry served as chairperson of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Berry was also the principal education official in the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

1942 Black Panther Party founder born
Huey P. Newton was born in Monroe, Louisiana. As a response to police brutality and racism, in 1966, Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panther group. The organization was founded to build self-reliance for the black community. At its peak, there were approximately 2,000 members in city chapters across the nation. In 1971, Newton proclaimed that the Black Panthers would dedicate themselves to providing social services to the black community and adopt a nonviolent approach.

1963 Happy birthday, Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan, considered by many the greatest of all time, was a six-time NBA champion and Finals MVP, five-time NBA MVP, 14-time NBA All-Star, three-time NBA All-Star MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and more. He retired with the NBA’s highest scoring average of 30.1 points per game. He owns the Charlotte Hornets and created the Jordan Brand for Nike.

As Michael Jordan turns 54, take a look back at the three times in his career he scored 54 points.

ESPN Video Player

1967 Happy birthday, Ronnie DeVoe
Ronnie DeVoe was the fifth member of New Edition, and introduced to the group by his uncle, their former manager. DeVoe later became a founding member of R&B group Bell Biv DeVoe with two other New Edition members, Michael Bivins and Ricky Bell.

1973 — First naval frigate named after an African-American commissioned
Ensign Jesse L. Brown was the U.S. Navy’s first African-American pilot and was killed in combat during a mission in Korea. Brown earned his pilot wings, unlike his Army aviator colleagues, who broke the color barrier with the Tuskegee Airmen. Brown, the son of a Mississippi sharecropper who used to steer mules in cotton fields, saved his money up so that he could attend Ohio State like his idol, Olympic track superstar Jesse Owens.