African-American History

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by Nathan Huggins (1971; Oxford). There have been many books published about the Harlem Renaissance, but this early one by Nathan Huggins remains one of the best interdisciplinary studies of the period. David Levering Lewis’s When Harlem Was in Vogue , first published in 1981, is still the most popular single-volume history of the era, and more broadly comprehensive than Huggins’s book, but Huggins’s astute judgments of the era have yet to be matched by any historian.

Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954–63

by Taylor Branch (1988; Simon & Schuster). This initial volume in Branch’s epic history is the most compelling, gripping, altogether most powerful narrative available of the first stage of the civil rights movement, an absolutely stunning book.

Martin Duberman’s biography Paul Robeson (1988; New Press) has incredible historical sweep, telling a textured, amazingly well-researched story of a powerful, uncompromising, and tragic figure in American cultural and political life. It is complemented nicely by Gerald Home’s Black and Red: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Afro-American Response to the Cold War, 1944–1963, published in 1986 (State University of New York).

Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family From Slavery to the Present

by Jacqueline Jones (1985; Knopf). Jones is one of the finest labor historians of her generation, and this work is a definitive social and economic history of black women and the family. It should be read together with Giddings’s book.