Reading list

Abolition and Black Struggle

The police have always been used as a tool for the social control of minority populations and to protect the power and property of the elite. A reading list that puts the call for the abolishment of the police in historical context.

Verso Books 2 June 2020

Abolition and Black Struggle

The reading list below looks at the racist origins of modern policing, Black revolutionary politics, and the history of liberation movements fighting for racial and economic justice.

You can see a smaller list of "5 books to read for UK Black History Month" here.

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If police are the problem, what’s the solution?

A World without Police offers concrete strategies for confronting and breaking police power, as a first step toward building community alternatives that make the police obsolete. In communities around the world, we are beginning to glimpse a real, lasting justice in which we keep us safe.

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* PLEASE NOTE: THIS BOOK IS NOT PUBLISHED BY VERSO IN NORTH AMERICA

Derecka Purnell confronts the history of policing as a means to capture runaway slaves and uphold white supremacy, a practice persisting today in the policing and murder of Black people, poor people, and disabled people on modern city streets. She argues that the worst of policing is the purpose of policing and that we need new systems to address the root causes of violence.

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One of America’s most historic political trials is undoubtedly that of Angela Davis. Opening with a letter from James Baldwin to Davis, and including contributions from numerous radicals such as Black Panthers George Jackson, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale and Erica Huggins, this book is not only an account of Davis’s incarceration and the struggles surrounding it, but also perhaps the most comprehensive and thorough analysis of the prison system of the United State.

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This book attempts to spark public discussion by revealing the tainted origins of modern policing as a tool of social control. It shows how the expansion of police authority is inconsistent with community empowerment, social justice—even public safety. Drawing on groundbreaking research from across the world, and covering virtually every area in the increasingly broad range of police work, Alex Vitale demonstrates how law enforcement has come to exacerbate the very problems it is supposed to solve.

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In a series of short chapters, each focusing on a single term, such as the beatorderbadgethrow-down weapon, and much more, authors David Correia and Tyler Wall present a guide that reinvents and demystifies the language of policing in order to better prepare activists—and anyone with an open mind—on one of the key issues of our time: police brutality.

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Combining firsthand accounts from activists with the research of scholars and reflections from artists, Policing the Planet traces the global spread of the broken-windows policing strategy, first established in New York City under Police Commissioner William Bratton. It’s a doctrine that has vastly broadened police power the world over—to deadly effect.

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How two centuries of Indigenous resistance created the movement proclaiming “Water is life.” In Our History Is the Future, Nick Estes traces traditions of Indigenous resistance that led to the #NoDAPL movement. At once a work of history, a manifesto, and an intergenerational story of resistance. 

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The story of how enslaved women struggled for freedom in the West Indies.

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An engrossing century-spanning global narrative, Tear Gas is the first history of this poorly understood weapon. Anna Feigenbaum travels from military labs and chemical weapons expos to union assemblies and protest camps, drawing on declassified reports and eyewitness testimonies to show how policing with poison came to be.

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Los Angeles in the sixties was a hotbed of political and social upheaval. The city was a launchpad for Black Power—where Malcolm X and Angela Davis first came to prominence and the Watts uprising shook the nation. The city was home to the Chicano Blowouts and Chicano Moratorium, as well as being the birthplace of “Asian American” as a political identity. It was a locus of the antiwar movement, gay liberation movement, and women’s movement, and, of course, the capital of California counterculture.

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Inside This Place, Not of It reveals some of the most egregious human rights violations within women’s prisons in the United States. Here, in their own words, thirteen narrators recount their lives leading up to incarceration and their harrowing struggle for survival once inside.

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In this classic work published in the heady days of anti-colonial revolution, Groundings with My Brothers follows the global circulation of emancipatory ideas, from the black students of North America to the Rasta counterculture of Jamaica and beyond. The book is striking in its simultaneous ability to survey the wide and heterogeneous international context while remaining anchored in grassroots politics, as Rodney offers us first-hand accounts of mass movement organizing. 

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How Europe Underdeveloped Africa is an ambitious masterwork of political economy, detailing the impact of slavery and colonialism on the history of international capitalism. In this classic book, Rodney makes the unflinching case that African “mal-development” is not a natural feature of geography, but a direct product of imperial extraction from the continent, a practice that continues up into the present. 

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"Cedric Robinson was a towering intellectual and courageous activist in the grand tradition of W.E.B Du Bois. In these bleak times, it is imperative to keep his legacy alive and build on his work and witness. This book meets this imperative in a powerful way!” – Cornel West, author of The Radical King

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Why is criminal justice so central to American politics? Lockdown America notonly documents the horrors and absurdities of militarized policing,prisons, a fortified border, and the federalization of the war oncrime, it also explains the political and economic history behind themassive crackdown. This updated edition includes an afterword on the War on Terror, a meditation on surveillance and the specter of terrorism as they help reanimate the criminal justice attack. Written in vivid prose, Lockdown America willpropel readers toward a deeper understanding of the links between crimeand politics in a period of gathering economic crisis.

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A collection of incisive critiques of contemporary Marxism, of post-colonial development and of the Eurocentric assessment of imperialism.

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School violence has fallen steadily for twenty years. Yet in schools throughout the United States, Annette Fuentes finds metal detectors and drug tests for aspirin, police profiling of students with no records, arbitrary expulsions, armed teachers, increased policing, and all-seeing electronic surveillance.

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Marcus Garvey, Amy Jacques Garvey, Claude McKay, Claudia Jones, C.L.R. James, Stokely Carmichael—the roster of immigrants from the Caribbean who have had a profound impact on the development of radical politics in the United States is a long one. In this magisterial work, Winston James focuses on the twentieth century’s first wave of inspirational writers and activists from the Caribbean and their contribution to political dissidence in America.

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Surveying a period from the late seventeenth century—the era in which W.E.B. Du Bois located the emergence of “whiteness”—through the American Revolution and the Civil War to the civil rights movement and the emergence of the American empire, How Race Survived US History reveals how race did far more than persist as an exception in a progressive national history. This masterful account shows how race has remained at the heart of American life well into the twenty-first century.

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The Heart of the Race is a powerful corrective to a version of Britain’s history from which black women have long been excluded. It reclaims and records black women’s place in that history, documenting their day-to-day struggles, their experiences of education, work and health care, and the personal and political struggles they have waged to preserve a sense of identity and community. First published in 1985 and winner of the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize that year, The Heart of the Race is a testimony to the collective experience of black women in Britain, and their relationship to the British state throughout its long history of slavery, empire and colonialism.

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A classic history of the role of Black working-class struggles throughout the twentieth century.

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Whether class or race is the more important factor in modern politics is a question right at the heart of recent history’s most contentious debates. Among groups who should readily find common ground, there is little agreement. To escape this deadlock, Asad Haider turns to the rich legacies of the black freedom struggle. Drawing on the words and deeds of black revolutionary theorists, he argues that identity politics is not synonymous with anti-racism, but instead amounts to the neutralization of its movements. It marks a retreat from the crucial passage of identity to solidarity, and from individual recognition to the collective struggle against an oppressive social structure.

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A lively and informed reflection on the experience of black people in Britain.

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“Incisive, provocative, and uncannily timely, Class, Race, and Marxism reckons honestly with the challenges of building class solidarity across the fissures of race, the difficulties of writing about it, and the ways in which the two are entwined. If there is a single lesson here, it is that solidarity is not forever—it is elusive, fragile, and hard as hell.” – Robin D.G. Kelley, author of Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression

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The prophetic poetry of slavery and its abolition.

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Looking back at African-American politics and the fight against racism of the recent past, Manning Marable argues powerfully for a “transformationist” strategy that retains a distinctive black cultural identity but draws together all the poor and exploited in a united struggle against oppression.

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The distinguished American civil rights leader, W. E. B. Du Bois first published these fiery essays, sketches, and poems individually nearly 80 years ago in the Atlantic, the Journal of Race Development, and other periodicals. Part essay, part autobiography, Darkwater explicitly addresses significant issues, such as the oppression of women and Eurocentric standards of beauty, the historical rise of the idea of whiteness, and the abridgement of democracy along race, class, and gender lines. Reflecting the author’s ideas as a politician, historian, and artist, this volume has long moved and inspired readers with its militant cry for social, political, and economic reforms for black Americans.

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First published in 1990, Michele Wallace’s Invisibility Blues is widely regarded as a landmark in the history of black feminism. Wallace’s considerations of the black experience in America include recollections of her early life in Harlem; a look at the continued underrepresentation of black voices in politics, media, and culture; and the legacy of such figures as Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Cade Bambara, Toni Morrison,and Alice Walker.

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A fascinating portrait of life with the Black Panthers in Algiers: a story of liberation and radical politics.

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Whether discussing popular culture, race and ethnicity, the evolution of such American keywords as gook, boss and redneck, the strikes of 1877 or the election of 1992, Roediger pushes at the boundaries between labor history and politics, as well as those between race and class.

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Most people assume that racism grows from a perception of human difference: the fact of race gives rise to the practice of racism. Sociologist Karen E. Fields and historian Barbara J. Fields argue otherwise: the practice of racism produces the illusion of race, through what they call “racecraft.” And this phenomenon is intimately entwined with other forms of inequality in American life. So pervasive are the devices of racecraft in American history, economic doctrine, politics, and everyday thinking that the presence of racecraft itself goes unnoticed.

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Traces of History presents a new approach to race and to comparative colonial studies. Bringing a historical perspective to bear on the regimes of race that colonizers have sought to impose on Aboriginal people in Australia, on Blacks and Native Americans in the United States, on Ashkenazi Jews in Western Europe, on Arab Jews in Israel/Palestine, and on people of African descent in Brazil, this book shows how race marks and reproduces the different relationships of inequality into which Europeans have coopted subaltern populations: territorial dispossession, enslavement, confinement, assimilation, and removal.

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Originally published in 1978, Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman caused a storm of controversy. Michele Wallace blasted the masculine biases of the black politics that emerged from the sixties. She described how women remained marginalized by the patriarchal culture of Black Power, demonstrating the ways in which a genuine female subjectivity was blocked by the traditional myths of black womanhood.

“Courageous, outspoken, clear-eyed.” —Publishers Weekly

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In this seminal two-volume work, The Invention of the White Race, Theodore W. Allen tells the story of how America’s ruling classes created the category of the “white race” as a means of social control. Since that early invention, white privileges have enforced the myth of racial superiority, and that fact has been central to maintaining ruling-class domination over ordinary working people of all colors throughout American history.

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In this engaging and well-researched survey, Kumari Jayawardena presents feminism as it originated in the Third World, erupting from the specific struggles of women fighting against colonial power, for education or the vote, for safety, and against poverty and inequality.

Journalist and human rights activist Rafia Zakaria’s foreword to this new edition is an impassioned letter in two parts: the first to Western feminists; the second to feminists in the Global South, entreating them to use this “compendium of female courage” as a bridge between women of different nations.

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How did America recover after its years of civil war? How did freed men and women, former slaves, respond to their newly won freedom? David Roediger’s radical new history redefines the idea of freedom after the jubilee, using fresh sources and texts to build on the leading historical accounts of Emancipation and Reconstruction.

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Afrocentrism, Eurocentrism, Caribbean Studies, American Studies. To the forces of cultural nationalism trapped in their respective camps, this bold book sounds a liberating call. There is, Paul Gilroy tells us, a culture that is not specifically African, American, Caribbean, or British, but all of these at once; a black Atlantic culture whose themes and techniques transcend ethnicity and nationality to produce something new and, until now, unremarked. Challenging the practices and assumptions of cultural studies, The Black Atlantic also enriches our understanding of modernism.

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For a decade and a half, since she first appeared in the Birmingham Centre’s collective volume The Empire Strikes Back, Hazel Carby has been on the frontline of the debate over multicultural education in Britain and the US. This book brings together her most important and influential essays, ranging over such topics as the necessity for racially diverse school curricula, the construction of literary canons, Zora Neale Hurston’s portraits of “the Folk,” C.L.R. James and Trinidadian nationalism and black women blues artists, and the necessity for racially diverse school curricula.

Further reading

See all our reading lists here

Abolition is the only solution: a reading list for breaking police power

A World Without Police
Compellingly argued and lyrically charged, A World without Police offers concrete strategies for confronting and breaking police power, as a first step toward building community alternatives that m...
Becoming Abolitionists
In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and the resurgence of Black Lives Matter the call for the abolition of the police became a central demand for the movement. In this extraordinary, rev...
Hardback
If They Come in the Morning
The trial of Angela Davis is remembered as one of America's most historic political trials, and no one can tell the story better than Davis herself. Opening with a letter from James Baldwin to Ange...
The End of Policing
The massive uprising following the police killing of George Floyd in the summer of 2020--by some estimates the largest protests in US history--thrust the argument to defund the police to the forefr...
Police
This book armed activists on the streets—as well as the many who have become concerned about police abuse—with a critical analysis and ultimately a redefinition of the very idea of policing. The b...
Policing the Planet

Policing the Planet

Combining firsthand accounts from activists with the research of scholars and reflections from artists, Policing the Planet traces the global spread of the broken-windows policing strategy, first e...
Our History Is the Future
In 2016, a small protest encampment at the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, initially established to block construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, grew to be the largest Indigenou...
Hardback (2019)
A Kick in the Belly
The forgotten history of women slaves and their struggle for liberation.Enslaved West Indian women had few opportunities to record their stories for posterity. In this riveting work of historical r...
Tear Gas
One hundred years ago, French troops fired tear gas grenades into German trenches. Designed to force people out from behind barricades and trenches, tear gas causes burning of the eyes and skin, te...
Set the Night on Fire
Histories of the US sixties invariably focus on New York City, but Los Angeles was an epicenter of that decade’s political and social earthquake. L.A. was a launchpad for Black Power—where Malcolm ...
Inside This Place, Not of It

Inside This Place, Not of It

Inside This Place, Not of It reveals some of the most egregious human rights violations within women’s prisons in the United States. In their own words, the thirteen narrators in this book recount ...
The Groundings With My Brothers
In his short life, the Guyanese intellectual Walter Rodney emerged as one of the leading thinkers and activists of the anticolonial revolution, leading movements in North America, South America, th...
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa is an ambitious masterwork of political economy, detailing the impact of slavery and colonialism on the history of international capitalism. In this classic book, R...
Futures of Black Radicalism
Black rebellion has returned, with dramatic protests in scores of cities and campuses, bringing with it a renewed engagement with the history of Black radical movements and thought. Here, key schol...
Lockdown America
Why is criminal justice so central to American politics? Lockdown America not only documents the horrors and absurdities of militarized policing, prisons, a fortified border, and the federalization...
Communities of Resistance
Ambalavaner Sivanandan was one of Britain’s most influential radical thinkers. As Director of the Institute of Race Relations for forty years, his work changed the way that we think about race, rac...
Lockdown High
School violence has fallen steadily for twenty years. Yet in schools throughout the United States, Annette Fuentes finds metal detectors and drug tests for aspirin, police profiling of students wit...
Holding aloft the Banner of Ethiopia
Marcus Garvey, Claude McKay, Claudia Jones, C.L.R. James, Stokely Carmichael, Louis Farakhan—the roster of immigrants from the Caribbean who have made a profound impact on the development of radica...
How Race Survived US History
In this absorbing chronicle of the role of race in US history, David R. Roediger explores how the idea of race was created and recreated from the 1600s to the present day. From the late seventeenth...
Heart Of The Race

Heart Of The Race

Heart of the Race is a powerful corrective to a version of Britain’s history from which black women have long been excluded. It reclaims and records black women’s place in that history, documenting...
The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain
This is the first comprehensive historical perspective on the relationship between Black workers and the changing patterns of Britain’s labour needs. It places in an historical context the developm...
Mistaken Identity
Whether class or race is the more important factor in modern politics is a question right at the heart of recent history’s most contentious debates. Among groups who should readily find common grou...
Paperback (2018)
Inside Babylon

Inside Babylon

The varied experience of the Caribbean diaspora in Britain, with its difficult and fractured history, is reflected in this distinctive and lively collection. The contributors to Inside Babylon show...
Class, Race, and Marxism
Seen as a key figure in the critical study of whiteness, US historian David Roediger has sometimes received criticism, and praise, alleging that he left Marxism behind in order to work on questions...
The Black Romantic Revolution
During the pitched battle over slavery in the United States, Black writers - enslaved and free - allied themselves with the cause of abolition and used their art to advocate for emancipation and to...
Beyond Black and White
Many in the US, including Barack Obama, have called for a 'post-racial' politics: yet race still divides the country politically, economically and socially.In this highly acclaimed work, Manning Ma...
Darkwater

Darkwater

“I have been in the world, but not of it,” W.E.B. Du Bois begins this book, a continuation of the project he began in his celebrated work The Souls of Black Folk, describing the devastation of segr...
Invisibility Blues
First published in 1990, Michele Wallace’s Invisibility Blues is widely regarded as a landmark in the history of black feminism. Wallace’s considerations of the black experience in America include ...
Algiers, Third World Capital
Mokhtefi (née Klein), a Jewish American from Long Island, has had an exhilarating life. In the 1960s, she served as a press adviser to the National Liberation Front in postwar Algiers, before going...
Paperback
Towards the Abolition of Whiteness
Towards the Abolition of Whiteness collects David Roediger’s recent essays, many published here for the first time, and counts the costs of whiteness in the past and present of the US. It finds tho...
Racecraft
Praised by a wide variety of people from Ta-Nehisi Coates to Zadie Smith, Racecraft "ought to be positioned," as Bookforum put it, "at the center of any discussion of race in American life." Most p...
Paperback (2014)
Traces of History
Traces of History presents a new approach to race and to comparative colonial studies. Bringing a historical perspective to bear on the regimes of race that colonizers have sought to impose on A...
Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman
Originally published in 1978, Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman caused a storm of controversy. Michele Wallace blasted the masculine biases of the black politics that emerged from the si...
The Invention of the White Race, Volume 1
When the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no “white” people there. Nor, according to colonial records, would there be for another sixty years. In this seminal two-volume work,...
Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World
For twenty-five years, Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World has been an essential primer on the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century history of women’s movements in Asia and the Midd...
Seizing Freedom
How did America recover after its years of civil war? How did freed men and women, former slaves, respond to their newly won freedom? David Roediger’s radical new history redefines the idea of fr...
The Black Atlantic
In this ground-breaking work, Paul Gilroy proposes that the modern black experience can not be defined solely as African, American, Carribean or British alone, but can only be understand as a Black...
Paperback (2012)
Cultures in Babylon
Bringing together multi-award-winning author Hazel Carby’s most important and influential essays, Cultures in Babylon addresses the political dilemmas of representing Black women as sexual subjects...

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