Reading List

Black Radicalism Reading List

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With white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups gaining power throughout the United States and Europe, it's important to turn to the political lessons to be learned from Black radical thinkers.

Julius Scott's long-awaited and recently published The Common Wind is a remarkable intellectual history of the slave revolts that made the modern revolutionary era. Though it is credited with having “opened up the Black Atlantic with a rigor and a commitment to the power of written words,” the manuscript remained unpublished for thirty-two years. Now, after receiving wide acclaim from leading historians of slavery and the New World, it has been published for the first time, with a foreword by the academic and author Marcus Rediker.

Here we present a list of key reading in the Black radical tradition, featuring Angela Davis, Manning Marable, David Roediger and W.E.B. Du Bois.

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The Common Wind is a gripping and colorful account of the intercontinental networks that tied together the free and enslaved masses of the New World. Having delved deep into the gray obscurity of official eighteenth-century records in Spanish, English, and French, Julius S. Scott has written a powerful “history from below.” Scott follows the spread of “rumors of emancipation” and the people behind them, bringing to life the protagonists in the slave revolution.

In our information–overloaded twenty-first century, it seems impossible to fully discern or explain how we know about the past. But two things are certain. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we all think historically on a routine basis. And our perceptions of history, including African American history, have not necessarily been shaped by professional historians. In this wide-reaching and timely book, Pero Gaglo Dagbovie argues that public knowledge and understanding of black history, including its historical icons, has been shaped by institutions and individuals outside academic ivory towers. 

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.

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.

"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

“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

Since the book was written, the carceral system in the US has seen unprecedented growth, with more of America’s black population behind bars than ever before. The scathing analysis of the role of prison and the policing of black populations offered by Davis and her comrades in this astonishing volume remains as pertinent today as the day it was first published.

Featuring contributions from George Jackson, Bettina Aptheker, Bobby Seale, James Baldwin, Ruchell Magee, Julian Bond, Huey P. Newton, Erika Huggins, Fleeta Drumgo, John Clutchette, and others.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

“This book is the best analytical and political response we have to the historic rebellions in Ferguson! Don’t miss it.” – Cornel West, author of Black Prophetic Fire

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 development of a small black presence in sixteenth-century Britain into the disadvantaged black working class of the 1980s. The book deals with the colonial labour institutions (slavery, indentureship and trade unionism) and the ideology underlying them and also considers the previously neglected role of the nineteenthcentury Black radicals in British working-class struggles.

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.

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

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.

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.

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. 

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.