Black History Beyond Caste

November 11, 2020 | By Baltimore County Public Library

Amid the calls for the demise of white supremacy and increasing push for social justice, it’s quickly become clear that learning about Black history can’t and shouldn’t be relegated to one month of the year. Oprah recently selected Isabel Wilkinson’s acclaimed title "Caste" as her latest book club pick. Throughout this tumultuous year, there have been a number of other titles that cover aspects of African Americans’ lives over the past decades.  

Cover of the novel Vanguard

"Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All" by Martha S. Jones 
Too often forgotten or erased from history books, the work of Black women to ensure equality for all Americans is reassessed in this timely history. Notable names from the past and many others who deserve more recognition are interwoven in this winning narrative. White women finally “took” the right to vote in 1920; this tells more of the story of its history and what steps were needed to obtain full suffrage for everyone. 

Cover of Driving While Black

"Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights" by Gretchen Sorin 
A captivating history of how Black Americans took to driving and the reasons behind it. Because of Jim Crow and racism, cars provided an enclosed space that at least provided the perception of safety and distance from those indignities. Sorin describes the difficulties that required the publication of the Green Book and how travel remained precarious for many years. Unfortunately, we see the continuing dangers faced by Black drivers even to this day, with profiling and other forms of police misconduct.  

Cover of Overground Railroad

"Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America" by Candacy Taylor 
Focused specifically on the Green Book, this was published to coincide with a three-year traveling multimedia presentation, starting this summer at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Lavishly illustrated with photographs and reprints from Green Books, this title showcases the early popularity of road trips among those African Americans able to afford cars.   

Cover of Making our way Home

"Making Our Way Home: The Great Migration and the Black American Dream" by Blair Imani 
If you’ve read Isabel Wilkinson’s "The Warmth of Other Suns," this is another look at the Great Migration of Black Americans moving north throughout the 20th century. Clarifying some of the common explanations, such as economic opportunity, Imani focuses as well on Jim Crow as a major motivation to relocate. The consequences of government programs as well as cultural and artistic achievements are also examined in this well-designed history.  

Category: Collection and Materials