10 Books About Black Firsts

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Being the first often secures a person’s place in history. Check out these books to find out more about black men and women who achieved breakthroughs and triumphs that ensure their historic legacies.

1. Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela


Mandela’s 1995 autobiography details his life as an anti-apartheid activist, his 27-year imprisonment and his rise to become the first black president of South Africa.

2. Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, by Barack Obama

Written in 1995, this memoir gives insight into the early years of the man who would eventually become the first black president of the United States.

3. Black Firsts: 4,000 Ground-Breaking and Pioneering Historical Events, by Jessie Carney Smith


The 2012 edition of Black Firsts is an important collection of black triumphs.

4. First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America's First Black Public High School, by Alison Stewart


Washington, D.C.’s Dunbar High School was the training ground for many prominent 20th-century black leaders. Released in 2013, Stewart’s book is an important look into the school that defied the odds.


5. Annie Allen, by Gwendolyn Brooks


Chicago-born poet and writer Gwendolyn Brooks became the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry with her 1950 collection, Annie Allen.

6. American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America, by Michelle Obama


In 2012’s American Grown, America’s first black first lady, Michelle Obama, gives the public an inside look at the White House kitchen and garden.


7. On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker,  by A'Lelia Bundles


Madam C.J. Walker worked her way up from washerwoman to become America’s first self-made female millionaire. 2002’s On Her Own Ground, written by Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, recounts her success story.

8. Through My Eyes, by Ruby Bridges


In 1960 Bridges became the first black student to enroll in William Frantz Public School in New Orleans. Published in 1999, her memoir is an important retelling of one of the most visible symbols of the civil rights movement.

9. A Voice From the South, by Anna Julia Cooper


First published in 1892, A Voice From the South is considered one of the first texts of the black feminist movement.

10. I Never Had It Made: An Autobiography of Jackie Robinson, by Jackie Robinson


Originally published in 1972, Robinson’s autobiography details his quest for equality as the first African American to play in Major League Baseball.

Diamond Sharp is an editorial fellow at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

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