The Works that 1776 Unites Thinks Every American Should Read

The Woodson Center’s 1776 Unites initiative is a nonpartisan and intellectually diverse alliance of writers, thinkers, and activists focused on solutions to our country’s greatest challenges in education, culture, and upward mobility.    

We are often asked “What books best illuminate the black experience in America?”  Many of today’s popular “anti-racist” reading lists paint a picture of inescapable victimhood, racism and oppression and of a nation that is perpetually and incurably hostile to the presence of black people.   

1776 Unites’ list reveals an America that is flawed but committed to becoming a more perfect union.  

We polled our scholars on their choices for this list and nearly all our scholars mentioned key documents to our Founding, including The Federalist Papers, The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, as well Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic commentary Democracy in America.

The items below reflect their recommendations that elucidate the black experience, both the horrific hardships blacks endured under slavery and de jure racism as well as the soaring heights of our achievement and resilience, often under the worst of circumstances. 

Whether you order new or find a tattered copy in a used book store, we hope you will enjoy these works:

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Frederick Douglass

Unforgettable memoir by Frederick Douglass detailing his life as a slave and his escape to freedom; a key inspiration for the abolitionist movement. 

The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois

Deeply revealing collection of essays by W.E.B. Du Bois that gave voice to the quest for identity that many black Americans and shaped the early 20th century black protest movement.  

Up from Slavery, Booker T. Washington

Bestselling 1901 autobiography of Booker T. Washington detailing his journey from enslaved, illiterate child to education reformer and founder of the Tuskegee Institute. 

Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63, Taylor Branch

A definitive recounting of the rise of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his pivotal role and leadership of the Civil Rights Movement.

A Personal Odyssey, Thomas Sowell

A rare look into the personal life of Thomas Sowell who went from dropping out of high school to the halls of the nation’s greatest universities to become one of the nation’s most fearless and influential public intellectuals.

The World of Patience Gromes,  Scott C. Davis  

A grand non-fiction account of “a black community: its birth in the country at the end of the Civil War, its move from country to city, its disintegration during the war on poverty.” 

The Promised Land, Nicholas Lemann

Perhaps the definitive telling of the migration of millions of southern blacks to the industrial north.

The Children, David Halberstam  

The absorbing account of a dozen students in Nashville – including John Lewis – at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.

Freedom in the Making of Western Culture, Orlando Patterson 

A look at the concept and practice of freedom throughout the ages.

Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison 

A groundbreaking novel about race, identity and the psychological experience of being black in America.

A Street in Bronzeville, Gwendolyn Brooks 

A book of poems inspired by her life on the South Side of Chicago by Gwendolyn Brooks, the first black Pulitzer Prize winner.  

And please check out the following works from our 1776 Unites Scholars network:

Lessons From the Least of These, Bob Woodson

Red, White, and Black, Bob Woodson

Race Crazy, Charles Love

Culture Worrier, Clarence Page

Meditations for Financial Freedom, Buster Soaries

Black Eye for America, Carol Swain 

The Anatomy of Racial Inequality, Glenn Loury

Agency, Ian Rowe

Race and Justice in America, Ismael Hernandez

What Do White Americans Owe Black People, Jason Hill

Woke Racism, John H. McWhorter

Entrepreneurship and Self-Help Among Black Americans, John Sibley Butler

American Awakening, Joshua Mitchell

Why the Jews?, Robert Cherry

Shame, Shelby Steele

You Need a Schoolhouse, Stephanie Deutsch

Rock of the Marne, Stephen L. Harris

Taboo, Wilfred Reilly