BitchReads: The Best Black Women’s History Books of 2017

History is often seen through the lenses of male figures and historians. Yet, there’s an array of female and nonbinary historians, scholars, and writers who are pushing Black women’s stories into the canon. This BitchReads list shines a light on some of the books about Black women’s history that really made an imprint in 2017.

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1. Colored No More: Reinventing Black Womanhood in Washington, D.C. by Treva B. Lindsey

Colored No More book cover

{ University of Illinois Press }
Release Date: March 29, 2017
Price: $34.67

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For decades, Washington, D.C. has been one of the epicenters for Black people. Whether it’s the historic Howard University in the heart of the district or the birth of go-go music, D.C. has been integral to the Black American experience. Yet, the Black women who were central to creating “Chocolate City” have often been relegated to the sidelines. In Colored No More, The Ohio State University professor Dr. Treva B. Lindsey brings the work of an array of Black women, including Nannie Helen Burroughs, Lucy Diggs Slowe, and Mary Church Terrell to the forefront. In every way, Colored No More is an act of love.

2. Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray by Rosalind Rosenberg

Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray book cover

{ Oxford University Press }
Release Date: May 1, 2017
Price: $29.95

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Pauli Murray was a brilliant lawyer, labor organizer, poet, and activist whose legal theories inspired Ruth Bader Ginsburg to argue that gender-based discrimination is comparable to race-based discrimination, and thus, the Equal Protection Amendment should protect women. While Murray was crucial in organizing sit-ins during the Civil Rights Movement, her work is often overlooked and disregarded. In Jane Crow, historian Rosalind Rosenberg sets out to understand what made Murray invisible. She found that Murray identifying as male and her mixed-race heritage made her feel as if she was between identities. Jane Crow is a beautiful act of reclamation.

3. Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women by Brittney Cooper

Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women

{ University of Illinois Press }
Release Date: May 3, 2017
Price: $25.95

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Dr. Brittney Cooper, a tenured professor of women and gender studies, is often moving between the past and the present. In Beyond Respectability, Cooper looks backward to explore how Black feminist intellectuals, including Fannie Barrier Williams, Mary Church Terrell, and Toni Cade Bambara, fought for recognition of their work and their ideas. Beyond Respectability is a dense academic text, but it’s full of gems about how Black women thinkers found their way.

 

4. Gateway to Equality: Black Women and the Struggle for Economic Justice in St. Louis by Keona K. Ervin

Gateway To Equality: Black Women and the Struggle for Economic Justice in St. Louis

{ The University Press of Kentucky }
Release Date: July 3, 2017
Price: $80.00

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In the 1930s, St. Louis, Missouri—like the rest of America—was in the throes of an economic recession. Long after the Great Depression ended, however, St. Louis was still stagnant, particularly in Black communities where racism and poverty decimated spirits. Yet, there were coalitions of Black women who united to fight for living wages and dignity. Gateway to Equality chronicles their collective push for economic justice, and how they worked to become visible leaders of the city’s labor movement.

 

5. The Promise of Patriarchy: Women and the Nation of Islam by Ula Yvette Taylor

The Promise of Patriarchy: Women and the Nation of Islam

{ University of North Carolina Press }
Release Date: October 3, 2017
Price: $35.95

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When people think about the Nation of Islam, a few men come to mind: Elijah Muhammad, Louis Farrakhan, Muhammad Ali, and Malcolm X. These men, and a few others, are credited with creating the Nation of Islam, a tenet of the Muslim community, and raising its profile. However, that history is incomplete without acknowledging the critical work of women, including the wives of those prominent male leaders. Black women in the Nation of Islam wrote speeches, organized community events, and were integral to the community’s survival. The Promise of Patriarchy is an ode to them.

6. Louise Thompson Patterson: A Life of Struggle for Justice by Keith Gilyard

Louise Thompson Patterson: A Life of Struggle for Justice

{ Duke University Press }
Release Date: October 5, 2017
Price: $26.95

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It’s fascinating to read biographies of Black women, particularly those for women as complex and layered as Louise Thompson Patterson. Patterson dedicated her life to fighting for equality, from working alongside Paul Robeson in the labor movement during the 1930s and 1940s to fighting to free wrongly incarcerated prisoners in the 1970s. Penn State professor Keith Gilyard offers a look at one of the most dynamic Black women who’s ever walked the Earth.

 

 

7. Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology by Deirdre Cooper Owens

Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology

{ University of Georgia Press }
Release Date: November 15, 2017
Price: $58.95

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Pioneering gynecologists, such as James Marion Sims and Nathan Bozeman, are revered, their accomplishments memorialized on statues and plaques. Their experiments revolutionized gynecology, and saved countless lives, but a lot of their work was performed on the “medical superbodies” of poor women without agency. In Medical Bondage, historian Deirdre Cooper Owens explores how 19th-century doctors on Southern plantations and in northern hospitals, both progressed medicine, and also solidified racialized stereotypes that have dictated treatment of patients for centuries.

 

8. How We Get Free: Black Feminism & the Combahee River Collective by Keeanga Yamahtta Taylor

How We Get Free: Black Feminism & the Combahee River Collective

{ Haymarket Books }
Release Date: December 5, 2017
Price: $15.95

Buy It Now

It has been 40 years since the Combahee River Collective united to write a manifesto that both spoke to the erasure of Black women in the women’s rights movement and the Civil Rights Movement and pushed against it. Their statement has become a staple on syllabi in academia, and a touchstone for Black feminists who are grappling with erasure. How We Get Free honors the Combahee River Collective in a commemorative collection of essays, interviews, and prose about the ongoing impact of their work.

 

9. Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era by Ashley D. Farmer

Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era

{ University of North Carolina Press }
Release Date: December 18, 2017
Price: $35.95

Buy It Now

Dr. Ashley Farmer, a historian of Black women’s history at Boston University, understands that the Black Power era wasn’t dominated by the men whose names we all know. In Remaking Black Power, Farmer illuminates Black women’s intellectual work and activism during that movement, and how integral their contributions were to the shift activists made during that time. Black women have been sidelined in the Black Power movement for too long, and Farmer reclaims their legacy and places them exactly where they belong.

Evette Dionne
by Evette Dionne
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Evette Dionne is Bitch Media’s editor-in-chief. She’s all about Beyoncé, Black women, and dope TV shows and books. You can follow her on Twitter.

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