Nonfiction books about slavery give real, firsthand accounts from a horrible, painful time in our country’s history.
The United States was built on a system of racial class. Slavery was legal in all 13 of the Thirteen Colonies. To keep their homes and fields in order, European colonists traded with African countries. They bought manual laborers to do this. As many as 10.7 million slaves are thought to have been shipped to the Americas between 1800 and 1867. All but a few people were chattel slaves, which meant that their children and grandchildren were also slaves. Through the 19th century, slaves were overworked, tortured, and not given the same rights as other people.
After the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery was abolished. However, this disgusting time still has an effect on our lives today. Books about slavery not only show how cruel and inhumane things were before the Civil War, but they also show how race relations became tense afterward.
Slavery books help readers understand how difficult it was for African Americans to live in the United States, from the 1800s to the present. With the Black Lives Matter movement spreading across the country, lessons from the past about inequality and discrimination still have a lot to say.
Consider these 30 books about slavery if you want to read about the horrors of slavery and its long-term effects.
Up from Slavery
Booker T. Washington
Booker T. Washington’s autobiography is very interesting. It starts with him growing up in a slave hut in Virginia. To get a better education, Washington pulls himself up by his bootstraps after the Civil War. He goes to Hampton University to get that education. He talks about how hard he has worked to teach Black people and other minorities how to do jobs. People who read this book follow Booker T. Washington as he leads Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute and is a big advocate for equal rights.
My Bondage and My Freedom
My Bondage and My Freedom was written by a well-known politician in 1855. It is his second slave story. Frederick Douglass wrote painfully honest memoirs to show how he lived as a slave at the Wye House plantation when he was young. His talks give a unique look at how slaves dealt with being owned and abused. Douglass talks about how he went from being a slave to being free and how he became a leader in the mostly white abolitionist movement in the North.
Twelve Years a Slave
Twelve Years a Slave was made into an Oscar-winning movie in 2013. It tells the story of Solomon Northup, who was a slave for 12 years. As soon as he was born in New York, the American dream came to him. He lived in a house with his family and had a job. Then he’s taken from Washington, DC, and sold as a slave by people who don’t want him. Northup is forced to grow cotton and sugar on Louisiana plantations for cruel owners, but he is still very determined to return home.
The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom
When Marcus Rediker wrote about slavery, he told the story of 53 African slaves who were able to take over their ship in what’s called theAmistadRebellion. Before they reached Cuba, the brave rebels tried to go back to Africa. However, they end up being caught and jailed in the United States. Audiences are interested in the three-year legal battle the slaves had with the U.S. Supreme Court after they were freed.
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano
Olaudah Equiano wrote his autobiography in 1789 to show how he was a slave. The man was born in Nigeria and was brought to England as a child slave. He was bought by Lieutenant Michael Pascal. Equiano learned how to be a seamen so that he could fight in the Seven Years War. When there was no more hostility, he bought his freedom for $40 from a Pennsylvanian. Olaudah Equiano has a strong will that helps him be a merchant and a well-known abolitionist.
Race and Slavery in the Middle East
Terence Walz and Kenneth M. Cuno
Most books about slavery focus on the United States. Race and Slavery in the Middle East looks at slavery from a different angle. A lot of people don’t know about the story of hundreds of thousands of Africans who were forced to move north to the eastern Mediterranean in the 19th century. Nine essays come together to look at the lives of trans-Saharan Africans who were slaves in Egypt and Sudan.
Soul by Soul
Soul by Soul brings together the stories of a number of 19th-century slaves to show how the slave trade took place in the United States. More than 100,000 Africans were sold and bought at the New Orleans slave market during the Antebellum era. Statistics and financial documents show a chilling economic system that was made by people. Johnson shows how capitalism and racism are linked by the brutal selling of slaves as goods, which shows how they are connected.
The Hemingses of Monticello
The Hemingses of Monticellois won the National Book Award for Nonfiction. It is an epic work that tells the story of four generations of an African American family. To find out where the Hemings family came from, you can look at legal records, letters, and diaries. People can get to know their master Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings in almost 800 pages by reading Gordon-book. Reed’s
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave
Another of Frederick Douglass’ books about slavery talks about how he was a slave when he was a child in Maryland. He talks about how his mother died when he was seven years old and how his aunt, Hester, was whipped. He was sold to Hugh Auld, who lived in Baltimore, at that point. She is a good wife, Sophia Auld. Soon, Frederick Douglass learns that “abolition” is a word, and he starts to fight for his own freedom, too.
Yearning to Breathe Free
People who study sociology write the first biography of Robert Smalls, a slave who was raised by his master’s family in Beaufort, South Carolina. At some point in 1862, Smalls made a move for freedom and took over the Confederate warship, thePlanter, from the harbor in Charleston. As an African-American legend, he led his ship to the Union blockade and took it there. Billingsley shows how Smalls’ family helped him keep going until he eventually started the South Carolina Republican Party.
Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South
Stephanie Camp wrote this nonfiction piece to disprove the idea that slaves were “accommodative” to their bonds. She wanted to show that this isn’t true. Camp uses slave stories and oral histories to show how enslaved women had to fight every day to get free for their families. Slaves spread abolitionist propaganda in their cabins to make people think about freedom and how to get out.
Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household
It’s a common myth that mistresses were “friends” to enslaved women who worked on plantations. Here, Thavolia Glymph shows that this idea of female solidarity isn’t true with strong evidence from history. Mistresses were not just victims of a patriarchal system. They were elite leaders in the slavery hierarchy. They had cruel and violent relationships with each other in the mid-19th century. Glymph talks about this in a way that makes sense.
William Styron’s Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond
John Henrik Clarke
William Styron’s best-selling book about slavery, The Confession of Nat Turner, has been met with a lot of anger from the African American community because it talks about slavery. In order to criticize the Pulitzer Prize winner’s biased account, John Henrik Clarke brings together a group of Black intellectuals who have a lot of talent. Angry, the writers respond to Styron and try to show that Nat Turner’s “confession” is a lie.
Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World
David Brion Davis
David Brion Davis is a well-known expert on slavery. Since he was a sailor in World War II, he has done a lot of research on how Blacks were treated. In 2006, a nonfiction book about slavery and anti-Black racism was released. It looked at how slavery and anti-Black racism have changed over time. Davis talks about how Africans were not treated as people when the Americas came into existence.
The Known World
Edward P. Jones
Edward P. Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, wrote his first book in Virginia’s Manchester County two decades before the Civil War. He talks about a topic that isn’t very often talked about in the Antebellum South: Black slaveholders. People: Jones talks about Henry Townsend, a former slave who owns 33 slaves on 50 acres. He is 31 years old and used to be a slave, but now owns the land. But when Henry dies and his wife, Caldonia, takes over the plantation, things start to fall apart.
Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities
Craig Wilder’s provocative novel backs up his well-researched claim that early colleges were the third pillar of civilization based on slavery, which he made in his book. It’s hard to believe that the slave economy and higher education were born together, but that’s what the historian finds out. People like Rutgers, Yale, Brown, and Harvard have a long history that’s full of slaves’ blood and sweat, says Wilder.
This is one of a few books about slavery that isn’t set in the south of the United States. White Gold is a true story about white Europeans who were taken by Islamic traders. It shows how nearly one million white slaves were sold in Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco. He talks about Thomas Pellow, an 11-year-old Cornish boy who was taken at sea with 51 other people by Barbary pirates. Readers see him spend 23 years in prison with the tyrannical Sultan Moulay Ismail.
Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America
Most people in the United States think of slavery with cotton in the Deep South. Before cotton became the most important thing in the world, Ira Berlin talks about the first 200 years of slave life on the mainland. From Plymouth to the Chesapeake Bay, Berlin shows how slavery has come in many different shapes and sizes. He talks about how hard it was for Creole slaves, Blacks, and whites who worked as indentured servants to build the colonies.
Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II
Douglas A. Blackmon
It’s widely agreed that slavery ended in 1865 when the Thirteenth Amendment was passed. Douglas A. Blackmon, on the other hand, tells stories from the “Age of Neoslavery” that have been lost for a very long time. After the Civil War, he looks into the stories of Black men and women who couldn’t escape the shadow of servitude. Blackmon talks about how forced labor kept coming back in the 20th century and how it had a long-lasting effect.
Empire of Cotton: A Global History
.As the winner of the Bancroft Prize in 2015, Empire of Cotton: A Global History is one of the most recent nonfiction books about slavery that has been written. A book by Sven Beckert, which has 640 pages, tells the story of how European colonists built the world’s most important manufacturing business. He talks about how cotton capitalism grew, but he also talks about the bad work conditions that led to slaves and planters fighting.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Harriet Ann Jacobs
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, which was written under the pseudonym Linda Brent in 1861, was one of the first slave stories to be published. Harriet Ann Jacobs was born in Edenton, North Carolina, and she writes about her childhood as a slave. Her life on the Flint family plantation and sexual abuse before she fled to New York are told in this book. She also talks about the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which made people afraid of being caught.